Veterinarian Katie Reynolds* had just finished her shift when she was called into her manager’s office. Though Katie was under the impression nothing was amiss, not long into the conversation she was presented with a rather unpleasant surprise. A complaint.
‘I had just done a 10-hour crazy day and was starving. [My manager] kept me back after everyone else went home.’
‘I was livid with myself, and I broke down soon after’.
The client had been displeased with the clinic’s curbside services, and in the lengthy complaint, threatened to harass the practice online. Most of the hate was directed at Katie, who was described as ‘incredibly rude’ and ‘hostile’- not something you want to hear after a long shift.
This occurrence, unfortunately, is not too uncommon.
With one in five vets experiencing abuse online, more and more vets have to deal with disgruntled clients on the internet.
But what does a bad review mean for business? And what can practices do to deal with them?
How Bad Veterinary Reviews Can Impact Your Business
While most practices have no problem wracking in five-star reviews, one in a while, a less than flattering appraisal can pop up.
But what impact can this have on your business?
According to research, quite a big one.
Reviews play a massive role in customer decision-making. Around nine out of ten customers check online reviews before purchasing a service or product, and more than half check (at LEAST) four reviews beforehand .
‘I remember there was a practice that I worked with several years ago, [where the owner] purchased a brand new business… from a veterinarian who had previously been in the community for a long time. That vet didn’t have a great reputation, and this younger owner purchased it thinking that he was going to turn it around.’ said Eric Garcia, a veterinary practice marketing expert from Florida.
‘After months, he realized that his practice wasn’t growing. He went to look at the online reviews and realized that a lot of them were negative because of the previous owner. When he started to take them seriously, he began getting positive feedback and seeing a dramatic jump in new clients’.
This scenario highlights just how imperative online reviews can be.
Not only can they impact your business, but also morale. Around 72% of veterinary surgeons stress about negative online reviews, amping up the anxiety in practice .
So what are some of the ways practice owners and managers can manage bad vet reviews?
How To Prevent Bad Veterinary Reviews
Aside from not causing a problem in the first instance – a wise, but probably impossible goal – Garcia recommends several strategies to deter or detect negative reviews online.
First, he advises having a survey system where clients can write feedback directly to you- rather than online. This is not only good for business but also good for your reputation.
The second thing Garcia recommends is utilizing the Facebook or Instagram moderation system. He says that you can add trigger words that will be flagged if posted onto your page.
For example, if you flag the word ‘money’ on the system, a notification should come up if a client uses the word on your page. If the comment is less than flattering, you can flag it and contact the sender directly.
How Should I Respond To A Negative Vet review?
1- Don’t respond immediately.
While this may seem counterintuitive, Garcia recommends leaving the review for at least a day.
‘The reason I say we don’t touch it is because we need to allow [the clients] emotions to run their course.’
‘It is important to sleep on it for one, two, maybe three days, sometimes even longer. We’re not only doing that for ourselves because we often respond with too much emotion that then, unfortunately, means we’re not going to resolve the situation… but also for the clients, who may need time to cool off.’
2- Try and get into direct contact with the pet owner.
If you can, Garcia recommends calling disgruntled clients directly.
‘Call the pet owner and let them know you saw the review. You need to empathize and apologize for how their experience went. A lot of the time, people feel that when you apologize, you are admitting to fault. This is not true. An apology opens a gateway for more successful communication.’
‘I can’t tell you how many times in emails or text messages… where people have shown me reviews from angry pet owners, which, after they’ve talked to them, have gone from one star to five’.
If you can’t contact the client via the phone, Garcia suggests messaging the owner directly and apologizing. He also advises leaving your contact details so they can follow up with you.
3- If you can’t resolve the situation on the phone, leave a response on the review.
‘If it’s a rational pet owner with a rational concern, and you are not able to resolve it [on the phone], I recommend responding to that review. Say, thank you for allowing us to speak to you on the phone- sorry we couldn’t help, but if there is anything we can do, we are still here for you. Just a little basic response.’
‘If it is an irrational pet owner or a crazy person, I don’t recommend engaging with it.’
‘The reason for that is when you engage with crazy people- it just adds more fuel to the fire… that’s when they go on Facebook and cyberbullying happens’.
How To Bounce Back From A Bad Review
You can’t please everyone, so it is best not to take bad vet reviews too personally. This doesn’t make the sting of a bad review any less painful though.
If you’ve recently received a negative review, give yourself time to process it. Once you have processed your emotions (or at least let the initial anger, irritation, or fear subside), reflect on the situation – preferably with another team member or business confidante.
If you are a manager, you should recognize the potential impact this review may have on the team member involved. Be certain to talk about the issues raised in a supportive matter. That said, there may also be a genuine issue at hand. Alongside support, there needs to be a discussion about what transpired, and how it can be prevented in the future.
Garcia also advises practice owners to create a folder of positive client feedback to boost morale after negative interactions. This can remind your team of their purpose during difficult times.
This is also a timely reminder of how important it is to ask the vast majority of your clients who are happy with your services to continue to leave reviews. The best way to move past the bad news is to dilute it with a deluge of great ones.
Clients tend to ignore the best and worst reviews and instead look for the steady ‘truth’ that shows up. So make sure to have a system that cultivates these reviews consistently.
Fixate On Success, Not Failure
Getting a bad review from a client can suck. But for every unhappy happy client, there are another hundred who appreciate the work you’re doing.
Garcia emphasizes how practice owners and managers should try to focus on the big wins- rather than the setbacks.
‘It’s going to hurt- I get it. Nurture that pain. The quicker you nurture it… the quicker you’ll feel better.’
‘It’s gonna be ok.’
For more expert advice on veterinary leadership, check out our eBook: From The Experts Mouth
*To protect Katie’s identity, her name and story have been slightly changed.
1- ‘72% of vets fear reputational damage from negative online reviews.’ 12 Apr. 2018, https://www.vetsurgeon.org/news/b/veterinary-news/posts/72-of-vets-fear-reputational-damage-from-negative-online-reviews. Accessed 25 Aug. 2021.