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How to Handle Online Reviews

Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, The Social DVM, St. Louis, Missouri

November / December 2017|Peer Reviewed|Web-Exclusive

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How to Handle Online Reviews

A strong online and social media presence is crucial for veterinary practices.

Although these platforms provide an outlet for educating clients, marketing practice services, and sharing ever-popular pet photos, they also open up a practice to client feedback, both good and bad. Responding to reviews in a timely and diplomatic manner is key to ensure a positive online reputation. 

Be Proactive

Responding to a review on Facebook, Google, Yelp, or another online site can prevent negative comments from gaining traction. Make sure the practice’s business pages have been claimed on these sites and notifications enabled to provide prompt alerts for new reviews. Free services (eg, Perch, Google Alerts) can also help monitor the internet for mention of the practice and/or the veterinarians in blogs and online reviews. 

Responding to Positive Reviews

Feedback on good reviews is important because reviewers and anyone else watching will see that the practice takes client feedback seriously. Be sure to like and comment on all reviews whenever possible. If the team is pressed for time, address negative and less than perfect reviews first, before any others that have added comments in addition to the star rating. Reviewers will appreciate a personalized response and may be encouraged to review the practice on additional sites. 

Scenario A: Positive Review

Jane Doe leaves a 5-star review on XYZ Animal Practice’s social media page that says, “I’ve been coming to XYZ for years and wouldn’t take my dog anywhere else.” 

XYZ Animal Practice responds, “Thank you for your feedback, Ms. Doe! We really appreciate the opportunity to care for Fluffy and help you give her the best care. We look forward to seeing her at her next annual examination!” 

Related Articles
Social Media Is Meant to Be Social
Taking Care of Your Online Reputation

Responding to Negative & Undeserved Reviews

Although it can be hard, avoid an immediate response to negative reviews. Allow a 12- to 24-hour cooling off period, which provides time to review the medical record, speak with any involved team members, and prepare a response. Read, reread, and consider asking an objective party to review the response before posting online. Remember that a response is visible not only to the reviewer but also to the practice’s entire online following, including current and potential clients. 

Acknowledge the reviewer is upset or unsatisfied—this alone is often the motivation for the review. State the facts of the visit, case, or interaction diplomatically and concisely and include any signed communications (eg, estimates, treatment plans). Reiterate the practice’s concern for the client and the pet, briefly explain any pertinent details, and provide an avenue for working toward a solution together. Consider offering a meeting with the practice manager to discuss the situation and encourage any continued communication offline. 

Practices make mistakes every day. Whether medical or customer service in nature, a negative review that has merit is particularly distressing for most practice owners. Conversely, many practices can also expect to encounter a negative review that is undeserved, incorrect, or simply vengeful by a disgruntled client. 

Scenario B: Undeserved Negative Review 

Jane Doe leaves a 1-star review on XYZ Animal Practice’s social media page that says, Had a horrible experience at XYZ Animal Practice. Waited 40 minutes to be seen and had a bill of over $500.

Step 1 

Call the client if he or she can be identified. Reaching out to the client via telephone to address the situation provides the best chance for resolution and/or removal of the negative review. This not only shows the team’s concern for the client and the desire to rectify the situation but also is the best way to get additional information. Speaking directly to the owner may alleviate any miscommunication or misunderstandings that occurred, and may convince the reviewer to edit or remove his or her review.  Furthermore, noting the team took this step adds credibility to the practice’s online response.

Step 2

Regardless of the outcome, respond to the reviewer’s comment online. The reviewer, as well as potential clients scanning the practice’s reviews, expects such a “public” response.

If the team can contact and attempt a resolution via telephone, the following response to the online review is appropriate.

  • “We reached out to this client today via telephone and were able to explain the situation and work toward a resolution. As we explained to the client, the wait was caused by an emergency hit-by-car dog that came in at the same time as Fluffy and required immediate assistance. Because Fluffy was stable, our receptionist notified the client of the situation when she checked in. The bill included fees for a physical examination, diagnostic tests, and the treatment administered in the practice and dispensed to take home. An estimate was provided to and signed by the client before the services were performed. We apologized for the wait and promised to make Ms. Doe’s and Fluffy’s next visit a 5-star experience.” 

If the team was not able to make contact and attempt a resolution or if the reviewer’s identity is not known, consider the following response to the original posting.

  • “We are sorry to hear that you were unhappy with your visit to our practice. We apologize about your wait; we had an emergency hit-by-car dog that came in at the same time as Fluffy and required our immediate assistance. Because Fluffy was stable, our receptionist notified you of the situation at check-in. Your bill included fees for a physical examination, diagnostic tests, and treatment administered in the practice and also dispensed to take home, and you signed an estimate for these services before they were performed. If you still have questions about the charges or have any further concerns or feedback, please call our practice manager at (555) 555-1234. We hope Fluffy is feeling better.” 

