How to deal with negative online feedback or complaints

By Tristan Morris


Seeing negative feedback about your organisation online can often trigger a sense of panic for marketers and business leaders. But negative feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. The fact is, feedback is highly valuable to any business and negative feedback from customers, patients, clients, partners or even staff should be regarded as an opportunity for your organisation to learn from mistakes and grow stronger. However, if ignored or overlooked, negative online feedback can be the beginning of a downward turn for brand reputation, which is difficult to shake.

In healthcare, dealing with negative feedback is more difficult than ever – with rules around compliance, patient confidentiality, and misleading information, ensuring that your brand is being represented well online is extremely important, but so is responding to negative feedback. 

Note: this article deals specifically with social media feedback relating to user experience, and doesn’t cover adverse events, which will be explored in a future piece. 

Dealing with online criticism

The internet has no doubt revolutionised the healthcare landscape, but where it can be a gift, it can equally be a curse. Comments, once online, are usually there forever – and this means that feedback, negative or otherwise, can impact your brand’s reputation. If patients are unhappy, they are more likely than ever to turn to online platforms to air their grievances, something that you need to be monitoring in order to preserve your brand. Once you see negative feedback, you have some options: 

  • Defuse the situation, responding directly. 
  • Request that the comment be removed by the platform. 
  • A defamation action, should the comment be more severe. 

Your best option is to act quickly, resolve the situation, and consider the reasons for the complaint. Negative feedback is regarded as failure, and failure is often seen as a bad thing. Yet realistically, no single success story comes without all-important failures. It’s an essential part of development and evolution to achieve your goals.

Things to consider

Rather than burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem will disappear, there are several easy ways to manage negative feedback online. It’s important that you remain at all times professional, and that you’re using the correct voice for your brand. Before responding to negative feedback online, make sure that you have considered these four questions. 

What is your current complaints procedure?

This is a step that many healthcare organisations miss – your offline complaints procedure can be easily adjusted to apply to online complaints. The main difference is that when you respond to complaints online, you aren’t just communicating with the patient in question. You’re communicating with every online user that interacts with your brand. Take the time to review and understand your current procedure, and consider the ways that this can be amended to include online interactions. 

Are you complying with patient confidentiality?

Every healthcare organisation needs to be conscious of patient confidentiality, and this is also true for any online interaction. Even if you’re not identified as a medical professional, you still need to be wary of sharing identifiable information about patients online. This goes for any platform, and even private accounts, and is something that should be part of your compliance procedure. 

When it comes to negative feedback online, it can sometimes feel impossible to respond to misinformation without revealing patient information. Although this can be frustrating, it’s important to ensure that your organisation, and all employees, are always adhering to patient confidentiality. We’re all human, and ultimately negative feedback can be frustrating, but it’s important to remember that these comments are in a public forum. 

How can you avoid making matters worse?

Your organisation should respond to all feedback, good and bad. Thanking happy patients for their kind comments, but ignoring any negative feedback could damage your brand reputation. In fact, 59% of consumers value brands that respond quickly to questions on social media, and this number is climbing year on year. However, it’s important to respond to negative comments with sensitivity and care. Thank your patients for their comments, and invite them to communicate with you directly. 

Taking the conversation offline gets the conversation (and potentially a risk of escalated comments) out of public view and shows your brand is actively seeking to provide great customer support. Once you manage to speak to the patient privately, reassure them that you’re ready to listen and find a solution – there’s always an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

What issues need to be flagged, and how can you resolve them?

Most importantly, take the time to understand their concerns and why the negative feedback has appeared. You should always encourage feedback for your service, and use it as a tool to grow your organisation. Taking the time to review and understand each piece of negative feedback could actually highlight issues in your current service offering, as for every patient that comments online, there could equally be others who have experienced the same issue but have chosen not to inform you. 

Once you’ve identified the issue, assure the patient that you will look into it, and begin steps to resolve the situation. Ultimately, taking note of and resolving negative comments can be the difference between a great or a terrible brand reputation.

How digitally mature is your organisation’s current strategy?

As the online world continues to evolve and grow, it’s easy for healthcare businesses to find themselves struggling to catch up with digital marketing trends. Of course, right now, more than ever, there are huge challenges facing us and if you don’t have the right expertise, tool subscriptions or resource in-house then it is likely the struggle will continue. Partnering with a digital content marketing specialist like BBI Health can help. We work with healthcare organisations to help them achieve their digital and performance goals. Contact us today to chat through how we can work together.

Alternatively, download your free copy of our Digital Marketing Guide for healthcare to get started on how to best elevate your digital strategy.

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