Responding to Fake Reviews – Return of the Dentist

Earlier this month I ran an article 5 Tips for Responding (or Not) to “Fake” Reviews that described the terrible situation of a dentist whose personal life had become the subject of reviews. When we last left this saga, the dentist was not fairing well in the drama to clear his name. The post generated lots of comments and interestingly, the dentist that the post was about showed up and joined the discussion.

He took the discussion to heart, hired an extremely competent copywriter, removed his original response and came up with the following response to his reviewer:

Nov 14, 2010

Completely Unprofessional I had heard some good things about Dr. Anderson 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. Anderson 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.

4 out of 15 people found this review helpful. Was this review helpful? Yes – No – Flag as inappropriate

Response from the owner

All ethical dentists comply with the practice of ensuring that a female hygienist or assistant is always present during dental appointments, and that doors are kept wide open, precisely to prevent these kinds of situations and very damaging complaints. My practice upholds these standards to the letter. For several years running, I’ve had the honor of being voted Ashland’s Favorite Dentist, due to my patients’ appreciation of the excellent care they receive in my office, and in-coming patients may be 100% certain that they will receive ethical, professional, respectful care here. Due to the seriousness of the complaints in this review, my staff and I felt forced to attempt to inquire into the identity of this reviewer, and unfortunately, had to conclude that this very hurtful review is the result of a personal conflict. This is a shame, and we sincerely invite all potential in-coming patients to take a glance at the glowing reviews our office typically receives and also, to come into the office to see for themselves the professionalism and dignity of our practice and staff. We are ready to provide you with the exceptional dental care that has made us ‘Ashland’s Favorite’.

Flag as inappropriate

Jared R. Anderson DDS, PC – March 24, 2011
Verified owner

The standard advice in responding to negative reviews is to “own the problem”. However, if the review is fabricated that sometimes becomes next to impossible. Rather than alienating the reader with too much drama, the response calmly and cooly pointed out the Dentist’s standard policy. I thought this review response language did a masterful job of putting the responsibility in this situation back onto the reviewer without being a jerk nor divulging too much personal information. Yet it still managed to raise the very real possibility that the reviewer was motivated by a personal vendetta.

He has worked his way through the first issue. While there is no perfect response, he has made the absolute best of a situation over which he has no control. Now that he has honed his response he can move onto phase two of local reputation management…. review management.

What do you think? Think we can now convince the good dentist to embark a review management strategy to get some more reviews?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Responding to Fake Reviews - Return of the Dentist by

27 thoughts on “Responding to Fake Reviews – Return of the Dentist”

  1. @Glenn

    Well he has started down the path… now comes the hard (but positive) work of helping his client speak to his strengths.

    PS It’s easy for me to be dispassionate about someone else’s problems…

  2. Thank you so much, Mike, and I am really glad that this response felt right to you. As you’ve mentioned, it’s a sticky situation when a business is subject not to a simple complaint but to a malicious attack. Rule of thumb is to own up to mistakes you’ve actually made, but not to admit culpability when the other party is simply lying. I felt the response walked a fine line pretty deftly, and it is a great pleasure to me to know you thought so, too!

  3. Um…this response is not as good as the dentist’s original reply.

    “had to conclude that this very hurtful review is the result of a personal conflict” is fatally vague because leaves the impression that the conflict is with a legitimate patient.

    Mike, I know you & Miriam are friends, and you’re happy to see her get a gig, but, logrolling aside, this is no improvement.

    Anyway, I’m as convinced as ever that a direct, explanatory approach naming the ex was the least-horrible option.

  4. @tom

    There is no great response as nothing will fix that review other than having it pulled down either by the original poster, google or a court of law…. for one reason or another those are not practical choices.

    The second best thing is to get it pushed off the page. So far the dentist has not yet gotten other good reviews. One hopes that he will do so.

    So the response, in whatever form can never be ideal. For me the issue is to move on without appearing to be a total dweeb… I think the approach that Miriam took, is an excellent choice but regardless it doesn’t fix the problem as the review is still front and center.

    Although your comment gave me an idea… perhaps we should have a response writing poll…. take 3 or 4 potential responses and see which ones folks like better. Would you want to contribute one?


  5. I liked how they responded to the fake review. I think competitors being able to leave “fake” reviews against businesses is a serious problem and it will only get worse in the future. I hope to see google do a better job in the future in finding the fake reviews and removing them.

  6. Hi Tom,
    I found your comment very interesting, in that you would prefer to have the exact, personal facts of the case. For me, I feel that what the reviewer did was a fearful breach of etiquette (airing one’s very dirty laundry in public by turning a review into a way to get back at one’s former boyfriend). However, the only reason you and I know that this was the dentist’s ex is because he said so – and that only created a further public airing of dirty laundry. Watching a mud slinging match may be interesting, but it hardly leaves an impression of the professionalism of either party – wouldn’t you agree? This is, after all, a dental office and not a column for the lovelorn.

    In taking the high road, (refusing to turn his response into a soap opera about his private life) the topic is brought back into the realm of professional business practices (appropriate) rather than nasty breakups (unpleasant).

