"The customer is always right"
Who knew this hyperbole, coined by Harry Selfridge in 1909, declaring his department store's commitment to customer service, would go on to become a thorn in the side of employees everywhere? It's a terrific internal mantra to aspire toward, but it can be very harmful when interpreted as a universal rule. Customers, or in our case, patients, may sometimes project their frustrations on to you or your staff and no one has the right to be abusive to your team members. Maintaining the notion that a single patient's point of view is infallible can put unfair stress on our employees. Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines, says that when companies don't support their employees when a customer is out of line, resentment results and service deteriorates. If we don't care for and support our staff members, how can they in turn care for and support our patients?
In the case of public reviews of our practices, feedback isn't necessarily valuable when it comes from a focus group of one, but rather when we observe recurring themes from multiple people. The patient (singular) might not always be right, but the patients (plural, collective) are ALWAYS right. We should err in favor of the patient's perspective because it defines for us a higher standard of performance. But how do we respond to a negative comment when it's just plain unfair or untrue? If you know in your heart of hearts that a particular reviewer is in the wrong, and you've truly done everything you can to make things right, you don't have to respond at all. If you're uncertain, or you want to publicly affirm your practice's genuine concern for every single patient, I have a better axiom for you:
"the patient might as well be right"
Remember, we're dealing with the court of public opinion. Miranda rights apply; anything you say can and will be used against you. For that reason, I'm concerned with the way many practices (cough, physicians) react to defend their case. Prospective patients reading our reviews have no way of knowing what really happened within the walls of your office. They can only judge us by how we respond in kind. Instead of winning the benefit of the doubt, we may say something to fall out of favor. What's worse, physicians frequently disclose protected health information (PHI) when they attempt to argue their side of the story. To show you just how much our words can produce a completely undesired effect, I pulled seven real-life examples of how fertility specialists and practice administrators have answered negative public criticism. Warning: they go from bad to worse.
7). Less is more
This response starts and ends just fine, but the physician gives into the temptation to make a correction. Responses to negative reviews are not the venue to discuss treatment protocol, or success rates, for that matter. The first two and last two sentences would have been fine for this response. Keep it short and take the conversation offline.
6). some battles aren't worth fighting
I didn't include the review here because it was very long. It was indeed an attack on the doctor himself. For that reason, it's better not to respond. We should respond to all negative reviews where we can at least offer a resolution, and none of those to which we cannot. When the commentary is a direct attack, nothing can be gained from turning the monologue into a dialogue, especially when it is the only response on the page.
5). Let your positive reviews speak for you...not the other way around
We don't get to determine if a reviewer's post is "excessively negative", our readers do. People browsing the page will notice when most people have a very high opinion of us. Pointing it out to them makes us look defensive. Besides, referring to this patients' initial consult and following correspondence discloses PHI.
4). Let it go, just let it go
As you can see at the top of this review, this doctor has a stellar online reputation. This is one of his only negative reviews. He doesn't need to defend his honor, his most delighted patients have already done that for them. Still, the response goes on to drag out the argument and include PHI. Very dangerous.
3). No one can tell patients how to feel
"Just relax" or "stop worrying and it will happen" are two phrases that our patients unequivocally detest. Though likely not intended this way, insisting that a patient's bad news was delivered appropriately, when he or she feels the opposite, follows a similar vein. The practice's rapport is undermined and once again, more PHI.
2). No, seriously. let it go
Another REI, whose patients overwhelmingly love him otherwise. Responding to this single negative review in this way leaves a poor impression that is probably not representative of who he is as a physician. I don't see any of the 18 identifiers of PHI in this exchange, but it strikes me as an unnecessary risk.
1). I know it hurts, it's just not the place
I didn't include this review because the response is plenty long as it is. Besides, the doctor painstakingly recaps everything. I won't mince words, this is the worst response to a fertility center review that I have ever seen. I don't necessarily fault the physician for feeling this way. These comments seem to have really hurt him. He may have really cared about this patient and put forth his best effort to provide her with exceptional care. It sounds like he wanted to be completely transparent about the potential outcome. The patient didn't receive it that way, and that must be terribly disappointing. It's simply not the appropriate place to express one's disappointment. This response is one of the only accounts that prospective patients have to judge this physician's personality. Without knowing anything else about this doctor, fertility patients are left with a very poor impression.
hold your fire
You have three options when someone leaves negative criticism about you or your practice. You can
- Not reply at all
- Have a trained, neutral representative answer on your behalf
- Wait until your head is clear enough to leave a brief, solution-oriented response
I don't share these seven examples with you in jest. The way in which our words can betray us is a very serious concern. It's a threat to your brand and often, a legal liability. What may feel vindicating for a moment could be disastrous to your public image for a much longer time. Your time and energy are better spent on constantly adapting to collective patient feedback and delivering the best possible experience to the people you serve. You have my permission to give yourself permission to not be perfect. While it's necessary to devoutly heed collective patient opinion, there are times when you just aren't able to please certain individuals. Our goal in responding to negative reviews is not to defend our case in a particular incident but rather to show that we deeply care about how our patients perceive their interaction with us.
You can read my six critical rules for responding to negative reviews right here. If you want to reply to a negative remark that someone made about you online, and you don't want to make matters worse, just send me an e-mail or give me a call. We'll write a much better response that could make the patient feel better, will hopefully make you feel better, and will certainly make prospective patients feel better about you.