A few weeks ago I went to the Bay Area and ate at this great barbecue joint, so good in fact that I decided to leave them a review on Yelp. While reading their Yelp page, I found a one-star review by a customer who had eaten there two or three times before and clearly liked the place enough to go again. So why a one-star review? It turns out that when explaining the wines to the reviewer’s party, everyone but the reviewer heard, which induced an 180-degree turn in her opinion. So what’s now forever recorded is the waiter’s alleged mistake, not the two positive experiences she had prior to this one.
Why should you care about this? As a business owner, you know that the even the most minor, insignificant mistakes can flip a switch in the customer’s mind and push that customer to write a negative review of your business. And, let’s be honest, oftentimes the mistakes are more egregious than that and the customer has a legitimate reason to complain. And as a business owner you know that it’s hard not to make mistakes — even if your 99.9 percent of the time on target, that still leaves 0.1 percent of the time where you’ll make a mistake that can potentially turn a customer against you.
If your business is actively getting reviews — as it should be —, sooner or later you’re going to get a negative review. When the time comes, or if the time has already come, it’s important to deal with it the right way. The first thing you should do is attempt to contact the reviewer privately. If the reviewer does not respond or the issue is not solved, then you can consider responding the view publicly. In both cases, always empathize with the reviewer and try to find a solution, rather than dispute the problem.
Don’t Play the Blame Game
Sometimes reviewers will use a bad experience to justify a general attack on your business, sometimes reviewers will exaggerate — or lie about — their experience, and other times people write reviews for the wrong business. The bottom line is that you disagree with the characterization of your business and every instinct in your body is telling you to disprove the review. Do not follow these instincts. Do not argue with the review.
Be the bigger person: apologize to the reviewer for their bad experience, whether you disagree with them or not. You don’t have to admit that you or your staff made a mistake; it’s not about you, it’s about the reviewer. Simply say, “I’m sorry that you had a bad experience.”
Show that you can take criticism — after all, all businesses have room to grow and improve — and use it to move past whatever mistakes were made. Respond to a negative review by reaffirming the values that your business strives to uphold and assure them that, as the owner, you are always working towards making sure that the actions of your staff embody these values.
By not trying to absolve your business from the blame, you show other customers who are reading your reviews that you are open to their complaints and willing to work with them in solving whatever possible issues could come up during their own experience. Someone who argues with reviewers is someone unwilling to change, so what’s to make them think that their experience will be any different than the reviewer’s? You want to give the opposite impression: that the customer comes first and that your priority is their satisfaction with your service or product.
For more on how to respond to negative reviews, you can read Yelp’s advice on the subject.
Negative Reviews for Healthcare Services and HIPAA
Professionals in the healthcare industry have to abide by HIPAA, which regulates the dissemination of information on patients’ medical history. The rule protects “individually identifiable health information,” which includes “the provision of health care to the individual.” Because of the HIPAA privacy rule, doctors and dentists who receive negative reviews are typically told not to respond to them, because of the uncertainty on what could be considered a HIPAA violation in these cases. In the words of Shaun Pryor, a practice analyst for the California Dental Association,
It could be a violation of HIPAA and state privacy laws because by responding to a patient in an online forum you are disclosing they are a patient. Instead, try to resolve any issues privately with a patient and see what can be done to remedy the issue they have with the practice.
If you do choose to publicly respond to a negative review, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your comment is HIPAA compliant:
- Angie’s List recommends that you start with a note stating that you are limited in what you can say because of HIPAA. They give four different examples of how to write that in your review.
- Respond without specifically referring to the reviewer. You can update readers on steps your practice has taken to improve its service to patients, or you can explain — again, without referring to the reviewer — why your practice does something a certain way.
- If the reviewer did not respond to a private message, you can ask for the reviewer to contact you in your public response, always without implying that he or she is a patient at your practice.
However, the best way to respond is by taking the criticism in good spirit and, if it applies, to work towards improving that facet of your practice. With good, high-quality service, you should be able to get plenty more positive reviews than negative ones. If you would like to learn more about how to garner more positive reviews, please read our article “Grow Your Practice, Public Relations Style.”
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