Cautionary Tales of Negative Reviews

I was recently alerted by my Facebook news feed (of course, many of my colleagues use it as their main source of news) that there is a dental office in London who is threatening to sue a patient who left a bad review on Yelp about her experiences in their office. If you have not read the story here is a link to it.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2934801/Patient-posted-bad-review-dentist-Yelp-sued-125-000-practice-legal-slammed-poor-substitute-customer-service.html

In case you do not want to read the story here is a recap of what the story is about (cliff notes version).

  • Dental customer Allison Dore posted a negative review of dental practice
  • Disappointed with the service, she posted a review on Yelp, headed ‘Terrible Service – Avoid at all costs’ and gave them just one star.
  • The dental office responded by suing her for £125,000 damages plus costs
  • The firm’s actions have been condemned by business listings and Yelp
  • B Dental, in Islington, disputed the review and claimed it was defamatory

Here is a screenshot of the review

As you can see from the screenshot above, Allison has never left a review on Yelp before and only has zero friends, she is not a Yelper and if I was consulting with this dental office as I am with almost 200 now I would have told them to relax, take a deep breath and don’t worry as it more than likely would have been “filtered” by Yelp as they from upon casual users providing feedback about their experiences. Even with all the commotion that this review caused Allison’s review was in fact filtered and is not even visible unless you click on the not recommended reviews which most won’t even look at. Now look at what has happened. Lawsuits, international attention, agita for all parties involved, …everything and anything you would not want.

Here is another review from their page:

If Erin had left the bad review as someone who has 40 friends and 123 reviews (in other words she is a YELPER) I would have been a little more concerned but the last thing you want to do is sue or threaten to sue a patient who has given you a bad review. This story has made national news and has brought a ton of negative attention to the dental office. If you look further into the filtered reviews you will see that they have 9 filtered reviews, a number of negatives have been left since Allison left her review and 6 positives that were older ones filtered as the patients were not Yelpers. The interesting thing is that 23 reviews have been removed completely as they have violated Yelp’s Terms and Conditions (most likely they were not patients and were only commenting on the actions of the the dental office). As more and more people hear about this story I can guarantee that number will rise.

When B Dental found this review what they should of done was try and contact the patient about the experiences they had offline as not to make it such a public spectacle. Instead they had their attorneys threaten to sue the patient and claimed “The review has had, and continues to have, a significant financial impact on our business. We cannot allow that damage to our business to continue”. They added ‘A review such as yours puts our practice and our employees at genuine risk. It affects the livelihoods of dentists, nurses and supporting staff. Nurses and staff with families, youg children and mortgages.’. Are you freakin kidding me? Absolutely amazes me that the office would respond they way they did.

Scared of being sued Allison took her review down but left a note that she did so due to the threat of legal action. She they received another letter demanding this note be removed too. ‘In return they offered to refund £185 of the initial £384 fee I paid as long as I agree never to mention B Dental again. But I felt bullied and couldn’t agree never to speak about them again.’

The damage this has caused is multi-factorial

The patient: states ‘When I left that review I did so honestly. But this has turned into an utter nightmare. There is no way I could pay these damages and the worry of it all has been so huge I am barely sleeping.’

The office has caused permanent damage to themselves and the livelihoods of the dentists, nurses ans the supporting staff that they talk about in the response from the attorney in my opinion by fighting free speech. They have caused the Streisand Effect for their office and have drawn unwanted attention whereas if they did nothing the review would have been taken down. Word to the wise….DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER SUING A PATIENT WHO HAS LEFT YOU A BAD REVIEW.

Future patients will be turned off by the entire story and worry that they will not be able to provide feedback or they will feel bullied into only writing something positive for fear of legal action.

Consumers in general will use this as a cautionary tale to anyone putting a review on a website that there might be a high price to pay for their freedom of speech.

Yelp’s comment about the entire case is interesting ‘Businesses that choose to sue customers to silence them rather than address their comments often bring additional unwanted attention to the original criticism. Litigation isn’t a very good substitute for customer service. I couldn’t agree more with them although I don’t like Yelp’s business practices in general I certainly don’t reccomend suing a patient.

On top of it all the dental office has not responded to anyone requesting comment. What a complete and utter disaster. I am curious to see what things look like in 6 months, 1 year and beyond. It would be a good case study to see the ramifications of a decision like this. As most know, negative reviews should not be a hinderance to your business. They make your other reviews looks real and authentic. The very best defense against a negative review is overwhelming them with positive feedback from your patients or customers to overwhelm that negative review. Being practive rather than reactice is the name of the game.

There have been other cases within the last few years of how this type of action has destroyed businesses in fact a dental office. Case in point……

Meet Dr Stacy Makhnevich – http://www.yelp.com/biz/stacy-makhnevich-dds-new-york, she called herself “The Classical Singer Dentist of New York”

Stacy Makhnevich, used a from called a Mutual Privacy Agreement from a company called Medical Justice, to make patients agree to assign the copyright on any online reviews they might later write over to the doctor or dentist. This struck many as of questionable legality and even more questionable ethically speaking. Medical Justice – after reciving much criticism – has completely changed its model (and name) and has urged doctors and dentists not to use its earlier forms. However, Makhnevich, actuallys end one patient an invoice for $100/day, claimed $85,000 in damages, and asked for $25,000 in “general damages for fraud” (sending the patient a prepared legal complaint with that amount” after he posted negative reviews on Yelp and other sites. The patient, Robert Lee, filed a class action lawsuit in response. Makhnevich also sought to force Yelp to take down the review with a DMCA notice, but the company refused to do so.

For more information about this case https://www.techdirt.com/blog/?tag=stacy+makhnevich

I can tell you that this dentist is no longer in business from this, her office has closed and she is nowhere to be found

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/07/dentist-who-used-copyright-to-silence-her-patients-is-on-the-run/

This is the Streisand Effect gone bonkers.

To make sure everyone is clear….

DO NOT sue a patient for a negative review

DO NOT make your patient sign a mutual privacy agreement or anything else that gives your business copyright over reviews online

DO ask your happy patients for feedback about their experiences

DO make reputation a culture in your office

DO welcome criticism

DO remember that reputation is your most valuable asset and you can take control of it

There are tons of other examples of businesses that have handle negative feedback poorly and I hope that you follow what I recommend rather than what Stacy and B Dental did which is to bring unwanted attention to their business with drastic consequences for their livelihoods. They should have called me or at least follow my advice. If you have any questions on how to take your reputation to the next level send me an email or call me, I would be happy to help and as always please remember that Reputation Matters.

One thought on “Cautionary Tales of Negative Reviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>