    As Mike said, though, I would be interested in know how you would have responded and the psychology behind your preferred response. I would find that very educational to read.

  7. A side issue not yet mentioned, for marketers working with medical professionals: Doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians, receptionists etc. are not allowed to divulge personally identifiable information about a patient unless the patient has authorized it in writing. A patient can also restrict where, what, to whom, and for how long, disclosures are made (Code of Ethics and Federal law both apply).

    This can become an issue with regard to how a medical professional responds to reviews. Though a case could be made that a doctor has been granted implied authorization by virtue of the patient signing their name to a review (whether positive or negative), neither the code of ethics or federal law addresses this issue directly. A marketing professional would be wise to suggest treading lightly and carefully when advising medical professionals about how to respond to reviews. There may be legal precedent that sorts out what is allowed and not, but I’m not aware of any such decisions (doesn’t mean there are none).

    In the dentist’s case, if the woman with the negative review had at some point been a patient, the disclosure of her name and “facts” surrounding specific accusations would likely be a violation of Federal law (HIPAA, found at If she was indeed a patient (in this case we don’t know, and if she was, her private relationship with the dentist becomes irrelevant), the dentist’s first response he had made could potentially open the door to a lawsuit brought by the woman for breach of privacy. If she’s a current or former patient, the dentist’s desire to clear his good name by bringing suit against her for defamation, slander, etc, I suspect his case against her would never see the inside of a courtroom.

    FWIW, if working with someone in the medical profession. Disclosure restrictions in the HIPAA law are pretty strict, so if in doubt – hesitate and think again.

  8. Glenn, please. Imaginary people are not protected by HIPAA.

    Miriam said:

    In taking the high road, (refusing to turn his response into a soap opera about his private life) the topic is brought back into the realm of professional business practices (appropriate) rather than nasty breakups (unpleasant).

    You are missing the forest for the trees, Miriam. As I said, taking the high road is a great concept, but your execution of it was so oblique as to leave the impression that the horrible behavior ascribed to the dentist might actually have occurred.

    It’s simply impossible to make this situation shiny and new. But at least the dentist can be clear that the attack was a groundless attempt to destroy him motivated by actual malice.

    Miriam, the dentist has to deal with the situation as it is. He can’t keep it from being a “soap opera” by being weirdly unmoved in his prose. Someone who was lied about in this way would be UPSET. The dispassion of your pose permits the inferral of guilt.

    That’s my explanation of the psychology, Miriam. And I’ve already said that the dentist’s original response was a better way to go.

  9. @Glenn, yes that is a very important point and something everyone in the medical professions should consider carefully. If the doctor/dentist/etc. can tell from the screenname that a reviewer is, indeed, a patient, they should definitely know the privacy laws so that they can adhere to them in their response. Thanks for bringing that up, and fortunately, the current response does not name names or point fingers.

    @Tom, thanks for following up with your thinking about this. Do you believe disinterested parties would have any reason to believe a business owner’s impassioned claims that he is being attacked? Couldn’t any business owner could claim this about any review? I’m pretty positive that your chosen, passionate response would have the effect of further escalating the drama and unpleasantness of the situation, rather than defusing it, leaving the owner looking as impassioned as the reviewer. I think you and I will have to agree to disagree that the response implies guilt. But, different strokes for different folks and it’s interesting to me that this is your takeaway. Thanks for taking the time to explain your thoughts.

  10. Tom, you are correct. Imaginary people are not protected by HIPAA. However, there is nothing imaginary about a specific first and last name – something which the dentist introduced, not the reviewer. HIPAA rules state a practitioner can divulge personally identifiable information only to complete necessary treatment, and must restrict disclosure to facts and observations necessary to facilitate each stage of treatment.

    Other issues aside, I was attempting to point out that IF she had been a patient, HIPAA rules would apply and he couldn’t divulge her name, or identifiable aspects of her treatment without permission regardless of whether she was a current or former patient. The question is whether the reviewer ever sought his professional services. The answer to that question would necessarily shape the nature and scope of his response, if any. I apologize if I didn’t make that aspect clear the first time around.

    Setting the specifics of this issue aside, I appreciate this discussion for how it has prompted thought about a spate of issues I have not considered at depth. People can disclose whatever they want, where ever they want, with few limitations. Professionals who must comply with a code of ethics and privacy laws (if they wish to retain their license) don’t have that luxury. They come to the table, hobbled, in ways that other merchants may not have to consider. Hmmmm.

  11. Glenn – I really do think your point is a smart one, and yes, it definitely brings up the issue of medical professionals operating under certain restrictions specific to their industry. Quite true, and oops, I made a goofy typo in my last comment, too.

  12. I think this new response is much better than the original. It’s very well done, nicely written, professional in its approach, and without the drama and messiness of the original.

  13. @Miriam and @Mike….great re-definition of the IMHO, perfect dentist answer….well spotted Mike and well re-written too, Miriam.

    while I’m “not” a woman, I do think that there could be many situations where being one, might put that woman in a “tight spot” when it comes to being hit-on, oogled, etc etc etc. Sorry if I’m not articulating this well, but I often think of my wife or daughter and wonder if they and all women are aware of those situations and could somehow “avert” same…. I really dont know…but I do know that my own dentist has like troops of assistants that are everywhere in her office, and there’s always someone coming in/out as well as standing there to hand my dentist what’s needed…so I’m assuming that the pointed-out explanation from that dentist above helps “solve” that issue for prospective new female patients…least it does in my mind.

