How to respond to a negative online review

Reading reviews is now an essential stepping stone in the research and discovery process undertaken by potential new patients, whether they are looking for a dependable quality or an affordable price.

One hopes the patients looking for quality and experience have already been referred by another dentist or a family member, friend or colleague. They are reading extra reviews for reassurance that the referrer was correct.

Paradoxically, the “low price” patients want to make sure they aren’t being scammed by a rapid turnaround clinic who are compromising too much on customer service and/or clinical care.

Amazon (amongst others) have taught us that we can access reviews and read them, that we can write our own reviews and (in the case of Uber and AirBnB) that we ourselves can be reviewed as customers.

You need a minimum of 100 reviews across all social channels before Google’s algorithms even notice you in organic search.

Fairly often now I get the “what do we do with a one-star review?” question.

First things first – the chances are that you WILL get a one-star review at some stage – it is happening to the best of breed in my client base, so we can conclude that none of us are immune to this risk.

I would advise you to quickly pass through the stages of disbelief, anger, frustration, bewilderment and remorse – and get on with dealing with it.

Dealing with the one-star review

There are three options:

  • if it is a legitimate grievance and you agree that something went wrong at your end – acknowledge, apologise, thank, contextualise, make restitution – do that publicly;

Mr Smith thank you for your review. Although it is painful to see and read a one-star review, we acknowledge that on this occasion we got it wrong and could have done a lot better.

Here at ABC Dental we care for over 2,000 patients and the overwhelming majority of the time we strive for excellence but we are also human and can make occasional mistakes.

When that happens we always thank the individuals who bring this to our attention and then take steps to learn from the experience and adapt our systems.

In this case we will be doing XXX differently going forward.

In order to rectify your situation we would like to propose YYY solution and if you would care to contact the practice directly we will be happy to discuss this with you.

  • if it is a grievance with which you disagree (your version – or the version reported to you is different) – respond in private and offer a conversation;

Mr Smith thank you for your review. It is very painful to see and read a one-star review and in the very rare circumstances in which that happens, we always look very carefully at the circumstances to see where we need to improve.

Having researched the chain of events at our end, there seems to be some confusion as to what actually happened in your case and I want to get my facts absolutely correct before deciding on the next steps.

Would it be possible to speak with you personally and confidentially about your perception of what happened please?

  • and then there is the person who writes one-star reviews as a hobby – looking for a way to draw attention to themselves or deal with their issues of low-self esteem by having a pop at you. Sadly, social media has given these individuals a stage. Do not respond – don’t give it oxygen. You may not be able to remove the review but you can contextualise it by having an overwhelming majority of five-stars. If you have 5 reviews and one of them is a one-star, the one-star might be right? If you have 99 five stars and 1 one-star, the public will make their own minds up.

That said, the public will read that one-star review first.

An enterprising young dentist did email me last week to tell me the story of the patient who had written an excellent and positive review – and then posted it as a one-star because she (the patient) got her “ones” and her “fives” mixed up.

He fiendishly suggested that we could all enlist a patient to make that mistake.

I’m not so sure I’m happy with the integrity of that, although I admire his ingenuity.

Reviews are here to stay and are an essential part of your marketing collateral – it pays to keep a careful eye on them and to be ready to respond.


Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.