So an unhappy patient just clobbered your surgery practice on Yelp. Or another one of the customer review sites that have sprouted online like mushrooms. What can you do?
The question isn’t rhetorical. Research confirms that online reviews — positive and negative — have a measurable impact on business. Even a single D or F, mixed in with straight As, can silence office phones for an uncomfortable amount of time and punch holes in appointment calendars.
If it seems unfair that one poison pen (or keyboard) can do such disproportionate damage, well, it probably is. Sometimes the “review” might even be fraudulent.
But getting angry and defensive in return, while understandable, is not a strategy for dealing with harsh criticism. Responding in kind rarely does anything but worsen the climate for conducting your business, especially in an area as emotional and personal as aesthetics.
Best to take a deep breath and consider your options.
Talking It Through
More doctors today are taking the time to reply to their legitimate critics — actual patients — in a way that is thoughtful, measured, confident, and affirmative. They bring their natural workaday posture of caring and professionalism into the online exchange, and they respect a patient’s right to confidentiality.
Doctor-patient privilege may be viewed as an impediment to a full airing of the doctor’s perspective in a dispute, but you can also view it as a strength: The guarantee of confidentiality encourages a doctor to exercise the care and restraint that an upset patient may not have demonstrated. Taking the high road, as it were, is one key to persuading potential patients — who might be reading your response to a negative review — that you have the kind of professional temperament and good judgment they seek in a doctor.
Some doctors will extract the constructive points they find from what might otherwise be a tirade and address those, and perhaps make changes to how they manage some aspect of their practice — whether it’s the phone manner of a receptionist or the delivery of a cosmetic procedure.
There may be instances when calling the patient directly is advisable, if only to ask, “What can I do to make this better and to keep you as a patient?” It’s a way of demonstrating sensitivity to the patient’s concerns.
Be wary, however, of getting drawn into an argument or being perceived as hostile or intimidating. An encounter like that can provide fodder for another negative post.
And yes, every customer-oriented business person knows there are people who simply won’t be satisfied, for whom complaining is a form of empowerment. They are, thankfully, a small minority.
A Million Voices
Product reviewers don’t even require a dedicated portal to vent. The Internet is one big soapbox, and customers can post their opinions just about anywhere — on Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, Craigslist and Reddit, to name just a few forums.
But increasingly, people shopping for services do consult, or post comments, on ratings-enabled sites such as Yelp and Google Local.
In the case of medical services, trade-specific review sites are multiplying. You may be more likely to find your practice discussed on RealSelf, HealthGrades, RateMDs, Vitals, and ZocDoc, than you do on a catchall consumer site like Angie’s List.
The question, then, is how much of your time and attention, and your resources, to commit to any one site? Yelp and Angie’s List have come in for severe criticism for making some business owners feel “extorted.”
The newer ecosystem of doctor review sites poses its own challenges and opportunities. Surgeon’s Advisor can help you navigate this developing terrain and create a strategy for surviving and thriving in a space where, sooner or later, everyone’s a critic.