Damage Control by Michael Fitterer

Orthotown Magazine

Crucial steps for responding to negative patient reviews

by Michael Fitterer

Online reviews hold immense power. They have the potential to not only drive new patients to an orthodontic practice but also scare them away.

In the digital age, 51% of consumers use search engines to look for dentists, according to Broadly data. The same source found that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. 

Naturally, reviews are not always positive; any practice that has been in business for some time has dealt with an unhappy patient. And it’s not uncommon for disgruntled patients to share their complaints online to try to dissuade other people from becoming patients at that practice. 

Yet, each negative review tells only one side of the story. Often, there are key events or circumstances not apparent in a reviewer’s statement. Prospective patients want to get the full picture of an event from both the patient and the practice’s perspective. 

Responding to negative reviews is certainly not a fun task, but doing so exhibits maturity and humility—traits that patients expect from their orthodontic provider. Here’s a suggested process for effectively responding to reviews containing feedback that could initially be perceived as being negative.

Setting up the negative review response

Before responding, a handful of questions should be addressed to determine who will respond and when, and if the review in some way violates the guidelines of the platform on which it appears. 

Determine who should respond.

Ideally, the response will be given from an individual, rather than the practice as a whole. Positioning a response from a person makes the words feel more personable; in turn, the reviewer and future readers of the review will be more inclined to take the response to heart than they would if a blanket team response is given. 

As for answering the “who” question,  the main stakeholder is the best option in most cases. That often means the practice owner should reply. Having the top individual at a practice respond, even if that person is the one being criticized, shows the concern is being taken seriously and that real action will occur as needed.

Response time matters.

Perception is everything when it comes to response time. Answer too quickly, and the response may be long on emotion and short on strategic information. Take too long to respond, and the reviewer and future review readers may assume the concerns raised are not a priority for the practice mentioned. 

So, what is the right amount of time to wait before submitting a response? A reply timeline of between a few business days and up to two weeks is ideal. By not responding immediately, the initial emotions likely to be present may have subsided, but responding within that time frame still exhibits the aura of taking the concern seriously.

Determine if the review violates the platform’s guidelines.

Before responding to a negative review, one important question looms: Does it contain any platform policy violations? 

All digital platforms that allow reviews have user guidelines that must be followed. Any review that doesn’t fall in line with a given platform’s rules runs the risk of being removed from public view if it has already been launched. 

With the necessity to conform to platform rules in mind, the first step is to look for possible policy violations in relation to a review. Obvious potential violations on most platforms include the use of obscene or inappropriate language, being wildly off topic, or in some way illegal in the country of the review’s origin. 

Less obvious, though, is the protection of privacy. If a person’s full name is used in a review, for example, that’s often a policy violation as well. 

If the review is in violation of any of a platform’s official rules or policies, you can request the removal or alteration of the review. Assuming an actual violation is present, the review will be removed or altered so that it’s no longer in violation of the rules. 

Regardless of the violation, patience will be required. It can sometimes take weeks, or even months, after a violation is flagged until the review is actually removed from public view. 

Steps for responding to the review

After determining who will respond, when to reply and whether the review violates platform guidelines, it’s time to create the response by following a few best practices. 

Don’t make it personal.

A common trait among great review responses is that they don’t take a personal tone. The entire reply should contain human elements but should not in any way contain emotional language that attacks the reviewer personally. 

Keeping a diplomatic and professional, yet human, tone throughout the reply is an essential component for writing something that resonates well with future readers. 

Begin the response by saying “thank you” or “I’m sorry.”

The reply should begin with “Thank you” or “I’m sorry,” depending on the context. Specifically, the opening line in a “thank you” scenario could be something like, “Thank you for raising your concerns regarding (insert theme here).” The “I’m sorry” version may begin with, “I’m sorry to hear about the trouble you had with (insert the theme, product, etc., here).”

Right about now, some of you are thinking: Isn’t apologizing or thanking a person for a negative review the equivalent of admitting guilt? It’s not!

Current and prospective patients want their orthodontic provider to act like a human being. By beginning the reply to a negative review with an empathetic tone, the responder is acknowledging awareness of the reviewer’s concerns. That’s a more productive and positive way to begin than immediately dismissing them. 

Reading a humanized first line can help reduce lingering emotions like anger or frustration from a reviewer, or from patients and prospective patients after first reading the review. By quickly diffusing the tension brought by the negative review, the responder opens the audience up to fairly listening to the other side of the story, which is precisely the desired mindset. 

Respond to the individual points of the comment. 

After the empathetic beginning, the body of the response must respond to the individual points noted in the review. Canned or generic answers won’t resonate with the target audience. 

That’s why carefully reading the points made and crafting in a response to each one is important. Careful attention to detail shows that the responder is paying attention and taking all of the reviewer’s concerns seriously. 

Use facts or documented info as applicable.

People are more inclined to believe statistics or documented information than someone’s word. That’s why using documented information like emails, phone calls, dates and times can be very helpful in explaining why or how a situation occurred from the orthodontic practice’s perspective. 

Taking a facts-based approach leaves a much more powerful impression than sprinkling in statements of opinion. 

The response should be short.

On the internet, people scan rather than read. A response to a negative review must be short enough that every person who comes across it can quickly digest its contents. Being concise will ensure maximum awareness and readership.  If a response can be limited to a few sentences, its impact will be greater than a long, drawn-out reply. 

End with an offline call to action. 

With a negative review, the last thing an orthodontic practice wants to do is engage in a long back-and-forth communication thread within the public eye. 

Whether the practice is familiar with the reviewer’s concerns or they’re not apparent at all, the best course of action is to try to extend the conversation offline. It’s OK to not offer up a resolution within the review’s response. Often, issues that arise are complex in nature and cannot be addressed within a few short sentences. 

Ending with “I will be reaching out to you personally in the near future” or “Please reach out to me at your earliest convenience” gives both the practice and the reviewer a window to elaborate on the situation and work toward an amicable resolution. 

By following these recommended steps closely, the responder can set up an effective response and carefully optimize the reply effort so that it’s perceived in the best possible light by future readers. 

Most importantly, never let emotions and opinions drive the reply. Be humble and empathetic, and stick to documented information as much as possible.

Author Bio
Author Michael Fitterer is a senior marketing manager at Sesame Communications, a Henry Schein One company. Fitterer has amassed 15-plus years of experience in marketing, including a primary focus on digital channels for the past 13 years. He has worked in both agency and in-house roles based primarily in the United States, but also including a two-year stint in Germany. An avid world traveler and learner of new languages, a runner, and an amateur soccer player and fan, he lives in the Seattle area with his wife and three young children.
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