5 Tips for Responding (or Not) to “Fake” Reviews

Reviews come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are used to get back at a business for bad service but they can be used as well to settle a personal or political score in a public forum.

In this review and review response, it really isn’t totally clear who is telling the truth.

jared – Mar 8, 2011

TO ALL MY VALUED PATIENTS, FRIENDS AND FAMILY : This is Dr. Jared XXX, and I am writing to address the appearance of several scathing reviews written about me by my ex-girlfriend, Chris XXX, who apparently is not able to move on after the ending of our relationship over a year and a half ago. In the reviews, you will undoubtedly see one written by ‘Chris’, dated Nov. 14 in Google, and another nearly identical one written in Dexmedia, dated Oct. 17. When this was originally written, Google was not listing the identity of the authors for reviews, so I was left to assume it was her. Recently, Google has made the (wise) move of listing the first name of the authors of reviews, and I see it is indeed my ex-girlfriend, Chris XXX who wrote this one. She also wrote a review of almost identical content and wording in eSouthernoregon….and any other site she could find. I assume the other scathing review written by ‘Martha’ (dated Dec. 30) is either a friend or a family member of Chris’s, because I have only one patient in my patient base by the first name Martha, and this person has never received the treatment described, and has certainly not been “kicked out” of my office. At any rate, ‘her’ full identity is being investigated presently. I have a sincere and thorough respect for all the patients I treat in my office, as do my staff, and we take tremendous pride in delivering the best dentistry available in a professional and caring manner. I would like to sincerely thank my patients for voting me “[My City’s] Favorite Dentist” again in 2011in the Sneak Preview magazine. This is the second time in 3 years that I have received this honor, and I feel this is a reflection of what one can expect when you come for treatment in my office. I hope that Chris XXX can find peace and happiness in her world soon, and heal from whatever it is inside her that makes her feel that trying to damage my business is the right thing to do. In the meantime, I will continue to love the work that I do, and show up every day giving my patients the very best care possible in a SAFE, CARING AND COMPASSIONATE environment. Sincerley, Jared R. XX, DDS

Chris – Nov 14, 2010

Completely Unprofessional I had heard some good things about Dr. XX and decided to switch dentists. Biggest mistake I could have ever made. Not only did I have to wait 30 mins past my scheduled appointment, he walked past me in the lobby laughing with his front desk girls as if I wasn’t even there. His hygenist was mediocre at best. She smelled heavily of perfume and scratched my gums and just giggled about it. When Dr. XX finally graced me with his presents, I felt completely violated! He touched my shoulder enough times to make me feel uncomfortable. His line of questions about my personal life and what I like to do for fun was borderline indecent. All in all, if you want to be hit on and visually molested by your dentist, then this is the denist for you. Anyone else should walk way as fast as you can! Just a plain horrible experience.

Regardless by not measuring his response, the business owner has managed to make matters worse. He has provided what my kids refer to a TMI (too much information). What should he have done?

He did not really respond to criticisms in the negative review and has also managed, in one fell swoop, to bring increased attention to the negative review and to call his own feelings and past personal behaviors into question. Despite his desire to go mano a mano, he has lost the first several rounds of this battle.

The owner response has left the reader with a serious doubt as to who is less credible, the reviewer or the business owner. And we now know much more about his personal life than any of us really wants.

But let’s give the dentist the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is in fact a fake review and that he was acting out of frustration. I would suggest the following:

1- Read the review response guidelines as to how to respond to a review
2- If you can’t follow them, for whatever reason, DON’T RESPOND
3- Sometimes there is no adequate response to a review. You really can’t own a problem detailed in a “fake” review any more than you can talk reason to a crazy person.
4- Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Do your job, encourage loyal customers to leave good reviews and move on
5- I suppose if all else fails and your business is taking a serious financial hit, consider moving the conversation with the poster to a court of law rather than raising the issue in Google Places or in the Google forums. At least there the rules are clear. Your lawyer can do the talking on your behalf and perhaps build a cohesive and logical case for why the poster should be compelled to remove the review.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
5 Tips for Responding (or Not) to "Fake" Reviews by

45 thoughts on “5 Tips for Responding (or Not) to “Fake” Reviews”

  1. as usual @Mike….solid advice here!

    The number of clients who say to us that they want to “crush” a bad review does appear to be diminishing….as more and more online marketing blogs are telling one and all that you MUST respond to the negative review and deal with it…rather than just bad-mouth the review poster. That said, if the above is as true as it appears…I “feel” for the dentist.

    And while I’m a male, I do know that both my wife and my daughter say that at ALL times when they’re in our dentist’s chair, there is always an assistant present…usually a hygenist….which might have been the way to approach the actual claim that this dentist may have been “hitting” on this reviewer.



  2. Mike,

    I think your points are great, and clearly Dr. XXX could have used them prior to responding.

    That said, there are certain professions who, because of legal constraints can’t address the merits of the review. Doctors for instance.

    My opinion is that the sites who host reviews have an ethical – and I would hope, soon, legal – responsibility to validate the authenticity of the reviews. Especially with regulated professions it’s critical to enable a forum for redress and authentication.