Scenario C: Deserved Negative Review

John Doe leaves a 1-star review on ABC Animal Practice’s social media page saying, “Had a horrible experience at ABC Animal Practice. I wasn’t called when my dog’s procedure was completed, as I had requested, and my dog sat in a cage for 6 hours longer than he had to. This was stressful for both my dog and me.” 

Step 1

Call Mr. Doe. The only plus side of these situations is that the reviewer is often easily recognized. If he or she is identifiable, the first step is to call and apologize. A little humility, a little grace, and an attempt to make it right can go a long way. Listen to his or her side, and take the time to understand any frustration. Show compassion and empathy and consider a free office visit or other gesture that will get the client and pet back into the practice so the team has another opportunity to make it right. 

Step 2 

Regardless of the outcome, respond online. The reviewer, as well as potential clients scanning the practice’s reviews, expect this public response.

If the team was able to make contact and attempt a resolution via telephone, consider responding to the online review with something like the following.

  • “We reached out to this owner today via telephone to apologize. In the hustle and bustle of the day, we made a mistake. We had a miscommunication among the team regarding when to call Mr. Doe, and Max did indeed spend more time in our care. However, while he was here, he was carefully monitored, fed, watered, walked, and cared for, just as we do for all of our hospitalized patients. We regret our mistake that meant Max and Mr. Doe could not be at home together sooner. We have apologized to Mr. Doe and to Max, and we are addressing this issue at a team meeting tomorrow to ensure it does not happen again. We also offered Mr. Doe a free office visit and nail trim for Max, and hope to have the opportunity to make their next visit to ABC Animal Practice a great one.” 

If the team was not able to make contact and attempt a resolution or if the reviewer’s identity is not known, consider the following response.

  • “We truly apologize for this experience. In the hustle and bustle of the day, we made a mistake. We had a miscommunication among the team regarding when to call you, and Max did indeed spend more time in our care. However, while he was here, he was carefully monitored, fed, watered, walked, and cared for, just as we do for all of our hospitalized patients. We regret our mistake that meant you could not be at home together sooner. We will be addressing this issue at a team meeting tomorrow to ensure it does not happen again. Please contact us via email, or call our practice manager Lisa at (555) 555-5555 so we can be sure we understand your concerns and we can work together to come to a resolution. We hope you will give us another opportunity to care for your Max.”  

Related Articles
The Online Client Education Survival Guide
Online Reviews: Turning Negative into Positive

The Dos & Don’ts of an Escalating Review

Occasionally, clients cannot be pacified. Once a professional, diplomatic acknowledgement of their dissatisfaction has been made, as well as an attempt to rectify the situation (ie, a directive to call the practice manager for further discussion), avoid further discussion online and consider these points. 

DO

  • Inform your team of the situation.
  • Identify a point person to handle all communication with the reviewer online and via telephone.
  • Monitor other platforms for additional traffic.
  • If clusters of reviews are received from nonclients, consider temporarily disabling reviews on Facebook.
  • Update page moderation words to fit the scenario.
  • Screenshot all communications.
  • Inform a liability team (ie, PLIT) and/or a lawyer if legal action or medical license complaints are threatened.
  • Inform local law enforcement if physical harm or property damage is threatened.
  • Utilize resources available to AVMA members for crisis management. (See Resources.) 

DO NOT 

  • Continue to engage with the reviewer online with more than one or 2 responses.
  • Deviate from professional conduct online because the responses are visible to everyone.
  • Respond or comment as an individual instead of the practice.
  • Take down your page. 

Conclusion

Online reviews and feedback are essential to a team not only as a way to self-assess and improve but also to succeed in practice. New clients are often going to look to a practice’s online reputation for evidence (ie, “social proof”) of quality of care, satisfied customers, and an overall positive experience. Further, having reviews—particularly good reviews—can actually help bring more clients in the door. Google states that “review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.”1 The same can be assumed for reviews and feedback on Facebook, Yelp, and other social platforms because many users will similarly rely on online searches because of the ease of finding a business and the recommendations of their peers. 

Reviews are not only important for new clients, however. Existing clients can be converted to loyal ambassadors when they know their voice will be heard and their needs met because the practice responds to their reviews and comments with compassion, empathy, and understanding. 

The time and effort spent dealing with online feedback can help practices and team members continually improve, meet clients’ needs and wants, and cultivate new and loyal clients, ultimately leading to more opportunities to help pets and owners. 

References and Author Information

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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