The 5 Stages of Surviving Bad Reviews

We all know it…the sinking feeling we get when we see the alert, a single star and a nasty diatribe about how awful you are. Rejection leads your brain through a sequence of emotions much like the stages of grief. Emotional pain brings these coping strategies to life for everyone.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross introduced the world to her concept of the five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying, way back in 1969. Her stages were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Since then, people have debated her ideas and presented all kinds of steps and stages of their own. But think for a moment, does it matter whether she got it “right”? No. What matters is understanding how your brain copes with seeing a negative review about yourself and your business. Can we not only survive a bad review, but convert it to a teachable moment? The five–stages model works really well to answer that question.

1. Denial

“It can’t be true.” The first time I saw a bad review, I was aghast. The review was completely unfair and untrue! Yes, in some cases reviews are completely false or even rest on mistaken identity, but most reviews, like myths and legends, contain a grain of truth. Find that truth and use it to drive improvement.

Find something that justifies the opinion. Perhaps it is just a misconception that you can correct! For example, my animal hospital got a review saying that we were ridiculously overpriced, stating that their dog’s annual visit cost them $400—I wish! I know that amount is not accurate because we have bundled our annual offerings at a standard price. So I posted a public reply that explained the mistake and invited that reviewer to contact us privately so we could fix it. We never heard from her, of course, but we have demonstrated integrity by offering restitution.

If there is truth in the criticism, use it to improve your practice. Suppose someone complained that your receptionist was rude. Whether or not it was true (everyone has bad days), take the opportunity to remind your team to smile when they answer the phone. Provide refresher training with this exercise: Make yourself invisible to the others (use another room, a screen, blindfolds), then speak to them. Let them vote on whether you were smiling. You will be amazed at how easily your message is understood. Follow up by rewarding smiles with praise or goodies. Trust me; if you start handing out chocolate to every smiling face, those Pavlovian employees will soon smile all the time!

2. Anger

Critical evaluation is bound to arouse your anger; wait for it. We all take pride in our work. Your team is your family, and anyone attacking them can bring out your beast and not your best. The adage, “Don’t get mad, get even” has it wrong. It is OK to get mad, but then you have to get better. Most of your clients will appreciate it. To those that never complain and always take your advice, send thank–you cards just for being a wonderful pet parent. You will find your anger dissipates as you write details of how terrific each good client is and you imagine their pleasure when they read it.

3. Bargaining

Like grief, criticism is so painful that we are tempted to answer back in self–defense or appeasement. Neither response is appropriate in a public forum. Answer, of course (you want to show that you care about your service and your business), but just make a single statement in your defense, like, “I’m sorry we remember this incident differently.” Then offer a private exchange: “Please contact us personally so we can make sure you have been treated fairly and received our standard exemplary service. We take pride in our mission and strive to give top–notch care for pets and their people.”

Don’t get into a back–and–forth on social media. Just don’t do it, no matter how wrong they are. Those with justifiable complaints will contact you to right the wrong. Those complaining with ill intent won’t, thankfully—you do not want them for clients.

Remember, no matter how much you want to try to bargain with a critique, it’s always a mistake to let yourself be dragged into the fray. Mark Twain warned, “Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

4. Depression

Having failed to erase a bad review through anger or bargaining, we may feel helplessly discouraged, defeated and disheartened. But it’s a mistake to give up. A bad review will go away, as everything does. Your good reviews will soon scroll it off the page. Let’s face it, if you only have 5-star reviews, won’t people feel skeptical that you are buying them?

Let the discomfort of feeling helpless and hopeless prompt you to seek good reviews. Put a note on your invoices asking people to share their experiences on Google. With a sign or a wall of pet photos (people love to show off their pets), remind people to check you out on Facebook where they are automatically asked to review you.

The last stage of dealing with bad reviews is…

5. Acceptance

Eventually, you remember that you are not a loser and realize that the angry mobs will dissipate (if they really formed, it is very hard to rally people for long, even if there’s a little buzz). People may jump on the negativity bandwagon at first, but soon their attention is pulled elsewhere. It will blow over, I promise.

Accept that you cannot be the right fit for every client. No one can. Legitimate concerns need to be resolved. Others need to be cautiously curtailed. Remember, rational people will see through ridiculous claims, and those rational souls are the demographic that you want. As for the others…well, we have a saying, “You can take your crazy somewhere else because we are all stocked up!” +