    We’ve had this issue a number of times and tend to respond along the lines of:

    We are sorry to hear of these concerns. We do our best to assure all our patients have a positive experience.

    We’re not aware of the exact incident described but the issues expressed are concerning and we’d appreciate an opportunity to help.

    Please know that we absolutely want to fix issues, real or perceived, in our practice and we hope this patient will see fit to return so we may address the issues directly.

    It’s a real problem for doctors, lawyers and other professionals that they’re constrained by confidentiality and address the issues head-on.

    Another part of the problem is clearly ego, and we can’t do anything about that other than to do what one must with an incendiary email. Leave it alone for 24 hours minimum and see if you still feel like hitting send (or submit).


  3. @Will

    I think your recommended response is very helpful.

    Though as Jim pointed out a statement to the effect of “as a matter of policy and practice (and to make female patients feel comfortable), a dental hygenist is always present during exams by the dentist.” would go a long way in this particular case…and would not violate any confidentiality issues.

    PS or an incendiary verbal comment

  4. Mike, Great advice. This guy is in a tough spot made worse with TMI in the response. A few well chosen thoughts (including your/Jim’s thought on another person being present) that would address future patient fears could have put an end to this without all of the drama.

    @Will – Although I agree that reviews hosting sites should verify that the reviewer was a customer, I think it is unlikely to become an industry standard practice. As a reviews hosting company that does verify that reviewers are are customers of the business they are reviewing, I can tell you its labor intensive (aka expensive). It works for us but its going to be a challenge for many others.

  5. Thanks Mike – great read and a timely piece. I have gotten several questions about responding (or not) from clients lately and my default answer has been “don’t respond – cultivate more positive reviews”. I’ve forwarded this url to each of them.

    @Will – I wouldn’t hold your breath for that as these types of sites are generally covered under the Safe Harbor rules of the DMCA. As a result there is little incentive for Google to even acknowledge it is a problem (I can see Eric Schmidt advising companies to change their names or provide better service 😛 ) and as the solution would surely require some human intervention – you can bank on the certainty that it will never be implemented.

  6. Mike, your advice would be correct in almost all instances, but I don’t agree that you’re right in this particular case.

    First, your assertion that it “isn’t really clear who’s telling the truth” doesn’t wash, because Google’s policy change (to reveal the names of posters of earlier comments) unmasked his ex. (I can’t imagine you’re arguing that there was another Chrystalyn, a legitimate customer, who truly had this traumatic experience?)

    And yes, responding to real reviews is usually a bad choice. But this review is different. It’s an attempt to destroy. Even without Google’s unmasking, the dentist’s story is more credible by far than her assertions. And with the unmasking, there’s zero doubt what’s going on: Libel with malice. She wants to wreck his livelihood, his reputation (and, probably her real intention, his marriageablity.)

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. But those women better post through proxies. I hope he takes her for every cent. At this point, he HAS to sue her.

    Anyway, this chick left him with no good options. He’s taking the least-horrible path.

  7. @Ryan

    Like I pointed out, they should respond IF and only IF they follow the advice that Ted Paff gave in How to Respond to a Negative Review” with the realization that they are writing for the prospect and can do so dispassionately. But if they can’t then no response is best.

    I do contend that the truth is not easily or perhaps absolutely discernable in the reviews and responses. Not only does Jared try to out Christalyn in his Places Page but also another reviewer, Martha, for which he offered no evidence. A customer could easily view it that he was trying to create a smoke screen about his bad behaviors.

    Regardless the truth is impossible to ascertain and in answering he brought up information that further degrades his credibility…

    From the customers point of view, they would have to struggle through all of this to come to some conclusion. They are not likely do that and if they do they are as likely to come down on one side of the argument as the other. They don’t need the aggro and will just move on to the next dentist rather than get into the middle of this messy situation.

    If what Jared says is true, I understand that it is an attempt to destroy but with 5, 6 or 8 good reviews from happy customers this one gets buried 2 clicks away from the home page. And if he feels he has to respond:

    1-Don’t use the reviews use the response tool so the topic can move off the page
    2- A simple, hmm… we always have a tecnician present… would reduce the credibility without him seeming to protest a bit too much
    3- If it was in fact an attempt to destroy, take it to a forum where he has a fighting chance of winning agains libel (ie a court). Why should he be highlighting the issue to every client that wants to read the reviews?

  8. This situation doesn’t seem to easily slot into the “how to” response guidelines. Perhaps he could have made light of the situation:

    “Dental school taught me how to repair a broken tooth, but it didn’t teach me how to mend a broken heart. Clearly, this single and dating dentist has more to learn about personal relationships, as evidenced by a couple reviews on Google and DexMedia. How embarrassing. If you have suggestions for how I can improve, please send me your thoughts to dentist@email.com.
    ~ Dr J XXX, DDS”

    Be humble, no names named, let the reviewers decide which reviews he is referring to. I suspect most people would spot them quickly. How they react would vary all over the map, but I suspect the “right” people for his practice would see his response favorably.

