How to deal with negative reviews

We’ve been helping a couple of our practices deal with some negative reviews recently. In fact, a recent article in the Vet Times suggested that 72% of vets are worried about the impact of negative reviews – as a profession, we seem to have decided that negative reviews are A Bad Thing.

While that’s true to an extent – and obviously, if every review you’re getting is poor that is a cause for concern – negative reviews and feedback can actually be really valuable for a practice. In this blog, we’re going to look at why people leave negative reviews, why they can be valuable to a practice, and finally how best to respond to them.


Why do people complain?

There are, of course, a nearly infinite range of reasons! However, these tend to boil down into five main groups. People when complaining are usually seeking a specific outcome:

  1. An apology – a simple “sorry” is incredibly powerful!

  2. An explanation – negative reviews and complaints may be seen as a way to force the issue and make the practice communicate with them.

  3. To be heard – this may be because they do not feel valued, or because they want to boost their social standing.

  4. Improvement to the standard of customer care or clinical care.

  5. Reassurance that any issue has been resolved.


OK, so why are negative reviews not necessarily bad news?

Because the modern public is pretty web savvy now. They know that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time. According to some surveys, 68% of web users trust a company more when there are some negative reviews showing – because it demonstrates integrity on the part of the business. Interestingly, the converse is also true – 30% of customers assume that any company whose reviews are universally positive is somehow fraudulent (the classic argument is that the company must be writing their own reviews).

So, a healthy sprinkling of negatives can really help you seem more reliable and trustworthy!

However, there’s much more to it than that. Clients increasingly see themselves as consumers, and often expect excellent customer service – in fact, it’s probably true nowadays that gold-standard customer service is more important to most clients than gold standard clinical care. A poor review can be the ideal opportunity for your practice to showcase your customer care credentials – let them know that you are listening, that you care, and that you want to help them!


So how should a practice respond to a negative review?


There are 4 basic rules to responding to these:


1) Accept the validity of the review.

You may not agree with the substance of the client’s comments, but something has definitely gone wrong with the client-practice relationship if they’ve gone to the trouble of leaving negative comments.


2) Don’t argue with the client

It usually makes the practice look even worse! In particular, do not insult the client: while you may be furious inside, make sure you stay professional and courteous online.


3) Go private

You need to get to the bottom of whatever has happened, but (despite what we said about how useful a sprinkling of negatives can be!) you don’t want to wash your dirty laundry in public.

The best response is usually a public post along the lines of: “I’m so sorry to hear about the problems you had with XXX, would you be able to contact us on so we can try to resolve this?”.

Not only does this allow the client to raise their concerns more privately, but it demonstrates how seriously you’re taking the matter when other people read the review and your response.


4) Do NOT delete the review

If you operate a “walled garden” or curated review page, it looks utterly unrealistic – and will, counterintuitively, lose you potential clients.


5) Apologise and try to make changes

An apology is always a good way to diffuse a situation. If there has been a problem, apologies are often the most powerful tool you have – and remember, an apology is NOT an admission of liability (the NHS have an excellent document on this here). If you don’t think there has been a real issue, apologising for how the reviewer feels is almost as meaningful.

Making changes may not be possible, or even desirable, but as we saw, many customers want to see that their complaint or review has led to an improvement. If you can demonstrate that you’re listening, you’ve dramatically improved your standing in the wider community – whether or not you manage to win over the original reviewer!


At the end of the day, you will never please everyone. But if you can demonstrate that you take their reviews seriously, it will go a long way to blunting the (very occasional) truly malicious review.

Do you want help managing or responding to reviews? Contact our expert review team for advice!