In elementary school, we learned the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, this basic credo of kindness doesn’t quite hold up in the virtual world. While online comments and reviews are crucial to reinforcing your capability and credibility as a healthcare provider, it’s nearly impossible to elicit positive feedback 100% of the time. Depending on your tolerance for criticism, your reaction to reading a negative message about yourself or your practice might range from mild embarrassment to total devastation. But before you reach for that box of tissues, remember that one bad apple doesn’t necessarily spoil the entire bunch—at least not in the social media realm. In fact, if you play your cards right (i.e., respond appropriately), you can actually use negative feedback to humanize your company and demonstrate your unwavering commitment to client satisfaction. With that in mind, here’s some guidance—inspired by this American Express Open Forum article—on how to navigate the murky waters of negative interactions, broken down by type:

Type of Feedback: The Statement of Fact

Definition:

With this interaction, the commenter simply states what happened—no trash-talking, no finger-wagging, no unsavory language. It’s just a straight description of this person’s experience with you or your practice—an experience that just happens to be negative.

Example:

“I received a bill from ABC Physical Therapy almost six months after the appointment for which they were charging me.”

How to Respond:

When people bring valid complaints to your attention—in this case, the complaint isn’t explicit, but you can pretty safely assume that the customer is unhappy with his or her experience—you definitely need to address them. This is not the time to get defensive, as that will only invite more negativity—especially if you’ve received multiple comments about the same issue (angry mob, anyone?). Instead, offer a sincere apology to the commenter and assure him or her that you’re aware of the problem and that you’re taking steps to fix it—which should be the truth. In the example above, for instance, an appropriate response might be: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention; we’re so sorry for the delay. We’ve been working to improve our billing processes to get claims out the door faster so bills arrive in your mailbox in a more timely fashion.”

Type of Feedback: The Polite Critique

Definition:

Even with the cloak of anonymity the Internet provides, there are people out there who will refrain from full-on attacking a business online in favor of a more well-mannered approach. But although their words may not be mean-spirited or over-the-top aggressive, they’re still decidedly critical—and clearly indicative of dissatisfaction.

Example:

“ABC Physical Therapy really needs to reassess its billing practices. It’s just not acceptable for me to get a bill for services I received more than six months ago.”

How to Respond:

Again, you can’t really ignore this type of complaint, especially if you know it’s probably true. And even if it’s not—maybe the person exaggerated the billing lag time, for example—you can’t afford to let his or her call-out go unanswered. That only invites others who have experienced similar issues to piggyback on the post—and if they see that you never offered an answer, it sure doesn’t make you look very attentive. So, craft a positive response similar to the one suggested in the section above.

Type of Feedback: The Reasonable Attack

Definition:

By “reasonable,” I really mean “with reason”—in other words, it’s not an out-of-the blue, completely random complaint. The commenter has a leg to stand on because his or her opinion is not without merit, but the comment itself is probably peppered with some pretty subjective—and, most likely, harsh—language.

Example:

“Does ABC Physical Therapy even HAVE a billing department? Because I, for one, do not enjoy paying for services I received HALF A YEAR AGO!”

How to Respond:

Ah, yes, the dreaded all-caps—the cardinal sin of Internet commenting. Unfortunately, angry people tend to throw all respect for basic Internet etiquette out the window. The number-one thing to keep in mind here is that you do not want to fight fire with fire. Responding to a disgruntled customer’s yelling with even more yelling will only exacerbate the situation; before you know it, your conversation could turn into a full-on Internet shouting match for all to see. Instead, address the commenter’s issue in a calm, pleasant, positive tone—and make sure you acknowledge his or her pain point and explain your plans for eliminating similar problems in the future. For example: “We’re so sorry for the delay, and we completely understand your frustration. We know such belated bills are unacceptable, and we’re currently in the process of fixing our billing processes to avoid this issue in the future.” As a side note, remember that in some cases, you may receive comments from multiple users regarding the same issue. In such instances, avoid responding to each comment with a generic, “canned” answer. Instead, craft a new message for each response. This humanizes your business and shows that you care about each commenter as an individual.  

