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Digital Diplomacy and Negative Reviews: How to Engage with Online Critics

Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals. 

In a market where most purchase decisions start with online research, businesses live and die by online consumer reviews. Veterinary clinics are no exception. Positive reviews can entice new clients and provide valuable insight into your veterinary clinic’s strengths. On the other hand, negative reviews can cause serious damage to your business’ reputation. 

Ignorance is not bliss in the case of a bad review. Although it may seem counterintuitive to engage with naysayers in a public forum, it’s far better than allowing a critic’s inflammatory words to speak for you. Acknowledging the issue and offering some type of resolution shows that excellent clinic experiences and strong client relationships are invaluable to your practice.

“It’s okay to explain your position and justify your actions when relevant, just be sure to keep it conversational rather than argumentative.” ~ Cole Maruk

Responding to negative comments and reviews is a delicate process. The trick is to be diplomatic rather than defensive. Strategic marketing expert Cole Maruk encounters this dilemma often. Here are his steps to carrying out a constructive conversation with an unhappy critic:

Step 1: Respond

Websites such as Google and Yelp allow businesses the opportunity to reply to reviews. It’s much easier to thank someone for their praises than it is to confront criticism. However, these responses should be kept general and courteous. They are not just for the benefit of the client says Maruk, “The function of the reply is twofold: to open a dialogue with the unhappy reviewer and to show others viewing the reviews that your clinic is proactive when it comes to problem solving.” For example: 

We are so sorry to hear that your experience at our clinic wasn’t a good one. Our practice is built on strong relationships with our clients and patients. It’s important to us to discuss your visit and see how we can resolve your concern. Could you please email us at: Thank you.

Step 2: Research

Often, clinics can do a little detective work and find the reviewer in the practice management software. From there you can view the appointment record, review the doctor’s notes, and talk to team members who were working that specific shift. Putting in the legwork can help change a negative reaction into a positive outcome. “It’s important to dig into what actually happened and why this client may be feeling dissatisfied or upset. Consult the practice manager or owner about the situation, an unfortunate experience could become a valuable learning opportunity for the whole team,” says Maruk.

Step 3: Resolve the Issue

Once the client reaches out to your clinic, or vice versa, it’s time to work towards a resolution. Choose your words wisely and be aware of your tone, advises Maruk. “Your correspondence should remain professional and sincere, regardless of your personal feelings. It’s okay to explain your position and justify your actions when relevant, just be sure to keep it conversational rather than argumentative.” The client may expect an apology, a partial or full refund, or they may just want to feel heard and have their frustration acknowledged. Resolutions will look different depending on the situation, the client, and the management’s approach. If all goes well, the result will be a pleased client with renewed loyalty, switching from a harsh critic to a clinic advocate.

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