One Star Rating with woman using a laptopIn today’s world, online reviews have a massive influence on how consumers select products or choose whether to patronize a business. When you’re deciding on a new restaurant for dinner, where do you usually check first? Probably Yelp. Need a hotel for your upcoming vacation? TripAdvisor is likely on your radar for research.

And while retail, food and service industries may be the first that spring to mind in the online review space, healthcare systems and hospitals also rely on online ratings and patient reviews to help boost reputations. Whether it’s a healthcare-specific site like Healthgrades, a social media site, Google, or a Yelp profile, it’s crucial that your marketing and communications team has a process for responding to negative reviews.

Consumers look for review responses

BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey showed that not only do consumers look at online reviews, they also look for businesses to respond to those reviews. According to the survey:

  • 97% of consumers surveyed looked online for a local business.
  • 85% of survey respondents trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • 30% of consumers surveyed said that an important factor in judging a business or organization is whether that business responded to the online review.

Have a response plan in place

Regardless of your online presence or the size of your organization, it’s essential to have an action plan in place for responding to online reviews. Having a plan outlined can help with consistent messaging across channels, which can prevent confusion or miscommunication within your online community. It can also help build trust with your patients (or potential patients) and their families.

If you’re looking to develop an online review response plan, here are some tips for getting started:

  • Brainstorm responses ahead of time. Consider bringing together members of your communications team to discuss the types of online reviews you may come across (positive and negative). Start with your past experiences or some common scenarios — a complaint about wait time in the clinic or difficulty finding a clinician’s office — and come up with responses for each. Share this guide with team members who may need to respond to reviews or patient feedback.
  • Come up with consistent language that doesn’t sound boilerplate. It’s OK to have some prewritten or “canned” responses ready to go but make sure you write them in your organization’s voice. You want these messages to be authentic and not sound like you’re using the same response for every scenario. Consider drafting a few variations of each message.
  • Adjust your response guide regularly. While creating your response guide, designate a team member who will be responsible for coordinating regular updates to the guide. It’s important to revisit the guide and adjust for new information and refresh the voice as necessary.
  • Take conversations offline, if possible. After responding publicly, offer to continue the conversation offline. Ask the reviewer to send his or her contact information via private message. Or, you can provide an email address where the reviewer can send feedback. This will help you get more details about the situation, which can lead to a quicker resolution.
  • Keep conversations civil. It’s easy to get riled up about a negative review. No matter how you feel, it’s vital that you keep your responses civil and positive. Using negativity to fight negativity will only snowball into a larger problem and can seriously hurt your organization’s reputation.
  • Share feedback with stakeholders. In many cases, the negative reviews you see may need a response from someone outside communications or marketing. When developing your response guide, make sure you have information for key contacts across your organization, so you can relay important feedback from reviews and, in some cases, forward contact information for follow-up.
  • Time is of the essence! Quick responses are more likely to see a positive outcome; they show that your organization is listening and responding to consumers’ concerns.

Once you have your response plan in place, don’t forget about asking your loyal patients for reviews. Making sure you have strong positive feedback on the review sites can help offset some of those negative reviews.

How do you handle negative reviews at your organization? Share your ideas and tips with us by reaching out on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.