Negative reviews are an inevitability. It's not a matter of if, but when your dental practice will receive them.

So what's to be done? Just ignore any negative reviews? Defend your practice? Start trolling the trolls?

Before you jump onto Yelp or Google My Business, keep reading for time-tested methods for successfully dealing with negative online reviews.

The anatomy of a negative dental practice review

Before deciding how to handle a review, it is most important to remember to look at the review objectively. Let's take a look at an example:

“Be very, very careful with this place! It was the worst experience of my life and I would highly tell everyone to stay away! The doctor was nice and helpful, but the hygienists are very pushy, and they will make you feel that you have the worst mouth ever. They will try to scare you that you need deep cleaning, gum graft and all sorts of stuff. Will be looking for a new dentist.”

What do we see in the example? The first two sentences, obviously, are emotionally charged - notice the exclamation marks and words like “very,” “highly” and “worst.” There is nothing yet about what exactly the patient experienced at the practice. At this point, you should just register the overall mood - negative - and move on to find out why the patient feels this way. DO NOT start forming your response in your head just yet. If you're doing so, that's a red flag that your response will not fix anything and will most likely make things worse.

The third and fourth sentences now get to the core of the matter: the reviewer felt like they were being pushed into approving procedures. Again, keep your emotions out of this. Instead, ask yourself why the patient would feel this way. Was there a miscommunication? Is your staff thoroughly explaining what was found during the exam that led to the treatment suggestions?

The last sentence is a basic “won't be coming here again” message common to negative reviews. What you shouldn't do is read that and assume that because they're not coming back, you don't have to respond to the review. Instead, look at that line as a challenge to convince the reviewer as to why they should come back to your dental practice.

Now that we've walked through the make-up of an online review, it's time to discuss your response.

Responding to a negative online review

First off, you must respond in a timely manner. In a survey on online reviews conducted by Dimensional Research and Zendesk, 65 percent of respondents said that customer service interactions were bad if their complaints took too long to resolve. Therefore, it's a good idea to claim your business page on Yelp and Google; it will allow you to get notifications when people leave reviews on your practice. You should also set up a Google Alert for your practice's name and your own name. This will allow you to find out if patients are talking about you or practice on blogs or forums or other websites.

Also, as has been reiterated, the last thing you want to do is bring emotion into your response, even if the review is emotionally charged. In the online review survey, 67 percent of respondents said that unpleasant people made for a bad customer service experience. It doesn't matter if the reviewer got things wrong - if you get emotional in your response to that point that it seems like an attack, you will find out how quickly the internet can turn against you.

Keep your response professional and ensure it addresses the reviewer's complaints without getting defensive.

In fact, take a lesson from the Walt Disney Company. They use the acronym HEARD for dealing with customers:

  • Hear: Let the customer tell their entire story without interruption. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen.
  • Empathize: Convey that you deeply understand how the customer feels. Use phrases like “I'd be frustrated, too.”
  • Apologize: As long as it's sincere, you can't apologize enough. Even if you didn't do whatever made them upset, you can still genuinely be apologetic for the way your customer feels (e.g., I'm always sorry that a customer feels upset).
  • Resolve: Resolve the issue quickly, or make sure that your employees are empowered to do so. Don't be afraid to ask the customer: “What can I do to make this right?”
  • Diagnose: Get to the bottom of why the mistake occurred, without blaming anyone; focus on fixing the process so that it doesn't happen again.

An online review doesn't look like a place to start a conversation, but you can make it one while applying the above technique. Read their full review, show the reviewer empathy, apologize and then ask questions if necessary. The reviewer may not respond but, by showing how you reach out to try and resolve issues, you will impress the people who check online reviews before selecting a practice.

Look at negative online reviews an opportunity to solve problems and to build good will. Keep reading to see why you don't want to try and get them removed.

Why you should let negative reviews stay

Sometimes an online review can be so outrageous and false that you want to try and have it removed from the review site. On your practice's social media page, you have even more control and it can be tempting to delete negative remarks regarding your practice.

Don't do it. To start with, there are real-world in cases in which businesses (and dental practices) have worked to have online reviews removed from Yelp or other sites only to suffer a negative public relations backlash. The silenced reviewers got their stories told in newspapers, magazines and more, which causes a much worse impact on the practice than a couple of two-star reviews on their own ever could.

Secondly, getting rid of negative reviews or comments may lead to more negative reviews or comments. With review sites, having negative reviews removed has led to embittered reviewers starting campaigns to flood review sites with negative comments and scores. On social media, you can remove and block a commenter who left a negative review, but this too has led to people getting others to go to the page and leave more negative comments.

Lastly, if you use the HEARD technique and the other advice above, leaving the negative review in place can actually benefit your practice. People will see how your practice worked to solve the issue in a timely manner, and that goes a long way to building trust. Even better, it can lead to word-of-mouth publicity. In the online review survey from Dimensional Research, 35 percent of the respondents shared stories of good customer service interactions with others three to five times, while only 28 percent of respondents shared bad customer service interactions with others that many times.

If you are still determined to have a review removed, ReviewPush put together this excellent infographic on what can actually be removed from Yelp.

Guide to removing reviews from Yelp

As I wrote at the beginning, it is inevitable that your practice will receive an online negative review at some point. Your reaction to that review is what will determine its overall effect on your practice.

Benjamin Rojek is the communications manager for Spear Education