The Upsides of a Negative Review Experts explain how online criticism can actually be good for your practice. Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   October 01, 2015
The Upsides of a Negative Review
Author Notes
  • Haley Blum is a writer/editor for The ASHA Leader. hblum@asha.org
    Haley Blum is a writer/editor for The ASHA Leader. hblum@asha.org×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Hearing Disorders / Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Practice Management / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   October 01, 2015
The Upsides of a Negative Review
The ASHA Leader, October 2015, Vol. 20, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.20102015.32
The ASHA Leader, October 2015, Vol. 20, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.20102015.32
It’s a moment every business owner dreads. You pull up Yelp or Google, and your heart rate quickens. Maybe a redness creeps over your cheeks.
It happened: You got a bad online review. In a sea of mostly positive comments about your business, you spot one that’s gone rogue. And suddenly it’s the only one you see, the only one that matters.
You’re a passionate clinician who’s put everything into your business, so negative reviews can feel like a public slap in the face. But the funny thing about bad online reviews? They’re actually good for business, some experts say.
Focusing on feedback
At its core, a review is feedback—something every practice owner should seek.
“Feedback is a gift,” says Susanne Jones, customer support specialist and hearing instrument specialist at HealthyHearing.com, which hosts thousands of audiologist reviews. “For all of us to be better at what we do every day, and for all of us to be better at serving our patients, we should seek opportunities for feedback.”
Although positive reviews can offer reinforcement for the things you and your staff are doing well—and it’s human nature to want positive reviews—not-so-great write-ups can highlight areas where you need improvement. And even more important, bad reviews are an opportunity to prove the validity and competence of your practice to patients, explains Amy Hayes, vice president of global brand at Bazaarvoice, a company that helps brands and retailers gain a greater reach with their online reviews.
“We have a ton of data that shows the impact that reviews have on business,” says Hayes, “and what we’ve found over the years is that entities or companies or brands that have a blend of both positive and negative reviews have much greater success in terms of winning customers over.”
Customers who encounter businesses that have no negative reviews can be suspicious of something disingenuous going on—that your apparent 100-percent customer satisfaction seems too good to be true, say Hayes and Jones.
So bad reviews aren’t inherently bad news for you and your practice. But here’s the catch: They only work in your favor if you know what to do next.
Handling the haters
Responding to negative comments is “not just about putting out the fire,” Jones says. “It’s also a chance to highlight your commitment to patient satisfaction.”
Most reviews can and should be handled publicly in the form of a response—an option offered on most sites, such as Yelp, HealthyHearing and Google. Potential customers “who read a negative review on its own are left with a much more negative feeling than people who actually see the brand engaging and responding to that negative feedback with some concession to help remedy the situation,” Hayes says.
Of course, there are those cases where a very, very unhappy reviewer (often a heavy user of the caps-lock key) is ranting, in which you should attempt to move the discussion offline by writing a short note under the review that offers your direct contact information, Hayes advises.
When responding, Jones recommends you:
  • Stay calm and professional. If you need to vent, do it beforehand privately to a friend.

  • Be apologetic. Always—even if you don’t think you made a mistake.

  • Be authentic and specific. Don’t use vague terms (unless specificity would violate patients’ privacy, see below) or an apology that reads like boilerplate material—be sincere and respond to that person’s particular concerns.

  • Be proactive. Explain how you are fixing the situation and what steps you’re taking to avoid the mishap in the future.

  • Sign the review with your full name and title. It’s best if you’re the owner, but any upper management is OK, too.

Avoid the urge to be defensive, even if you don’t think you or your practice is at fault. “You would be surprised how many [professionals] out there have this natural tendency to show defensiveness or snarkiness,” Jones says. “They take pride in their practice, and it hurts when someone says something negative. But tell yourself it isn’t personal—it’s not you, it’s a problem.”

“It hurts when someone says something negative. But tell yourself it isn’t personal—it’s not you, it’s a problem.”

Get everyone involved
As you renew your focus on your practice’s online presence, try rounding up the rest of your office’s employees to help take ownership of feedback.
Jones suggests appointing a “reviews ambassador,” who should check review sites daily—or at the very least, weekly—for new comments. To encourage patients to leave reviews, employees can also make sure links to review sites are posted on your website, office signs, newsletters, social media accounts, email signatures and invoices/receipts.
However, Jones cautions against offering free items—say, a pack of hearing aid batteries—or other incentives in exchange for a review, which enters dicey ethical territory.
Also, don’t mistake testimonials—positive reviews you’ve solicited from happy, loyal customers that appear on your practice’s website—for reviews on independent third-party sites. “Testimonials have this great color, all of these details, and that’s really good,” she says. “But we believe very strongly that, especially in this field, consumers do see a real difference between testimonials and reviews.”
And after all of this, just remember: You can’t win ’em all.
“Let’s face it, we can’t please everyone. No one can. You know, we’re not pizza,” laughs Jones.
What About Privacy?

What’s the difference between your audiology or speech-language pathology practice and your favorite hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant? One of you has to worry about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—and it’s not the establishment that serves basil fried rice.

Being specific is important when responding to negative comments, but Susanne Jones of HealthyHearing.com reminds clinicians to keep HIPAA privacy restrictions in mind.

“It’s important to address the [reviewer’s] concern, but to speak in a more general way,” she says. “Sometimes the reviewers themselves reveal personal medical information or private information, and we advise people to ignore that and to continue to write a response without addressing anything that is private. You can still write a response. It’s just going to take a little bit of creativity and skill.”

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October 2015
Volume 20, Issue 10