    He could print all the reviews and hold an informal chairside contest to see if his patients could figure out which reviews came from the unnamed ex. A bonding moment between patient and doctor.

    Too off the wall?

    P.S. I live in the same town as Dr XXX. In little A, OR, this sort of stuff swirls through discussions among townsfolk at water coolers for months. Memories are long here. My wife just opened a new audiology practice 3 years after selling her previous practice of 23 years. Half of her new patients during the last six months are the result of one, very small, “She’s back” ad we ran in the local newspaper. Weird town, but great for word of mouth efforts.

    1. @Glenn
      Thanks for your suggestions. I particularly like your response as it positions the interaction in a different light and makes clear that he is owning what he perceives to be the problem. It would be a better response than what he did provide by far. Although from where I sit, it may still be asking the unknowing consumer to struggle through all of it.

      All in all a tough situation. Maybe he needs to head to Eugene for his dating. 🙂

      Maybe because of my age, but I am not sure that it is ever good form to be discussing your private affairs in public forums…

  9. @Glenn…is this town in Wisconsin? If so then I’ve been there! sat in the park in front of the bandshell like 15 years ago, and drank some Rolling Rocks while the whole town enjoyed the local talent show! loved that little town!!!

    re: your message? loved it too…hope this post gains some traction at Google and the doc reads same too, eh!



  10. Mike these are some great tips on what to do in a situation like this. I’d be curious to know if this happens often or if we’ll be seeing a trend. It reminds me of a movie called “Fatal Attraction” 🙂

  11. No, wait! If I read Glenn’s response, though witty, I might think that the dentist was attempting to have ‘relationships’ with his yucked-out female patients. I think that might need a little editing!

    In the doctor’s response, I do like that he mentioned that he has repeatedly been voted his city’s favorite dentist. I think that was smart of him.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments on this post. They show how this review response struck each of you.

    I think there is still the open question here as to whether it would have been okay for the dentist to mention that there was some type of personal conflict between the reviewer and himself, without using names, or if he should not have mentioned a personal angle at all.

    Any thoughts?

  12. In the light of these allegations, I don’t think he had a choice but to be completely transparent: name the perpetrator, explain their motive, and explain what he’s doing in response. (Although he’s rather elliptical with regard to the latter, to my thinking the ‘her’ full identity is being investigated presently would seem to imply he’s retained an attorney and intends to subpoena Google & Dex. (I don’t know how you otherwise “investigate” their identity.)

    And Mike…are you saying you actually believe from that “Martha” is real? I’ll grant that “Martha” is slightly more clever this time — destroying her ex in one review, then giving cursory (and curiously non-specific) ‘small, medium & large’ reviews to three other dentists — but what real person reviews four dentists in two days, and nothing else ever?

  13. Right after hitting the send button thought, oops, didn’t address a couple issues. But didn’t have to! Smarter people than I filled in the blanks that were left dangling. Good job, all.

    The “professional” fields such as accountants, dentists, and doctors always face problems in promoting themselves. Professional standards fluctuate over time. Remember the day when it was considered unethical for attorneys, doctors and dentists to advertise? Federal and state privacy laws complicate things (“Can I say that in public?”). Pricing is opaque (“That tax return cost how much?!?!”, or did you even bother to ask about your neighbors tax return?), as are specs (“Nice gall bladder operation ya have there, where did you get it?”) How do you know if a professional is good, if their best work is supposed to be invisible? Do you really get a warm fuzzy feeling about a dentist if the reviews are good, or are you simply doing your best to choose with what little you have – or is an AMA statement of “no serious complaints against this doctor at this time” good enough for you?

    I’m reluctant to admit my professional training was in marketing (long ago) yet have struggled to find a good way to promote my wife’s audiology practice. Manufacturer’s ads suck – in appearance and effectiveness – but I can’t complain because I should be able to do better and haven’t. Flustered, I (we) instead built a top 3% in sales practice using only an admittedly poor word-of-mouth campaign. Cheap and I guess it woerked, as we only ran two ads during the 32 years we owned the practice (don’t be impressed, we were a whale swimming in a back yard swimming pool) and had increased sales 22 of the 23 years. But dang, what I really want to find is a successful colonoscopy marketer! Right up our alley. Unfortunately, the best I found is not a marketer, but an artist: http://youtu.be/JqvpfrnmJrg

    @Mike, thanks for sharing your knowledge. What you taught has helped people find my wife’s new practice. Doctor referrals and local search has kept her afloat, and I have you to thank for that.

  14. @Miriam

    Thought #1 – he should have run his response by a trusted editor and not relied on his gut to respond. If he did mention conflict, depersonalizing as you suggest would be a great approach.

    I am not arguing whether I think Martha is real or if anyone is telling the truth. That is all irrelevant.

    What matters in a public forum is what the customer thinks. I can not see how they would come away from any of this with a positive view of either of the reviewer or the business… I would date the girl nor would I be likely to visit the dentist. Unfortunately that only affects the Dentist, financially.

    Thanks! Now why are you looking for a colonoscopy markerter? On second thought never mind….

  15. Wow: This situation is the potential theme for a story or movie. In fact, the immensely popular film, Fatal Attraction from 1987 is a far more vivid, chilling version of this story.

