PODCAST| 121: What to Do When You Get a Bad Review Online


What to Do When You Get a Bad Review Online in Private Practice

In this solo episode, John helps you decide whether and where you should be listed online in the first place and then walks you through exactly what to do when you get a negative review on one of your online listings, including:

  1. Step back from the situation
  2. Decide what impact responding to the review would have
  3. Consult with trusted colleagues
  4. Trust that it makes your listing more trustworthy
  5. Bury it with positive reviews

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Full episode transcript:

You’re listening to the John Clarkecast. I’m your host, John Clarke, and I’m all about helping you help more people, make more money, and master private practice. And in this episode, it’s a solo episode. I’m going to be talking to you about what to do when you get a negative review online. All right, let’s dive in.

Before we get into the episode, I just wanted to ask one thing of you, and I’ve been asking this over the past couple weeks. But if you’re a listener of the show, whether this is your first time listening or your 110th time listening, pause this episode right now and please rate, review and subscribe to this show wherever you are listening. This is a huge favor that you can do for me. It really helps us keep the show moving, keep the audience growing, and also share your favorite episode with a few therapist friends. That’s all I ask of you, and I appreciate that so much in advance. All right, let’s get into the episode.

Welcome back to the show. I hope you are well. Let’s get right into our topic today. Again, we’re talking about what to do when you get a negative review in one of your online listings. This is something that I think a lot of therapists worry about, and some of that worry might be warranted, but as with most things most of it is not, so we’re going to be talking about exactly what to do when you get a negative review online.

I wanted to start by just talking a little bit about whether or not you should be listed online in the first place in different listings and directories and what not. And in this case, I’m talking mostly about directories and listings where someone can leave a review for you. So this is not including things like Psychology Today or my friend Jeff Gunther’s TherapyDen.com. If you’re not on Therapy Den, you should go there now. This is not an endorsement, a paid endorsement, but go to TherapyDen.com. Great, great, great listing, and a great guy.

So, talking more about things like Google My Business and Yelp.

In my opinion, every therapist should be on both, both Google My Business, absolutely, absolutely essential to your SEO overall and your organic search. I would say Yelp is probably second-most important to that in terms of your organic online presence. Especially, why am I saying e-specially, that’s weird. Especially, especially if you’re in a big city or a metropolitan area, a lot of people find their next therapist on Yelp and especially if you work with younger people or these Millennials, so to speak. They tend to use Yelp quite a bit. So I think you need to be there, and you need to have a presence. You need to have some reviews.

Now, how do you get reviews in the first place, because ethically we cannot ask our clients for reviews. That would be unethical. There’s a power differential. There’s confidentiality issues, etc. This is all stuff that you know. So, how do we get good reviews in the first place? Well, because we need to be in these places, you know, listed in these places to make Google happy, we also need to have complete profiles, and how do we get complete profiles including reviews if we can’t ask our clients?

Well, in my opinion and this can be debated, that’s fine, you can do this or not do this, that’s fine.

In my opinion, you should ask trusted colleagues in your area for reviews on a regular basis.

Now, there’s a few things with that. So trusted colleagues, they’re people that know about you and your work and your background, and your trustworthiness, etc., so they can comment accurately on you and your qualifications and what not, and on what it’s like to work with you or interact with you.

So in that regard, it is shedding light on what clients can expect, on what it’s really like to work with you, and they are legitimate reviews. Now, are they from consumers? No, but I think, again, a colleague can leave a generic review and say, “john’s really good at using CBT to help Millennials feel less anxious.” Okay? That’s fair. That’s something that a colleague of mine probably knows and could say on my behalf if they believed it to be true.

Now, these colleagues of yours do need to be in your area. It’s just kind of common sense when you think about it. If I have a listing in Chicago, I don’t know why I always use Chicago as an example, but there’s a lot of therapists there for sure, and I’ve worked with a lot of therapists there. Maybe that’s why.