    As I said originally on this post, that is the best item to bring to the forefront…and it’s nice to see that Miriam agreed!



  14. Mike, I love your posts as always. I am a dentist in VA. I use a third party service to generate reviews from my patients on a daily basis. I have had several comments on Google claiming my reviews to be fake. The same comments have appeared on other dentists in the top ten excluding one. I think he may be behind it, but haven’t really pursued it. I responded to the bad review about good reviews, but I don’t think anyone really wins.

    I have seen dentists go back and forth with reviews on Google and all it does is manufacture an uncomfortable feeling. It is like being the kid in between two parents fighting. I have also seen a dentist on Yelp (I know they have their issues) respond to every review good or bad. He then has several reviews stating that he is stalking his patients on Yelp by responding. I don’t know if there is ever a real “win” when it comes to review responses. I try to generate many positive reviews and drown out the negative ones. I still think that is the best method.

  15. @Jason

    I generally agree that fake reviews are difficult to respond to. However, sometimes there is no choice. I think this was one of those cases.

    That being said, I agree that the best strategy is one to gather reviews from all customers on an ongoing basis. I also think that it is best to get them at a range of different review sites. One of the problems that I have with Demand Force is that they essentially have you “single sourcing” your reviews. I think it would be prudent to have reviews at the other sites as well as Demand Force.

  16. Mike, Thanks for the great post. I’ve recently had a psychologist client in a very similar situation. Reviews are a very “tricky” issue in all the medical and mental health fields – mental health especially – for obvious reasons. Those that play by the rules are out-ranked by those with reviews. Mike do you anticipate the ranking value of reviews to lessen in the next 12 months? Just curious.

    I like this response from the Dentist. It could have been a lot worse for sure. Certainly getting some more positive reviews would be more helpful than him talking about the glowing reviews he gets. Taking responsibility is the way to go.

    And maybe I’m too “west coast” or something but I don’t really care for the negative banter of several of the comments in this post. I guess I should toughen up a bit.

  17. Very true Mike, I do try to spread my reviews around especially because of the new cascading display Google uses. Even if I have 300 reviews, they can only see one. My office is made up of a lot of older patients, so trying to get them over to Yelp, Citysearch, or Insiderpages is like pulling teeth (pun intended). I use the 3rd party service because it is easy for them to wrap their brain around. It is still hard to get reviews even with the automated service. My 2nd office is located in a more urban environment, and I can easily suggest other directories because they are more savvy. I try not to put all my eggs in one basket due to the instances with Yelp and Tripadvisor that you have illustrated. I know that Google could change their mind at any time. Thanks again for all the great info Mike! I also spoke with a dentist the other day who said that was strong arming him over his rating on the site. He did not want to pay the monthly fee anymore and his rating began to drop dramatically. I know Yelp has been accused of using these tactics before. Have you heard of the same for BBB?

  18. @Jeffrey

    I think that effectively reviews have diminished in importance in the ranking algo with the rollout of the blended results that puts so much more emphasis on the strength of the web page. Not that Google couldn’t dial their importance back up… I also think that more is only better to a point in the algo….

    As to the tone of the comments, while I prefer a touch less confrontation, my goal is always to ferret out as useful of an answer as possible. This requires honest self appraisal and reflection and a contrary opinion is useful in that critique. The goal for me is to learn, and as long as that is the overall direction, the more comments the better.

  19. @Jason

    Do not get me started on the world’s oldest con game er… BBB. They have a conflict of interest at the core of their business strategy…. essentially strong arming businesses into paying to have credibility. I am not familiar with the specifics of your acquaintances issue but I generally find the BBB’s tactics less than appealling. They are not really an independent voice in quality or trust of the businesses that they are paid by.

  20. @Jim –
    So glad to know you liked the response. Regarding being a woman – yes, it is very real that women often have special concerns/considerations in certain scenarios that men less frequently have to worry about. I’m not sure I’m following your idea about averting unwanted behavior, beyond my own experience of requesting that my husband take my arm in public on occasion when any stranger seems to be paying unwanted attention to me. Works like a charm, but if you’re alone, it’s not so easy.

    Like your local dentist’s office, mine is full of ladies who are there to assist the dentist and the tone of appointments is never anything but professional and comfortable. I’ve never visited a dentist who did not make sure that these safeguards and courtesies were in place.

  21. spot-on, Miriam… handled the issue well IMHO! and I’d think that the dentist WILL get some feedback from his patients over the next few months and will learn that this solution “worked” eh!



    PS @Miriam….I always knew I’d like referring biz to you…and will continue to do so every chance I get too! well done, Mam!

  22. Mike: I know you’ll see this, even if nobody else does 😀

    The review from 11/14/2010 has been removed. There are other neg reviews on the places page…but this one with reference to inappropriate sexual activity is no longer up.

    Do you have any idea how this got removed???

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