    But I have somewhat different take on this situation….and some slight experience(s) with the situation described.

    Of note; the author of the Google response, the detist, has lived with this review in Google for 5 months. That is a long time. That is ample opportunity for the review to decimate his business.

    Who knows? Several of our businesses have suffered from what I’m 99% sure were attacks by a competitor(s).

    As the dentist described in his situation, we received a variety of attack reviews in a variety of web venues. Each review was incredibly similar in its content as he described in his situation.

    In our case the gist of the reviews was to attack one of the elements of the business, that probably appears to competitors to be extremely effective. I’ll simply say that none of our competitors has managed to offer this feature in a way that we are able to do. It deeply hit at an important feature.

    We were at a loss on how to react. One thing that occurred in our case, was that we saw no discernable loss in revenues. We monitored this at a very close level. Secondly we interacted with customers. Some existing customers told us they had seen the review(s). Regardless they purchased our services. We learned that other customers never saw the attack reviews.

    Regardless, we are 100% sure we lost some sales. We can’t determine how much. But it didn’t kill us. In fact based on reasonably wide sources of leads and sales it didn’t seem to have a measurable impact.

    If it had demonstrably impacted our sales we would have reacted forceably. Fortunately we can tolerate some weak months and some lossses.

    But we have employees. We want them to earn bonuses based on production. We want to keep the business running and making money.

    If it was killing the business I would have taken drastic steps. I can tell you it was on our mind for every day for months before we took actions.

    The 2nd thing is I’m old 😀 I’ve been through relationships including those where women broke up with me and I’ve broken up with girlfriends. In one case the girlfriend with whom I broke up with was furious and evidently deeply hurt. She ultimately verbally reamed me out in a way that totally surprised me in its ferocity. Fortunately it was done in private. If in fact these reviews are being written by an ex girlfriend….who can speak to the emotions involved.

    If you are unfamiliar with them rent the movie, Fatal Attraction.

    Meanwhile I’ll add one point. Google needs to be approachable and responsive on these issues. This dentist couldn’t get through to Google to address this issue. When I had these problems I never bothered to address it directly with Google. They are primarily impossible to get through to and generate a response. Its possible to directly communicate with them in a limited way but its extraordinarily difficult unlike any other business out there. Its unreal.

    I was able to interact with two other websites that hosted attack reviews. One ultimately removed one of these reviews. The other effected a change. The attack review was buried under positive reviews.

    I never even bothered to contact Google. I was 99% sure I’d never get a response. That is based on prior experience on a variety of issues.

    Now when Google offered the opportunity to respond to reviews we did take advantage of it on the attack review. Our situation was nowheres near as emotionally charged as the situation described above. We didn’t need to expose our personal lives.

    Regardless, in certain cases people do that, and its necessary, and in cases other people see those responses and accept them. I’m personally not bothered by the dentist’s response. I have no idea who is telling the truth on the situation; I haven’t looked for the reviews on the other cited sources.

    Its just a brutal situation.

    I for the life of me can’t understand how every other business in the US ends up being in a situation wherein they have to respond to people like the dentist and Google doesn’t have to respond.

    Google afterall, is a web monopoly when it comes to search. It holds what would be considered a monopoly share of total search volume.

    When it makes moves it dramatically impacts businesses like no other entity. Shortly after the farmer update Mahalo announced they were firing 10% of their staff.

    There is the impact in a nutshell. Frankly if Bing or Yahoo carried the attack review referenced in Google things would have been different as follows:

    A. The dentist would have contacted the other engines and somebody would have responded. He would have had a shot at convincing the engine to remove the review.

    B. Ultimately it wouldn’t have mattered to his business as with a review on Google because their market share of eyeballs is so much smaller.

    Why Google gets away with this non response modus operandi in the US and other free nations is beyond me.

  16. Dex has already taken down the attack review posted there.

    Ironically, it lives on in Google’s scraped copy of it.

  17. By the way, Mike, if you’re looking to raise your profile in local SEO even further (and for some incredible linkbait)…interview the dentist.

    (And try to interview Ms. Denzell).

  18. I tend to agree with Tom generally, I think. Yes, the dentist is way too wordy and gives a bit too much information, but I have no problem at all with him pointing out that the negative reviews are possibly motivated by personal issues and not legitimately from a customer.

    The Amazon web page for my U2 book includes one negative review. It’s from a guy who was banned from the forum on my (U2) website. If this were a matter of high importance to me financially, I would certainly take the time to point out to future readers who the person is and what motivated him to write the review he did.

  19. Coincidence or not?? I just took a call for one of our businesses and the person referenced a lot of reviews…and then the one scathing attack on us. He said he spent abt an hour reading the reviews. There are now a lot of great reviews. We didn’t write them. They were written by very happy customers.

    He acknowledged how brutal it was and had to ask abt it, in the face of these other reviews that were so different. I believe we walked thru it quite well, but time will tell if he ultimately purchases our services.

    Brutal reviews can gut your business. Positive reviews offset the brutal reviews.

