Shaz Memon gives some simple tips on how to deal with fake negative online reviews.

In an online world where everyone’s a critic, your dental practice will have done well to avoid poor feedback thus far.

Realistically, you will most probably have received your fair share of both negative and positive reviews – and it is important to respond to both.

A policy of ‘duck and cover’ on the one hand and a failure to offer polite acknowledgement on the other will only serve to do your business an injustice, appearing disingenuous and dispirited at best and indifferent at worst.

Prospective patients like to get a ‘feel’ of a dental practice – and their journey more often than not begins online, which means courting them so that they offer honest feedback once they’ve experienced your care will guide others to your door.

Therefore, this ethos of online patient engagement both supports and markets your practice.

Power by review

However, this hugely effective online culture where ‘power by review’ is king is not without its faults.

Any encouragement to leave feedback, along with the human propensity to complain rather than praise, can lead to skewed results for any small business keen to succeed in a consumer world now hugely dependent on this virtual form of word-of-mouth recommendations.

Dentistry, of course, is no exception and there is a widespread acknowledgement both at a local level as well as at a national one that feedback can be problematic for an industry not necessarily always strong in its digital engagement of patients outside the four walls of the surgery.

Indeed, Health Education England’s report, Advancing Dental Care: Education and Training Review (www.hee.nhs.uk, 2018), acknowledges that: ‘Social media is omniscient, including in the work domain; there is need to explore further how dental professionals can be better prepared to deal with the reality of negative (but constructive) feedback as well as allow them to use social media to build their professional careers.

‘This requires resilience development: both in terms of addressing personal interaction with patients and digital resilience and digital literacy.’

In essence, as a dental team, you should be able to react professionally to any negative online reviews, thus handling complaints effectively.

But how should you respond when your dental practice gets hit with a negative review from someone who is not actually a patient? Sounds unlikely?

Negative reviews

Sadly, it happens more often than it should.

The internet is a world perfectly designed (albeit unintentionally) to accommodate the malicious and the mean-spirited. Trolls are a modern-day menace who make it their business to post inflammatory comments, poor feedback and fake reviews in order to provoke, cause havoc and, thereby, impact negatively on any unsuspecting business.

For them, unreal and unfounded complaint-making may be a way of passing their time, but for a dental practice providing a service in a health care environment already beset by various ethical and legal challenges, this seemingly minor offence is of serious concern.

Any review that reflects poorly on a practice’s reputation is, of course, a huge drawback in a world that depends on feedback to build patient trust. Any fake news and reviews are particularly tricky should they present misleading, untrue or a negative influence.

Dentists often will not know how to handle this conundrum and the reality is that, unfortunately, removing such a review is not straightforward and can adversely affect your dental marketing strategy and dental website performance.

Flag it up

How you deal with fake and/or malicious reviews is your call. You can check here what is and isn’t allowed and follow the step-by-step guide – support.google.com/business/answer/4596773?hl=en-GB.

If the dishonest feedback left on Google My Business falls into any of the categories, you can let Google know.

Simply saying that it has not been scribed by a genuine patient of yours is not enough – strangely, anyone can leave a review about their ‘customer experience’ even if they’ve never stepped foot inside your practice – but pointing out that it violates the search engine’s policies should help.

If you are disputing its authenticity, aim to be succinct when summing up why the review is false, explain why it should be removed and, if you can, do provide a link to support your case.

However, be aware that Google won’t always remove the review and may not even react – but do make this your first step.

  1. Open Google Maps and search for your business
  2. Click to see all your reviews to find the one you wish to flag up
  3. Click on the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the review, then click ‘Flag as inappropriate’.

If you want to escalate the issue…

  1. Call Google and follow up on your flagged review status. Go to your Google My Business home page. There should be an option for support at the bottom of the menu.

Reply immediately

Silence is not golden in any such event and bad reviews (fake or otherwise) demand a response. If the reviewer is definitely not a patient at your practice, your reply needs to make this clear (to them and to anyone else reading it).

In polite terms, outline that they are not known to your team, and suggest perhaps they are mistaken and have got the wrong practice.

Dentist Kev Chavda came up with a novel way of handling one negative review left by a non-patient. He explains: ‘I don’t own the practice but the owner had been pressing for the clinicians to get more reviews and, amongst the high ratings, there was a one-star review. I regularly checked the Google reviews of the website, because I was building my patient list at the time, so I realise how important feedback is.

‘After a discussion with the principal, we replied to the review along the lines of: “Thank you for your feedback. We checked our system and found that you were not one of our patients. Why not give us a try?”. He booked in and then we asked him to leave feedback, without mentioning the comment, and he changed it to a positive!’

Kev adds: ‘I think only patients should be able to leave a review but I understand that preventing others from doing so would be incredibly difficult to regulate. I find one of the major issues is that the public are very quick to leave negative reviews but not so quick to leave a positive one. With increasing competition in the field, I can only see more scope for “fake reviews” in this current social media-focused society.’

So, remaining professional and positive can certainly pay off. Getting into a war of words online is not the way forward – however tempting it might be. Also, do make sure you have a robust practice policy in place to handle any event like this and be sure to proactively seek feedback from happy and loyal patients and keep these updated, so that any negative posts are overridden quickly.

Surveys suggest any reviews over 90 days old are often ignored by potential patients plus readdressing the positive/negative balance is key to your on-going online reputation. One fake review should not be allowed to negatively impact on your long-term reputation.

Regularly engage with patients on all social media platforms, too, so that you create and develop relationships. This demonstrates your ethos as an effective dental communicator. Be sure to encourage diversified feedback as well – and that includes posting reviews on your own practice website. This strengthens your local SEO and boosts your overall online presence.

By ensuring a strong but flexible strategy that encourages patients to leave positive reviews, you build a powerful marketing tool to future proof your business against sabotage.

By reacting positively and professionally to any fake feedback, aim to turn the negatives to your benefit and build an online reputation that others will trust.

Five ways to respond to that fake negative review

  1. We welcome all feedback, although we have never treated you at our practice. Why not get in touch and book an appointment to see what our services are really like?
  2. We take great care to get to know all our patients and we haven’t yet met you. We ensure all our patients receive the highest standard of care and treatment, so please do get in touch for a genuine dental experience
  3. It’s a shame you’ve left negative feedback without trying our services first. Please see our five-star reviews from our many happy patients to get a feel for what we’re really like as a dental team
  4. We genuinely care about what people think of our practice but your review isn’t genuine. Let’s create an authentic experience to inspire others!
  5. Are you sure you have the right dental practice? We want our brand to be defined by those who experience it, not by those who haven’t. Please check you have the right team.

Reference

www.hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/advancing_dental_care_final.pdf (2018) accessed 19/11/2018