Yelp Terrorists and Keyboard Warriors: 5 Critical Steps For Managing Your Reputation Online

Xaña Winans


Uber was one of the first companies to create two-way accountability for both riders and drivers, allowing them to rate and review one another. Drivers had to be safe, friendly and reliable if they wanted a passenger to accept a ride from them on the app. Passengers similarly had to be kind and polite, lest they get a poor rating and find that no Uber driver would be willing to pick them up in the future.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could rate our own patients the same way they rate us online? Imagine being able to grade a patient on their ability to show up for appointments on time, pay their bill, treat your team well and be compliant with after-care instructions! Unfortunately we don’t live in a dream world, which means that dentists and their teams are held hostage to the Yelp terrorists and keyboard warriors that can threaten to destroy their reputations online.

Until HIPAA evolves to understand two way accountability, we have to live within the constraints of the given system. When faced with a brutal, one sided review, it’s understandable to want to lash out in self-defense. It’s also a lose-lose situation. In these situations, I teach all of my dental marketing clients this same five step system for review management.

Step 1: Identify the patient

While not every reviewer uses their own name on their review account, most use enough details in their review that you can take an educated guess as to who the patient was. And, negative reviews are typically written when the author is still in a heightened emotional state (right after their visit), meaning that if you check your reviews daily it was likely a patient from the past 24 hours.

Step 2: Have a constructive conversation

Once you’ve determined who you’ve managed to tick off, gather details from your team about that patient’s entire interaction with the office. Consider the review from the patient’s point of view. Were expectations properly set regarding appointment times, fees and potential treatment outcomes? Most negative reviews are simply a matter of mismanaged expectations.

Call your patient, explain that you’re aware their visit did not go as expected, and ask them to explain what happened. The patient will likely get emotionally engaged by retelling this story, so it’s important to use conflict communication to manage the conversation. We teach doctors to use the RIMA method, which is highly successful in these situations:

Relate: Use relational statements to validate that you understand where your patient is coming from. You are not admitting wrongdoing here, just acknowledging that their point of view is valid.
• I can see why that is upsetting to you.
• I definitely understand why you would interpret it that way.
• I see why that would be important.
Isolate and Clarify: Segment the exact issue so you can pull out the real issue or problem that needs to be addressed.
• So when you say “everything about the visit was awful,” can you define “everything” for me?
• So what I’m hearing is that the real issue/core problem is XYZ, is that correct?
• Can you clarify for me what you mean by XYZ? By being more specific I can make sure this never happens again.
Minimize: Now you can convert the conversation to be solution-oriented. You’ll want to minimize the problem and reassure the patient.
• So really, not everything was awful. What we need to do is focus on fixing this ONE thing, right?
• What do you recommend we do to address this problem?
• Do you have any suggestions or ideas, or would you like my input?
• I feel like we can get this addressed pretty quickly, are you on board with the proposed solution?
Ask: Ask for understanding and confirmation by using simple, closed questions with yes or no answers.
• Once we do that, do you feel that will solve the issue?
• Do you agree?
• Does that solution work for you?

Most patients simply want the opportunity to be heard out, and will come to realize that they have some ownership in this miscommunication. If the resolution is simple, follow through quickly and make sure the patient knows you took care of the problem. Once resolved, you may choose to ask the patient if they would be willing to amend the review.

Step 3: Write a public response
Even if your patient won’t amend the review, you now have grounds to respond with a simple “I’m so glad we had a chance to talk about this situation and resolve the issue. We value you as a patient and thank you for giving us an opportunity to get this right,” so that readers of the review know that the problem was solved.

If you were never able to identify the author of the review, then your response should be short and simple: “I’m sorry to hear your visit did not meet your expectations. Please call me directly at the office so we can discuss the situation and find a resolution.” Avoid getting into a defensive argument, no matter how much you disagree with the reviewer. The goal here is not to re-engage, but simply to show the reader that you care about ALL patient experiences.

Step 4: Change something
It sucks to hear this, but somehow, you own responsibility for this patient’s reaction, even if you feel they are being irrational. No matter what, from your patient’s point of view, they were correct. Expectations minus reality always equals conflict. Ask yourself if you and your team could do anything different to ensure this problem never, ever happens again, even if it’s simply adding screening questions that would allow you to decide not to schedule this type of patient in the first place.

Step 5: Pile on the positive reviews
Every review company in the world will tell you the same thing – get more positive reviews. While I’m a fan of automated review platforms like Swell and Birdeye, we’ve found that you’ll get better results if you add in a personal request from the doctor.

Tell your patients, “Later tonight you’ll get a text from us asking for a review on Google. I would consider it a personal favor to me if you could share your thoughts about today’s visit with us. Would you be willing to help me out?” Your patient will almost always say yes. That simple personal request will dramatically boost your reviews because now your patient will feel a small obligation to you, vs them being able to reject an impersonal text message.

This simple approach trumps steps 1 to 5
Finally, the best possible way to manage your online reputation is to provide a great patient experience that goes above and beyond every single time. From the first call, to the first appointment, to 10 years in your practice, how well you care for a patient will get you a much better reputation online than carving the perfect anatomy into a restoration. The best dental marketing companies will all tell you that the best marketing ROI comes from maintaining honest, caring relationships with your patients.


Ms. Winans is Golden Proportions Marketing’s owner, president, resident visionary, and lead strategist. Her dental marketing company delivers decades of real world experience, ensuring that the marketing solutions she and her team develop are both creative and easy for dental offices to execute. Golden Proportions Marketing provides turnkey full services marketing solutions for private practices, group practices, and small to midsize DSOs. She can be reached at


Your Practice’s Online Image Depends on Patient Reviews – CLICK HERE

How Dentists Are Judged by Patients – CLICK HERE

Dentistry Is a Game: Manage Patient Fear and Win – CLICK HERE