    Meanwhile, if the above review was true, and I was the husband/boyfriend/father/friend of a woman thinking abt going to that dentist I’d simply say….Find another dentist. As a guy…I’d simply rule the dentist out.

    Reviews are an ugly element of the web.

  20. Marketers and business owners are understandably obsessed with getting good reviews, and also with responding properly to negative reviews. But what if marketers/business owners were to become proactive in soliciting negative reviews? Can negative reviews be good?

    The premise is, why not help your potential customers (who read reviews) better understand who “your” best customer is by also soliciting reviews from those who can explain who your product/service is not good for, and why?

    Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist? “All reviews are as submitted. However, we paid those who took their time to explain why we were not a good marriage.”

    It seems that a good mix of positive and negative reviews will help everyone save time and effort – encouraging the “right” customer to come through your door, while not wasting the “wrong” customers time and effort (not to mention the grief you, the business owner faces in dealing with someone you know is not a good fit for you).

    Adding your responses to both the good and bad reviews will further help clarify your value proposition and beliefs.

    Too crazy to consider? Why?

  21. @Glenn

    I think it is a great idea. One that John Shehata dealt with somewhat tangentially to yours in his post “complaints, reviews, rip off & scam : 4 pages every SMB site must have”.

    There is anecdoctal evidence that a more balanced review mix actually increases consumer confidence.

    To flesh out your idea, how would you approach the “not a perfect fit” client for a review? How would you create the environment (with both clients and owners) to arrive at that uber rational position?

  22. earlpearl said:
    Meanwhile, if the above review was true, and I was the husband/boyfriend/father/friend of a woman thinking abt going to that dentist I’d simply say….Find another dentist. As a guy…I’d simply rule the dentist out.


    IMHO, that’s why he has to sue. Nothing less than a verdict that it’s libel (and the subsequent court order) is going to make that ‘review’ go away.

  23. @Tom

    We don’t even know if he has attempted to contact her or if his lawyer has. Lots of time that simple act will resolve these issues.

  24. @Tom,
    Proving libel is exceedingly hard to do in a courtroom and is extremely expensive. Even if successful despite the long odds, what are the chances of making the review(s) in question go away in a cached world? I think there are more effective (and less expensive) ways to deal with this problem. A mixture of humility, honesty, and humor will nearly always trump a legal victory – which would be virtually invisible but to those in the courtroom.

    Been thinking about getting a more balanced mix on my wife’s review site (and elsewhere) because of a hair iron. Yep. A while ago my wife and I took her parents to Europe for two weeks. She needed a dual-voltage hair iron, but none were available locally. Found a highly-recommended site through reviews (what does a middle aged, half-bald guy know about hair irons?). Found two hair irons that reviews said were head and shoulders above the rest (pun intended). The deciding factor? Honest reviews by women who use the products. One worked well with thin hair but not thick, the other was the opposite. My wife has very thick hair and long story short, she says the hair iron is the best she has ever owned. Try ferreting that knowledge out of a sea of glowingly positive reviews. I’m an total idiot about hair irons, yet found a good one because of those “negative” reviews.

    Leaving aside the fake and paid review issues, it seems most “honest” reviews are useless – which is largely our (marketers/business owners) fault. We beg for reviews, but don’t help our clients understand what a useful review looks like – whether positive or negative. It is nice to see “I love X Company” show up, but we should ask ourselves “Is feel-good truly enough? Does it educate our potential clients who “our” customer is?” Most reviews are silent in that regard. Admittedly, this is a fine line. How do we coach people on how to write a better, more useful review without tainting the outcome? I’m not sure. When unguided, amateur reviewers tend to write like marketers – i guess because that is what they see all day long. Yuck. What I know for sure is I’m embarrassed by what I see on my wife’s review page. Too much fluff, not enough truth: http://barikaaudiology.com/nofluff/

    Side issue: I have no empirical data to support my thesis, but I am of the opinion women tend to write more useful reviews than men. Yea, I’m a sexist bastard in reverse. Let’s generalize (dangerously). It seems guys either gush on and on about specs (big deal, I can get that at the product site) or take the stance “I like product X, and if you don’t you are a fricking idiot.” Women tend to write more detail about their triumphs and disappointments, and in a situational, unthreatening tone. Think hair irons. Maybe we have something important to learn here.

    About your uber-rational question, Mike: Geez, why ask me? I clearly have no clue. 🙂 But there’s a little bird in my head that keeps saying “It’s not about rational. Reviews are anything but rational. You need to figure out how to harness the emotion there, so they’ll be useful not to you, but to those who read them. Crap. No we’re wandering into personas, and other touchy-feely stuff that people actually base their decisions on, before moving to the post-purchase logical rationalizations to justify their supposedly impulsive, irrational decision.

    @Jim Rudnick – The town referred to is in Southern Oregon, though from your description it would be impossible to tell the two towns apart (bandshell, performance, etc). 🙂

  25. I have advised folks to never respond to fake/malicious reviews. Nothing can be gained by being drug into the mud. It’s a losing proposition.

