Shaz Memon explains how to tackle negative online reviews

I often find myself on the receiving end of a call from a panicked principal, seeking advice on how to handle a negative Google review.

After discussing the issue at length, often we draw the conclusion that it could have been prevented and dealt with in-house before the patient even thought to vent online.

We also both agree that the practice will do things slightly differently next time to avoid this ‘reactive’ situation. That led me to thinking if practices could actively work to build a culture of ‘prevention’ when it came to Google reviews – which would naturally lead to five star reviews – then this would minimise any hard feelings surrounding negative public comments.

Here are eight great ways to ensure five-star reviews – and avoid bad ones!

‘Prevention is better than cure’ is the dental profession’s mantra. Apply this to the digital world of patient reviews and you won’t go far wrong, for it is as important to have strong foundations on which to build a positive online profile, as it is to have the skills to ensure optimum oral health in order to create healthy smiles. If you’re looking to ensure an impressive ‘five star’ reputation, here are eight ways to make the right impression

1. Prevention is better than cure. Dentistry is a customer service-driven business. From your reception team on the frontline to the clinicians’ soft skills with the patient in the chair, long-term relationships are built over time. And did you know that your front-of-house team are more likely to receive a complaint than any of your clinical staff? Be sure to encourage a culture of positivity in response to any criticisms they might receive throughout the patient journey. Your practice policies should be designed to provide an open channel for complaints, thereby avoiding any poor online reviews – it’s far more difficult to discreetly handle complaints posted online that any dealt with in-house.

2. Invest emotionally in your patients. The clinician-patient dynamic offers the opportunity to create a unique relationship, which should feature four key principles – emotional investment, commitment, honesty and trust. There should be a joint motivation to move forward positively to a mutually agreed and satisfactory conclusion. All team members – administrative as well as clinical – should remember that any one of your patients walking through the door has the potential to make or break your practice’s reputation with a positive or negative online review. Ultimately, you should be looking to create a culture of welcoming professionals who demonstrably go that extra mile. They should also be able to accept feedback (good or bad) in order to achieve great patient outcomes.

Dr Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, uses the metaphor of an emotional bank account to describe ‘the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship’.

In essence, by proactively doing things that build trust in a relationship, you make ‘deposits’. This involves:

  • Understanding the individual
  • Attending to the little things
  • Keeping commitments
  • Clarifying expectations
  • Showing personal integrity
  • Apologising sincerely when you make a ‘withdrawal’.

‘Withdrawals’ are the mistakes we make along the way and, in order to restore balance so that the team is not ‘overdrawn’, each and every one of them must know how to accept when they are wrong and apologise accordingly. You do not wish your team to ever be ‘overdrawn’, as this might lead to a poor reputation and weak reviews.

Check that the team takes the time to meet and greet every patient properly by introducing themselves, ensures the appointment runs on time, actively listens to patients and handles their expectations empathetically. Remember to take responsibility for any ‘withdrawals’ by offering an apology and seeking remedy should your team fail to deliver on patient expectations.

3. Team work makes the dream work. Colleagues who work well together are less likely to attract complaints. Tangible indicators of an efficient and happy team include a shared and clear focus, an understood demarcation of boundaries of responsibility, mutual respect and appreciation (that are vocalised in front of patients), plus an acknowledgment that you, as practice principal, appreciates each and every team member. You need to lead by example – ask yourself: is your leadership style actively building a culture of excellence within the practice?

4. Nip it in the bud. Statistics suggest that, in general, a dissatisfied client will tell 9-15 people about their experience, with around 13% of dissatisfied customers telling more than 20 people. An unhappy patient may post their frustration and anger on your Facebook page or in a Google review. If you want referrals, you now have to look beyond word-of-mouth recommendations. Your future success lies in building great online reviews, so focus on making your customers happy and encourage those who walk out the door with their expectations met to post feedback on your Facebook page or on Google to increase the number of great testimonials and thereby boost your star ratings.

5. There’s an art to effective reflective learning. Should your practice receive a complaint, encourage the team not to take it personally and to view it as an on-going learning process. Draw on the negative experiences as well as the positive feedback. Remember the GDC’s four principles – ‘plan, do, reflect, record’. Always be aware of your failings and engage in aiming to become a better version of yourself.

6. Have a pro-active approach to feedback. Capture any possible negative experiences at the reception desk by getting the team to ask the patient if they were happy with his or her treatment – or consider sending out a questionnaire. This way, you limit the potential damage wreaked by a negative Google review. Highlight the fact that the practice offers an in-house complaints procedure and ensure patients know whom they should contact in the event of a less-than-perfect experience. This demonstrates that you take patient feedback seriously. Don’t forget, feedback can highlight what you are doing right, as well as what you may be missing. If it’s a positive experience, it can be used as a testimonial in the practice’s marketing literature.

Should you get a negative online review, react immediately and with professionalism. In the first instance, aim to engage complainants offline to remedy any problems away from the prying eyes of potential patients surfing the net for dental treatments. If this fails, reply to criticism with candour – your next potential patient is not only reading your reviews but also how you handle them.

Effective communication when handling a complaint involves empathy, a demonstration of understanding and time.

Additionally, every practice should aim to offer a concierge-style process that raises the dental experience beyond a basic service – placing patients’ interests first, actively listening to patient concerns, building meaningful, lasting relationships and allowing patients to feel respected, relaxed, and cared for.

Whilst UDA-driven practices may find this challenging, this is the only way forward if they are seeking to increase their NHS-to-private treatment conversion.

7. Understand the digital world. It is vital to stay abreast of all digital developments and trends, particularly when it comes to patient reviews and where they are most likely to be seen. Millennials in particular have been brought up in a digital world where online reviews shape their purchasing choices. This age group is hugely influenced by their peers and not only rely on the opinions of others, but also generate their own reviews and share extensively. Regularly audit where your patients find you online and see what others are saying about their experience with you. Focusing on a media network that everyone uses is a must.

Google reviews play a huge part in shaping a business’s future. Research shows that positive Google reviews are the most important factor for consumers. The quality and quantity of the reviews on Google is also one of the most important ranking factors for local SEO and building a reputation.

Request reviews from your happy patients straight after their treatment and before they walk out the door.

To make the patient journey easier, offer a virtual experience to give them the confidence to get in touch – think about installing an automated booking system to your website or a chatbox that can offer out-of-hours assistance.

Patient engagement is key to any successful dental business and a seamless transition from practice website to practice surgery enhances the patient experience.

8. Good customer service and good complaints handling go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to say sorry to any patients with a complaint – it is not an admission of fault or liability but rather sends out the message that you care. Remember to:

  • Make good eye contact
  • Ensure a relaxed body posture to convey trust
  • Actively listen to what is being said
  • Don’t take it personally
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Avoid statements or antagonistic questions.

Related articles:

The ultimate guide to handling fake negative Google reviews – plus five easy-to-use instant responses

How to profit from online reviews