Dealing With Negative Social Media

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Q: A client got angry at me because we accidentally overcharged her. We were more than willing to rectify the problem, but before we could do so, she wrote some unpleasant things about us on her Facebook page. How do we respond? She’s well connected and I don’t want her spreading bad rumors about the practice around our local horse community.

A: Your question is very timely, because our veterinary practice had to deal with a similar situation recently. Depending upon your perspective, the transparency of social media is either something fantastic that can be used to your advantage or something from which to hide. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, it is essential for you to identify when people are talking about your practice and for you to have a strategy to deal with negative comments. Clients are going to talk about you anyway, so you might as well know about it and be prepared to deal with it.

Many vets are under the misconception that if they aren’t using social media they won’t have to worry about negative comments if they should arise. This thought process reminds me of our cat that hides under the covers when strangers come over. The “If I can’t see you, then you can’t see me” game doesn’t work for our cat and it won’t work for those avoiding social media.

Every vet practice should have a social media policy that details how to deal with negative comments. Our practice looks at less-than-flattering comments as an opportunity to engage the disgruntled client, right a wrong and show everyone else who is watching the conversation that we are human, we make mistakes, and when we do, we will do whatever it takes to rectify the problem. Avoiding the situation gives the impression that you don’t care. It also allows a minor brush fire to spread because it is not quickly extinguished. The only caveat to this is that a response is warranted only if the complaint is logical, based in reality and not the ravings of someone who is trying to take advantage of a situation. If that is the case, we will ignore the rant because these situations are self-limiting; other people recognize when someone is going off the deep end.

In your situation, it is awkward because the client is on her personal Facebook page and unless you or someone on your staff is a friend, there is no opportunity to respond. If possible I would suggest simply writing on her Facebook wall and apologizing for the situation, expressing your understanding of how she feels and inviting her to call the office so that the two of you can resolve the situation to her satisfaction. If this isn’t possible, I would expose myself and write on the practice’s Facebook page something to the effect that every once in awhile, a mistake happens and a client will get overcharged for a service or product, or a client interaction does not go as planned. Explain that you have systems in place to prevent this but that sometimes things fall through the cracks. I would let customers know that if this happens to them, they should call the clinic right away.

Sounds bold, doesn’t it? But imagine how you would feel as a consumer if officials at a company you deal with admit that they are human and let you know how to fix a problem before it even happens. I don’t know about you, but I would trust them more than I did before. If you are dealing with an irrational outburst, your client’s friends will see on your Facebook page that you are trying to help. If she doesn’t respond or stop her comments, she starts to look silly and her ranting becomes harmless.

Another perspective is that our clients don’t want us to fail. Someone venting on a Facebook page is someone who wants attention and ultimately wants to help your practice. Imagine the alternative: a disgruntled client who instead went to everyone in her barn one-on-one and vented about your practice. You would not even know there was a problem—and all of a sudden, you might start losing clients for no apparent reason. If it is about our practice, I want to know about it even if others are privy to the conversation. In fact, I prefer the public exchange since it is allows us to show our integrity to everyone who is watching from the sidelines.

Social media is changing the way consumers interact with companies. More and more online platforms are being used to communicate with companies. People are beginning to expect feedback from companies based on comments left on various social media platforms. Not responding is the same as not returning the client’s phone call. Think of social media as a means of learning when clients are disgruntled. It gives you the opportunity to make a mad client a happy one.


Respond Quickly

• Develop a “social customer management” strategy that includes technical and business process components designed to engage customers in conversations on the Web.
• Reduce the time it takes to respond to Web postings from weeks to hours, or even minutes.
• Balance your resources between fielding customer phone calls and responding to what’s happening on the Web.
• Prioritize those customers who demand the most immediate attention, and come up with a plan to ensure a timely response based on how valuable they are.

—Source: Joseph Hughes and Chris Boudreaux, excerpted from “Defeating the Dark Side of Social Networking,” Bloomberg Business Week

Dr. Mike Pownall’s username on Twitter is McKeePownall. He is also a regular blogger on

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