    Real/Actual negative comments are different beast of course. If a business has not lived up their commitment to excellence then it behooves them to publicly admit fault and use the mistake as learning experience. Thus, the positive effect of negative replies in the social review matrix.

    Nice post Mike. 🙂

  26. @Glenn
    The review process is best executed across the whole client base.

    Some of the fault of all too positive reviews that you contend lies with marketers, actually lies with the business owners unwillingness to ask EVERY client for a review. Since THEY approach it as a strictly feel good proposition they strongly tilt the review process towards the clients that they like the best and that like them the best.

    By asking all they will get a range of reviews sometimes with unpredictable but beneficial results.

    It is hard for them to ask for reviews in the first place as the possibility (although not the reality) of public rejection is all too real.

    I encourage them to ask everyone. But they ignore me despite my arguments otherwise. But once they have 5, 10 or 15 positive reviews I go back at them and suggest that they open up the process. I still find resistance.

    Some reviewers and some reviews gush naturally but if you ask all then I think you will find that some of them cover that middle ground of what worked for them and what didn’t.

    Some products (like engagement rings) are best served with the emotional review. Is there really an objective way to distinguish between one artificially puffed product and the next, other than via emotion?

    Sometimes too great reviews come from surprising places and people. See the reviews here.

    Particularly note the ones by Heidi and Roland. I think the difference in class and writing skills make them not just believable but incredible.

    Yes that is the basic question in this case: Should he have responded at all?

    Although while I didn’t like his response, two marketers whom I do respect and know personally(Miriam and Matt McGee) both thought he handled it well.

    My opinion was that he used a hatchet in a situation that required a scalpel knife.

  27. @Glenn

    Another though occurred to me. Asking the client to write a review is the first step.

    I was just thinking that perhaps asking the question in a slightly different way might get them to respond with a more meaningful review.

    Perhaps something like this (Miriam are you reading this for a good edit?)

    We’ve found that customer reviews are very helpful in keeping our business thriving so that we can keep crafting the jewelry you love. We would truly appreciate a review from you!

    Please let others know how your shopping experience worked for you. We don’t want you to stop there. Please let others know what type of customer might or might not benefit as much from they way that we do business

  28. @Mike,
    At first I agreed with you, that a business owner should ask everybody for a review, but had second thoughts later (more on that in a moment). But as you have seen, owners won’t and don’t. Perhaps we need to change the framework. Business owner’s are reluctant to ask for reviews because the act of asking is, at best, self serving. An even greater fear is, what if the response is “No”.

    What if we instead see a review as an act of giving? As one customer helping another (not the business owner)? Isn’t that what a review is really for? A way for potential customers to see what the experiences of “people like me” have been? This view shifts the owner’s focus from “help me look good” to “help others like you decide”. This makes it much easier for a mindful and generous business owner to ask for reviews with pride. What do you think?

    Going further, should we consider the location of the review, and what is within? It seems reviews found via local search serve a different function than reviews on a business owners site. With local search, aren’t people are in discovery mode? Trying to figure out who and why (what “people like me” have chose)? While on a business owners site, the person has already seen your offer so aren’t they looking for confirmation the business will follow through with the promises made? If the above is correct, what is the business owner doing to help direct the right type of review to the right location, and who to ask for each situation?

    Yea, I know. Complicates the hell out of getting reviews. But is the upside worth it in the long run? I know these thoughts, if true, raise more questions than answers, but it’s a place to start.

    P.S. Heard a story recently about a Nobel Prize winning physicist. In condensed form, the story goes: Asked why he was so successful, came this reply…. Every day I came home from school, my father asked “Did you ask any great questions today?”

    Not about how well he did. What his test score was.

    But, what were you curious about?


  29. @Glenn

    I presume that Google and FB are working on that very question.

    If a business engages in the asking clients to leave reviews, the reviews tend toward the positive not just because of the business selection bias. In the meantime, a business runs the risk by not engaging in the review process, of having not having a real cross section of sentiment.

    Until Hotpot gets smarter, the business owner has little choice. My recommendation was and still is to ask all clients.

  30. I agree with your recommendations Mike, and I really like the type and tone of response provided in an earlier comment by Will Scott. The way in which this dentist responded leaves me wanting to avoid the drama and find a different dentist. I wouldn’t have advised him to post something like that.

  31. It is never nice reading negative feedback about yourself or your own business.

    I think most resonable people expect to see one or two bad reviews for any company. To be honest, I would very untrusting of a listing that had nothing but 5 star reviews.

    Everyone has a bad day, everyone!

    I think there is an art to responding to negative reviews. I believe if you act professionally, 99% of readers will side with you.

    The worst thing anyone can do is to reply straight after reading the review, while the steam is still comming out their ears!

  32. Well thanks all for the input. I am the dentist you are speaking of. It has been very enlightening reading your posts, and for the time being, I have removed my response. It’s true this is a small town and it’s true that this is perhaps the single most worrisome thing that has ever happened to me in my career. This comes at a time when I just made the decision to invest substantially into my website and SEM services….Now I’m wondering if I’m spending money only to hurt my business. The perp is indeed my ‘ex’. Martha, whoever she is, certainly was never a patient in my office. Even after reading all of your input, I am still undecided about how to address this damaging review. My friends and family and staff all felt my response was appropriate, but I admit that if I was a potential customer, I would just move on to another dentist, REGARDLESS of whether I had written a retort or not.