If I’m a therapist in Chicago, but I’m getting reviews from my peers in Seattle and San Francisco and, I don’t know, Wyoming, then that doesn’t look very organic. That doesn’t look very good, right? That doesn’t look very trustworthy. One thing I know about Google is they are all, all, all about trust. Their algorithms are really based on trust. They want to present trustworthy, reliable businesses to the greater public, and so you need to be thinking about that all the time when it comes to your online presence.

So, you should be asking colleagues for those positive reviews on a regular basis, and you should also spread them out. Again, it would not look good if you had five reviews on one day, right? That’s not going to look very organic, and then you don’t have any more reviews for six months. So you want to do everything you can to again build that reputation organically.

So now, what do we do when we get a bad review? This has happened a couple times to some of the therapists that I work with. Some of my consulting clients and business made human members, and I’ve had it happen to other therapists that I’ve worked with in the past too. So, you have a Google My Business listing or you have a listing, and you get a really, really, really negative review, usually from a client that you’ve worked with. So it might say, you know, “I worked with this therapist and they were absolutely awful” or they, I don’t know, “They said something that really upset me” or “They judged me” or anything could be true, could be not true. A lot of times it’s either exaggerated. Every now and then it’s misplaced or not even a client you’ve ever worked with, which is really annoying.

Now…you can beg Google or Yelp or whatever to remove that review.

They’re probably not going to because they really have no way of knowing whether or not it’s legit. So, you could ask but in my experience most of the times it’s not really worth the effort.

On the other hand, you need to do some things to kind of mitigate the damages as best as possible. So here are my steps for dealing with it. I’ve got one, two, three, four, five steps for dealing with it. Step number one is just to simply step back. When you get a negative review, there’s going to be some kind of shock to it. I mean, it’s not fun and if you monitor your listings on a regular basis, you’re used to seeing those glowing five-star reviews, so when you see that negative review, it’s going to sting a little bit, and that’s just part of it.

So, first job is to step back. Don’t do anything right away. Don’t respond. You don’t even need to call Google or whatever. You don’t need to freak out or tell your team or whatever. You just need to step back for a bit, kind of catch your breath, collect yourself and give it a day or two.

Step number two. You need to decide whether or not you’re going to respond, and most of the time it’s, if it is in fact a client, you don’t want to respond. This is not legal advice. I can’t give legal advice on the show, but in my opinion and in my experience, knowing my own ethical boards, usually can’t respond to a review because it identifies that you know that person, therefore you know that they are a client. This is part of why I think a lot of therapists fear having listings. Again, this is not a perfect answer, but is there some risk to having these listings? Yes. Is there some risk to not having these listings? Yes, especially if you’re taking your online presence seriously and want to get clients online. So, we just have to play the game and hope for the best for the most part.

But you need to decide if you’re going to respond. Now if it was a negative review from a colleague or something, that might be a different story, right? That might be something you could respond to, and you could say something like, “Thank you for your feedback. We’re sorry. If someone didn’t meet your expectations, please reach out so that we can talk about this further,” or something like that. The same way that another business or a restaurant or something might respond to a negative review and just say, “Hey, we hear you. We’re really sorry to hear this. We take this seriously. Please call this number or whatever to follow up. We want to make it right.” I think that looks pretty good.

I mean, the reality is any listing, even the best restaurant in the world, is going to have polarized reviews. You tend to notice that, right, because a lot of times what compels someone to write a review is either an outstandingly positive experience or an outstandingly negative one. There’s not a ton of like 2 1/2-star reviews. People are just like, “Oh that was mediocre, so I’m going to go home, open up my laptop, look up that restaurant, log into my account or create an account and leave a review.” It’s usually not. It’s usually polarized opinions, so that’s just how it is, right?

But you’ve got to decide: am I going to respond and if so, what would be the impact or the kind of risk of responding?

Number three, consult with trusted colleagues. So the reality is if you’re going through this, someone else has been through it before as well, and they’ve dealt with it. They’ve come out on the other side. And in reality, I just want to reassure you that it’s just not that big of a deal. It’s not the end of the world. Like I said, it’s going to shock you but it’s really, you’re going to recover fairly quickly.

