How to handle bad reviews and ratings

March 23, 2023
While a single poor review often doesn’t ruin a practice’s reputation, it does pose a challenge considering how search results dictate decisions these days.
Person holding cell phone giving poor Google Review.

Founding Father Ben Franklin is credited with the saying, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Swap the word “deeds” for “Google reviews” and the reality of 21st century practice becomes evident.

While a single poor review often doesn’t ruin a practice’s reputation, it does make things that much more challenging when considering how search results dictate decisions these days. How can doctors navigate bad reviews and ratings online? And what about those negative reviews that are unwarranted, simply an exercise in venting?

AOA members Alan Glazier, O.D., founder of ODs on Facebook, and Dorothy Hitchmoth, O.D., 2017 AOA Advocate of the Year, offer tips and tricks for handling bad reviews online.

  1. Be thoughtful in how you respond.

    “You can easily turn the ‘lemons’ of a bad review into ‘lemonade’ simply by how you respond,” Dr. Glazier says. In his example, Dr. Glazier likens how we might use reviews to determine what restaurant we might choose, e.g., a restaurant that has 90 5-star reviews, seven 4-star reviews and three 1-star reviews. “Do you read through the 5-star reviews—usually not; we’re drawn to the 1-star reviews first to see the negative things people said,” he notes. If you as the owner respond to the negative review in a way that can convince the reader that the reviewer got it wrong, you’ll negate the effect of the negative review. This is part of a strategy that Dr. Glazier calls CASPECO and detailed in his own YouTube channel.

    “It’s also important to respond to all reviewers, not just the negative ones, so people don’t think you are being defensive,” Dr. Glazier says. “Plus, think about how special it is that one of your customers took the time out of their busy day to post a review that favors your business. That’s special, and they deserve to be thanked as well.”

  2. Leverage technology to proactively engage patients.

    “Technology has helped us develop and continuously maintain a Google 5-star rating,” Dr. Hitchmoth notes. Her practice utilizes an automated email survey system that invites patients, who rate the practice at a 4-star or higher, to post to Google with a single click from their computer or smartphone. The survey goes to every patient and Dr. Hitchmoth uses it to proactively and continuously attend to any patient concerns. “We also thank patients who give us a 5-star rating,” she says. “While we rarely get a rating less than 4 stars, we use this feedback to employ teambuilding and process change. We also get new ideas and learn patient preferences through our survey process.”

  3. Impart a culture of stellar customer service.

    “More importantly, we believe our overall 5-star rating is because we maintain stellar customer service, after-hours, on-call, same-day urgent visits and quick attention to patient portal inquiries,” Dr. Hitchmoth says. It’s about creating a work culture that perpetuates happy, healthy team members who deliver superb care in a truly bespoke fashion. “My employees are what I call my ‘work family’ and they know they are highly valued,” Dr. Hitchmoth says. “We believe we can deliver attentive care and competitive wages because we take no vision plans and limit medical plans that value our expertise.

    “Overall, our success is the result of strong word-of-mouth referrals, but we believe our social media ratings are equally important for those who want to learn more about us on the web,” she adds. Google ratings isn’t the end-all of practice management, but using tools that help patients tell their story can help provide balance to the things outside of your control, such as insurance coverage, premiums and deductibles. Similarly, feedback matters and dismissing negative reviews is not a best practice, Dr. Hitchmoth says. “You can use even the most negative review to your advantage to learn more about what matters to your patients,” she adds.

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