    This has been up for 5 months and I am sure it has affected my business because I’ve had people tell me their friends went elsewhere after seeing that review. Of course I have consulted an attorney, but that is hugely expensive with no promise of resolution, and even the possibility that this woman will retaliate even worse. It certainly is a very real possiblity, based on what I have experienced with her in the past. For instance, what’s to keep her from showing up in court and saying, “I didn’t write that review. It must be someone else using my name.” I would love to sue her if I knew I could prove that it was her. How do you do that?

    In the meantime, I would love to think I could write a response that would do ANYTHING other than make people focus on the messy drama. Bottom line: it’s much easier to click to another dentist than it is to get involved in that Dr.’s mess. I’m open for suggestions. I’m reluctant to believe that addressing the raised issues is the way. I would address them if they were true. To act like they are legitimate concerns to me is much like an admission of guilt. One thing I’ve done which you may have noticed is to hire DemandForce to manage my online communication. They certify reviews by only soliciting reviews from patients who have recently been seen in this office.

    Does anyone know how to positively identify the authors of reviews? Is there some way to eliminate Google maps altogether?

    Thanks for your input.


    1. Hi Jared

      Thanks for stopping by.

      1)I think a short, measured and prefessional response using the “respond as owner” field as opposed to using the review process itself would be appropriate. This would allow the response to flow down the list as more reviews are added. Miriam Ellis (SolasDesign) who posted above is one of the world’s best at this sort of writing and I am sure she would be glad to communicate with you.

      2)I am not sure of your office procedure but the idea noted above that you make a brief mention that you include a staffer in all exams would be appropriate.

      3)Have you considered speaking with the reviewer and seeing if there is some offline resolution?

      4)Start encouraging good customers to leave heartfelt and honest reviews at various review sites including Google. Over time her review and others will be pushed to the second page.

      The legal route is often expensive. But it might be an investment rather than an expense. A good lawyer often times will negotiate a reasonable outcome without going through a full legal proceeding.

      I am not a legal expert but you might explore whether a small claims court could offer any resolution. Google, with a court order would be able to provide the IP address of the poster. Often times that is enough to have reasonable confidence of the identity of the likely poster.

      Good luck.

  33. Mike,

    Thanks for the suggestions. I suppose a professional response would be a good start, but I’m still left talking about a very bad subject that people can read, and then click on another dentist. Yes, office procedure is definitely to have a staff person in the operatory at all times. However, I am reluctant to respond to these accusations in a way that makes it sound like they might possibly have occured, because they absolutely have not…ever…with her or any other patients.

    As for trying to contact her and see if we can come to a resolution….well let’s consider what type of person writes something like that after a breakup of over a year ago. Without bringing up too much of my personal life, I will say the movie ‘fatal attraction’ is a very good reference to the woman I’m dealing with. She’s a powderkeg with absolutely nothing to lose.

    I’m between a rock and a very hard place. I am not and will not be the only one. Google has handed a tremendous amount of power over to a whole bunch of people who aren’t fit to use it, and it will result in a legal battle for them if they don’t start managing it very soon. I understand they are busy, but they are going to be even busier managing more class action lawsuits than they know what to do with. This is a very REAL problem. It will probably be easier for them to start addressing these concerns, than it will to defend against them later in court….

  34. Jared’s experience serves as good lesson the the “rest of us” (it’s not just marketing pro’s here, right?). A body of good reviews already in place will minimize the effect of the inevitable bomb review(s). People don’t read reviews because they hope to see only glowing reviews, but to learn about what we, the business owner, forgot to explain what was important for them, and to learn if we are a total dick at customer service.

    Take a look at Jared’s Places page:

    As of this moment, 22 reviews. Primarily 4 and 5 star ratings. I dare say a better review presence than average for dentists.

    But are the dates of the reviews a bit skewed? With the exception of the reviews on Demand Force, all are nestled within a rather narrow date range. Does it look like Jared went on a “please review me” kick for a while, then later settled on getting a trickle of reviews through Demand Force as his primary location for leaving reviews? Is the preponderance of good reviews, though narrow in location and dates, good enough to overcome the couple bombs dropped a few months later – with few reviews immediately before or since (to counterbalance)?

    As much as I hate to admit it, Mike is right. You gotta keep asking for reviews. Always. It minimizes situations like Jared is (overly?) embroiled in. Business owners are prone to forget to keep asking – which is why I take small issue with Mike’s suggestion, not because he is wrong but because so few of “us” will be so diligent. Is there a realistic prod to be found?

    As a fellow resident of your city and co-owner of a professional services business (no, not that kind of professional service), I sympathize with your situation but feel compelled to ask – are you taking this too personally? Forget crazy woman for a moment. People in town will figure out what is going on, it’s not the big, immense issue you are making it out to be, and the majority are too wrapped in their lives so they won’t give a rat’s ass either way. Instead, glance at the other reviews. There are valuable tidbits in there, enough to work on in the coming months to become even better and more responsive.