So consult with trusted colleagues. See what they’ve done, see what they would do. If you’re thinking about responding, just consult with them. That’s the best thing we can do, I think, when we’re in any sort of gray area in our work, and we have a lot of gray areas in our work as therapists.

Let’s search engines, so that was number three. Consult with trusted colleagues.

Number four, trust that, speaking of trust, trust that it makes your listing more trustworthy. This is an interesting one, right, because on one hand we’d like to have all positive reviews. That would be really, really, really nice but it’s also not realistic, and in a way that’s not super trustworthy. If I’m looking at the best restaurant in Chicago, and it has 47 five-star reviews, well it’s like you start to think a little bit. You start to go, “Well, did these pay these people? Are these all organic? Is some of this the employees leaving five-star reviews which does happen a lot of businesses of all kinds? You just start to wonder, right?

But then you scroll through and maybe you see a one-star review or whatever, a really negative review, and if nothing else, you see that and you actually go, “Okay, yeah, I mean, this happens. This is like, this is a legitimate review, a legitimate listing.” I just think it’s normal. I just think it actually makes your listing look more normal overall. So, not to try to reframe it entirely positively, but instead just to show you that in fact it doesn’t have to be all bad. It doesn’t have to be all bad. Moving through this quickly, but that’s good sometimes.

Number five, and this is really the last step that you’re going to take, and in a way the only thing you can really do, which is you’re just going to bury it. Bury it? Bury it with positive reviews. Bury it with positive reviews. So, what I mean is basically, if you have a negative review and it’s at the top of your listing, then yeah, that’s the first listing, the first review that people are often going to see on your listing. Well, what can you do to combat that? You can just bury it with positive reviews, again from trusted colleagues. You can ask those colleagues. You can offer to leave them a testimonial or review in exchange, if that makes you feel better about it. But really, that’s it. That’s really all you can do, and then the rest is just to move on. Just move on. Keep pushing forward. Don’t get paralyzed by this minor, minor, minor setback.

It’s just going to happen…

and the reality is we work with people who are hurting, so there’s going to be hurt people who do things like that…

who are angry, who are pissed off or whatever. We work with people who are personality disordered. There’s that risk as well, so and again, whether you’re on these listings or not also depends on your demographic, your population, etc. So I think you have to think about that as well. What is the risk for my particular clientele specifically? Again, ultimately it is up to you, but in general I think if you want to get clients online, you do need to be on these listings for better, for worse, and you need to just make the most of it. I do think in general, for most practices, the risk is worth the reward. So, those are my two cents.

So, that was it. Just to review real quick our five steps for dealing with bad reviews online. Number one, step back, take some time. Number two, decide what impact responding to the review would have. And number three, kind of tied to that, consult with trusted colleagues about what you should do and about your reaction. Number four, trust that it just makes your listing a bit more trustworthy. And then number five, bury it with positive reviews.

That’s it. Those are our five steps for dealing with bad reviews online. I hope this was helpful. I hope the format of this episode was helpful. You know, I’m always kind of testing different ways of engaging you all, and so you’ve seen that. You’ve experienced different kinds of episodes, etc., really, really short, really, really long, totally open, structured interviews, etc. I always want your feedback. Your feedback is so important to me.

So, please, please, please reach out. Let me know what you thought of this episode in particular. That’s always really helpful to me. And of course like I said at the beginning of the show, if you are a listener, you’ve been listening for a while, this show is totally free. The only thing I ask in return is that you leave a review, rate and review, speaking of reviews, on iTunes, and share your favorite episode with two or three or even four therapist friends. That’s all I ask for you, so please do that right after listening to this episode.

Otherwise, thank you again for being here. I appreciate it. I appreciate you spending the time with me. Hope you have a great week. Take care of yourself. Keep doing good work out there in the world helping people, and I look forward to seeing you again pretty soon. Cheers.




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