Sorry, but you can't.
But there are a number of ways you can manage your reviews to turn the negative into a positive!
This week I received this question from one of my clients who received a negative review. No matter how good a doctor you are, everyone gets bad reviews sometimes. You can't please everybody all the time, and sometimes these reviewers are just crazy. Since you can’t delete negative reviews, you might be wondering if you should respond to them instead, because, of course, you don't want people seeing these negative reviews and counting out your whole business just based on one random person with a grudge. Naturally, you want potential customers to focus on your more positive reviews. Dealing with reviews of all kinds can be complicated, so we’ve used our experience to bring you several strategies that can make any review into an opportunity to improve your image. In addition, I’ll show you one thing that you can do to avoid getting in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission.
The first thing that we recommend is to just respond to reviews you get, both negative and positive. Responding to reviews allows you to form more of a relationship with your customers, and has the added benefit of improving your search engine optimization (SEO), leading to more customers in the long run. A simple, “Sorry you had a bad experience, get in touch with us here” can go a long way in improving your brand image. All reviews, even negative ones, can be viewed as an opportunity to show the world your character. Responding to reviews isn’t just about satisfying the one person with a complaint, it’s about showing the world that your business knows how to treat its customers right. You may have seen memes floating around the internet of businesses angrily responding to complaints by fighting fire with fire; this isn’t a good idea in the long term. It might feel good if you are the business owner to put a jerk in their place, but that fleeting happiness is outweighed by the other people who see that and now might think that their issues with the service might be met with personal attacks. Responding to reviews in a calm, measured way will not only improve your SEO, it will also show potential customers that you care about their concerns.
Here's a good example of a way to respond to a negative review. Let’s say that you get a review for your medical practice where the person says that they didn’t get any better despite spending a lot of money on treatment. A good way to respond would be to calmly say something like, “Hello, I’m sorry that we haven’t gotten you to where you want to be. As you know, everyone's body is a little bit different, and we're still trying to get to the bottom of the issues you’re dealing with. We're happy to have you back as a patient anytime,” or something to that effect.
For doctor’s offices, which I’m sure many of you work at, there are some other things to keep in mind. Due to medical disclosure laws, you can’t release details about a patient, or even if they were a patient at all. That reminds me, one time at my wife's practice she received a negative review, but that person was not one of her patients. They had never seen that person before. I don't even know where they came from. They had never entered our office or had a visit with any of our practitioners. Some people are just crazy, so it’s important to keep in mind that not all reviews are of equal value. The important thing to remember about that anecdote is that we couldn’t respond by saying that they had never been there since that breaks medical disclosure laws. Likewise, you don't want to say something like hey, how's that psoriasis going? Since that, obviously, also gives out too many details about a person’s condition. For responding to reviews, it’s best to keep it bland, so that you don’t risk breaking any laws. A simple “We’re sorry to hear that, please contact us at _____ and we’ll try to help fix it” goes a long way in terms of preserving your image. And if someone leaves a good review, responding with “That’s great, we're happy to have you!” or something to that effect. Your response shows that you care what customers think.
Another thing that I've learned recently is that if you're going to be requesting reviews, ones posted on Facebook don’t matter very much. Facebook reviews don’t improve your SEO at all, so it’s best to focus on reviews on other sites, the most important of which is probably Google My Business. You want people to review you on Google My Business because that increases your search engine optimization, so particularly if you are in a large urban area or even a large state, you want your business to come to the top when people are looking for businesses like yours.
Responding to negative reviews is all well and good in theory, but sometimes reviews are just an excuse to be obscene and threatening, without actually providing any information about the business. That’s when you have to use another method to deal with reviews. Method number two is that if a review violates Google or Facebook’s policies, then there's a chance you can flag it for inappropriateness. Now before you go flagging every comment that says something negative about your business, it’s important to first read the policies of the review site and only flag reviews that break those policies. Reviews that actually violate these policies are very rare, so make sure you know for certain that it violates the rules before flagging it, or you can wind up in a worse PR situation for unjustly deleting reviews that make you look bad. But, if need be, that's another tool that you have in your pocket to deal with reviews.
The final way you can deal with negative reviews, and my personal favorite way to respond to negative reviews is to develop a plan to consistently ask for good reviews. People generally only leave reviews when they feel strongly about a business, and when that happens, it’s much more likely to be because of a negative reaction. To deal with the overrepresentation of negative reviews, businesses often have to go out of their way to ask for reviews of all kinds, hoping that people who had a positive experience will respond. Drowning out the vocal minority of critics with the overwhelming support of most customers makes potential customers much more likely to focus on the many positive reviews rather than the small amount of negative reviews. To increase the amount of positive reviews, you can partner with one of many third-party softwares that request reviews for you and collect them, and then distribute them across the web, both to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites, and even to your website.
When choosing these softwares, you do have to be careful, because many operate unethically and have run afoul of the FTC for doing so. Earlier this year in 2022, the Federal Trade Commission which regulates truth in advertising was paid by a fashion retailer called Fashion Nova $4.2 million to shut down accusations that it censored negative reviews on its website. What that site allegedly did was it asked for reviews, and using a third-party review aggregator, only posted four and five-star reviews, while leaving it up to the company whether they wanted to publish reviews of three stars and below. Many of these negative reviews were not published, so that deceptively inflated review scores, making products appear to be of higher quality than they actually were. Clearly, that’s deceptive and highly unethical. Being deceptive in your advertising will end poorly in the long run, so the best course of action is to just be a really, really good provider. Get really good results from your patients, or clients if you're a health coach, and then ask those people for reviews. To make sure you’re complying with the FTC’s guidance, you have to ask everybody for reviews, not just the ones likely to receive a good review. If, after more reviews begin to come in you still have a large number of negative ones, then it’s time to examine your processes and where you might be messing up. This is where these negative reviews become extremely useful.
Overall, just make sure to ask everybody for reviews, be a good provider, and respond to every single one. If you have time, you can respond to them as they come, or you can set aside a few minutes a month to deal with these reviews. Having a system to ask for reviews consistently is actually going to help you no matter what, because it can help you take a step outside of yourself and remove your ego from the equation a bit. Doing so in a consistent manner will help your business.
To end with, I’ll mention that not all reviews happen on official sites. Many reviews are just informal word of mouth from people talking to each other about their experiences. Don’t be afraid to, as long as they’re comfortable with it, ask them to recommend you to anyone they know who could benefit from your business. A lot of business comes from word of mouth from your first few customers, so you might as well ask them to spread the word. That’s it for today. Thanks for reading to the end, and I’ll be back to share more tips with you in the future.
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