Type of Feedback: The Follow-Up Attack

Definition:

You screwed up. You admitted it. You offered a sincere apology. And to top it all off, you vowed to correct the issue that prompted the attack. But for some commenters, that’s simply not enough—and they’ll let you know it.

Example:

“Well, it’s great that you’re fixing your billing processes for future customers, but that doesn’t make the surprise $300 bill that showed up in my mailbox this week any less unacceptable. If you really cared about keeping my business, you’d do something more to remedy the situation.”

How to Respond:

If an attack-spurred conversation escalates past the initial apology, you want to move the transcript off of your clinic’s public-facing page—stat! As this Savvy Panda article advises, “If a customer posts a negative review and you take the time to respond with a sincere apology and a clear solution, don't continue to engage in any sort of ‘That's not good enough!’ banter. The unfortunate fact is that some people will never be happy—so don't spend all afternoon throwing water in a bottomless bucket of appeals to reason.” However, the article goes on to offer a compromise for those wishing to respond to follow-up complaints or demands: Rather than addressing the customer’s comment publicly, invite him or her to send you a direct message so you can continue the dialogue in private.

Type of Feedback: The Barrage

Definition:

It’s one thing for a social media user to leave a single comment expressing a single issue, complaint, or concern; it’s another for that user to start throwing hate all over your business’s online platforms with reckless abandon. But if you have an especially disgruntled customer, he or she is liable to come at your social feeds like a wrecking ball (or pug).

Example:

“Hey, ABC Therapy, can someone explain the huge, random bill I got in the mail today—six months after my last appointment at your clinic!?!”

“Apparently, ABC Therapy’s idea of good customer service is a surprise $300 bill six months after the fact.”

“Unbelieveable. My last PT appointment was half a year ago, and today I found a $300 bill from ABC Therapy in my mailbox.”

How to Respond:

If the commenter has a legit reason to be upset—and a belated bill would probably fall into that category—then you should respond in a calm, apologetic manner and then attempt to get into direct contact with him or her as soon as possible to mitigate the situation and (hopefully) negotiate a ceasefire. However, if a user unleashes a firestorm of negative comments that are in no way rooted in fact, you may be tempted to argue with that user—or perhaps simply block him or her so you can be done with it. Do not fall into this trap! Keep your cool and do your best to turn the negative into a positive. However, as this article explains, if the tone and content of the comments push the envelope on appropriateness—or if the words come off as threatening or obscene—then you absolutely can (and in some cases probably should) delete them, mark them as spam (if possible), and perhaps even block the offending user from your page.

Type of Feedback: The Straight-Up Spam

Definition:

Unlike reasonable attacks, pure spam isn’t rooted in validity. Many times, spammers—or, as they’re not-so-affectionately known in the social media world, trolls—aren’t even customers or prospects. Some are just random social media users who enjoy stirring the pot in any way possible just to get a rise out of people. In other cases, they may be trying to taint your fans’ and followers’ opinions of your business so they’ll move to a competitor.

Example:

“Nobody at ABC Therapy has any idea what they’re doing. Everyone I know says that clinic is a total joke.”

How to Respond:

You might be tempted to engage this person and argue against his or her outrageous, totally unfounded claims, but in this case, you’re better off holding your tongue. Why? Because when you respond, you’re giving the troll exactly what he or she wants. You’re taking the bait. But in this situation, you’re better off taking the high road, and that means ignoring the spam or—if it is inappropriate, explicit, or potentially libelous—removing it.


Facing negative online feedback can be uncomfortable—and maybe even a little scary—but if you develop a plan ahead of time, it will be much easier to take action when the time comes. Has your practice dealt with negative comments on social? What response strategies have worked best for you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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