What to do when your clients complain online - DVM
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What to do when your clients complain online
Experts offer solutions to negative online reviews, reputation smears, strategies for rebuttal


Responding to criticism

So what do you do when you find a negative review? Take a breath first. Count to 10 if you have to. Think before you speak.

If there is a chance a lawsuit may be filed against you, check with your lawyer first.

If the comment is libelous, Karyn Gavzer of KG Marketing and Training Inc. says you should contact the Web site's host, explain that the comments are lies and that you're considering legal action if they're not removed from the site. But Gavzer, who advises veterinary practices one-on-one and at seminars, says that's a last resort.

Dr. Carin Smith of Smith Veterinary Consulting, says that if an online comment makes you particularly angry, you should take a break. "Turn off the computer and go lift some weights or go running," Smith says. "You can't respond maturely when you're angry."

Smith is author of the AAHA publication "Client Satisfaction Pays: Quality Service for Practice Success."

Veterinary communications and marketing experts also agree that it's a good idea to respond to a negative comment personally. A phone call is best; an e-mail is second best.

Don't put it off, though. An angry client who doesn't hear from you for too long may hold that grudge for a long time, according to a recent marketing study published by the American Marketing Association. The study was conducted by Yany Gregoire, Thomas Tripp and Renaud Legoux and was published in the November 2009 Journal of Marketing.

The study showed, paradoxically, that it's the most loyal consumers who get the angriest when something goes wrong. However, it's those same consumers who can be won back with a quick apology.

"You simply must come off as calm, professional, empathetic, thoughtful and responsible," Smith says.

If you decide to respond, Merrihew suggests that you state your case reasonably and be as honest and transparent as possible. "Even though you may see it as a personal attack, make sure that you don't respond with another personal attack," he says. "You always want to take the higher road."

Sometimes a generic response is best. Smith suggests something like: "We do our best to resolve any problems with clients in a personal and caring manner. Any client who experiences a difficult situation with our hospital is encouraged to talk with us directly so we can clear up the issue as soon as possible. Our goal is to provide the best possible care for our clients and their pets."

If you choose to respond to a comment with a public comment and the other person gets nasty, just walk away, Smith says. The public will see who the reasonable person is.

The average consumer looking at reviews online is pretty savvy, says Merrihew. "A lot of times they can tell (a comment is from) a bitter person or (whether it's) a legitimate concern. Or, wow, this is a staff member paid to give glowing reviews," he says.

Here's a novel idea: How about thanking the person for criticizing you? If you treat it as constructive criticism, you may be able to use the feedback to improve, says Stephanie Ichinose of http://Yelp.com/. an online review Web site with 8 million reviews. A two-star review can get bumped up to a five-star review if the complaint is handled quickly and with care.

Bracing for cyber attacks

Of course, there's always the chance that complaint was meant for another doctor. Your practice could be mistaken for another.

That happened in Arizona a few years ago when a veterinarian was accused of punching a Chihuahua. Because the name of the accused veterinarian's practice was similar to another doctor's practice in the same city, online commenters got them confused. And the doctor who didn't punch the dog was attacked on the Internet.

The doctor with the similar name had a Web site that turned out to be both a blessing and curse. The doctor who was accused of attacking a dog didn't have a Web site, so when people searched for him, they found the doctor who wasn't involved.

Merrihew advised the doctor to post a statement on his Web site explaining the confusion. That helped stem the vitriol and death threats. Finally, a press conference cleared things up, he says.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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