    -Glenn Street
    Barika Audiology

  35. @Jared

    Google is categorically and unequivocally protected with immunity by federal law (Title 47 Section 230 of the ironically named “Communications Decency Act”) from the use of their platform by 3rd parties. This is true EVEN IF THEY KNOW a review to be false and refuse to remove it or pull it down.

    So there is no % in going down that route.

    Your only legal action is directly against the person that wronged you. Which, assuming she is unwilling to listen to you, might listen to a lawyer or a judge.

    Either resign yourself to local legal action now or move on and just keep plugging (Like Glenn recommends) at the review issue. This should involve a simple ask of every patient that comes and goes from your clinic from now till forever.

    I would also suggest that you contact Miriam Ellis and have her help you craft your response and get it posted correctly.

    I am strongly with Glenn on this: Time to get on with your life.


  36. Mike, thanks for CCing me on this and for mentioning me to Jared.

    Jared – I am truly sorry about the very real stress this situation has caused you. User reviews have real-world effects and this is why I am very much a proponent of Google re-thinking their ideas about customer service, and possibly, arbitrage.

    I think you’ve got two tasks in front of you:

    1) Responding to the review accusing you of inappropriate behavior. In a completely bland, calm fashion I think a response that a female hygienist is always present during patients’ appointments, precisely to prevent such instances from ever occurring to any female patient who ever visits any dentist. I would follow this up by mentioning, again, completely blandly, that as the dentist voted XXXX’s Favorite, your patients can be certain that all such laws are strictly upheld in your office.

    Now for the kicker – and I don’t know if others here would agree, but I think you final statement needs to go just one tiny step beyond bland, and be along these lines:

    ‘My staff was genuinely shocked and concerned to encounter this review. We do not currently find a patient anywhere on our roster named ‘Martha’, but Martha, if you’re out there, please feel free to call us as we are concerned that you may have confused our office with that of another dentist or some such mistake and we are absolutely ready to listen to your story and figure out where the confusion lies. The whole caring staff at our office is inviting you to contact us.”

    And, I’d leave it at that. What do other readers here think of this approach? My goal is to state the laws and then throw the ball back in Martha’s court with a concerned appeal that the staff is ready to listen to her to discover where it actually was that she had such a disagreeable experience. I also think it creates an image of a whole staff of skilled and caring women and men who have been negatively impacted by this review – taking it out of a person-to-person knock-down context. Any thoughts on that?

    2. The other review is a lot more complex, Jared, and depersonalizing is probably the best tactic, but I am wondering if there is some way to delicately hint at the fact that the review stems from a personal problem and not a patient problem. The response needs to be extremely well-thought-out and edited. Can anyone here suggest how to hint at this without giving any personal details?

    Finally, the whole thing needs to be buried in an avalanche of newer reviews, unless you want to find the budget to take it to court. Frankly, I think Martha’s review is the most worrisome of the two as it accuses you of very serious misconduct. But, taken together, the two negative reviews are extremely problematic and this is the time to leverage your loyal patient base and start burying this stuff with legitimate positive reviews.

    Sincerely wishing you good luck!

  37. Thank you Glenn, Mike, everyone! I do appreciate the feedback, my favorite of which was, ‘….get on with life..’ I will.

    ….and no, I had no intention of suing Google over this. My understanding is that they already are being sued for just this sort of thing, and it is working it’s way through the higher courts. Even though it may seem they are protected, I can’t help but think they are going to get sued anyway. I’ve heard of stranger things.


  38. Miriam,

    Thanks for the input. I think you have great suggestions. I will start to work on writing responses to each review, this time having it proofread before I publish. Anyone interested in proofreading for me?

    An interesting note: We did have some positive reviews posted subsequent to Christalyn’s, but, even though they were more recent, Google put them further down on the list!!! Christalyn’s review stayed right at the top!!! I was flabbergasted…so just burying them with more recent positive reviews doesn’t always work.


  39. Jared, FWIW…

    I believe that if a potential client reads only the top review, it wouldn’t matter what the review says. Your chance of that client being a “good” client (or patient, in DDS terms…. grin) is somewhere between slim and none.


    Keep getting the reviews – over a period of time is the focus. Reviews (and word-of-mouth) is a long term game. The ROI is not immediate, but are longer lasting than advertising (and way cheaper). The big plus is a strong network of referral sources makes you nearly recession resistant (fortunately we are not timber reliant in this area anymore, so the wild economic swings are far less often and not as severe. Using only WOM, we built a practice that had increased sales for 22 of the 23 years we owned it (if I wasn’t such a lousy manager, we would have had increased profits every year as well.) Yep. In little XXX. Or maybe because we are in little XXX. Hmmm….

  40. Hi Dr XX,

    While using DemandForce, I recommend you take the initiative with other review sites like Yelp, Insider Pages, Citysearch, Yahoo Local, etc.

    Also try to get happy patients to post reviews on those sites. Unlike DemandForce, you don’t have to pay Yelp, IP, CS, YL, indefinitely to keep your reviews up.

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