How to handle bad Google reviews

How to Handle Bad Google Reviews in Senior Living Communities

We’ve written before about handling negative reviews as well as other reputation management tips.

The big tips we’ve given in the past, like staying on top of reviews and responding to both good and bad reviews, still apply.

But given that just about everyone doing any research on brands and businesses will read reviews, we figured it was worth revisiting this topic, particularly when it comes to how to handle bad Google reviews. (Google reviews are connected with a community’s Google Business Profile, which most definitely will come up in organic search results.)

Don’t defend—and don’t sound defensive.

Listen, we get it. Bad reviews sting. They hurt. And even more so if you believe the reviewer is flat-out wrong in their assessment of your senior living community. But here’s the thing you have to keep in mind: The reviewer is entitled to their opinion—and to share it.

So how can you avoid sounding defensive?

  • Don’t respond when you’re upset. If a review has you riled up, don’t respond to it at that moment. Let yourself cool down.
  • Always draft your response and have at least one other person on the team read it before you hit publish.
  • Avoid the whiff of snark or sarcasm. Those things are hard to pull off under the best of circumstances. And they won’t land well with the person who just left a disgruntled review. (Nor will it be a particularly good look to other people who are lurking and reading.)
  • Accept that sometimes the only thing you can say is some version of this: “That’s disappointing to hear. We know there might not be anything we can do to make you feel differently, but please know we’ve read this, we’re discussing it, and we’re working on figuring out ways to do/be better.” THEN LEAVE IT ALONE.

PRO TIP: Run anything that could have legal implications by counsel before responding. For example, in the case of assisted living or memory care, if someone is claiming negligence or medical malpractice, that’s a serious accusation. Before responding to those sorts of reviews, you’re going to want to get input from others (like the company’s lawyer). At the very least, you’ll want to draft a response and have a few sets of eyes review it before posting.

When drafting responses, sound human.

Seems simple, but when someone leaves a negative review, what they really want is for someone to acknowledge their frustration.

Let’s illustrate this with a scenario. Maybe an adult daughter leaves a negative review because no one was there to help and greet her mom the day she moved her mother into the community. The adult daughter ended up having to track down a staff member who could unlock the door to the apartment. And there was no welcome packet or any “next steps” provided. So the daughter leaves a strongly worded two-star review on Google about what happened.

Which response sounds more authentic to you?

    • We’re sorry to hear about your experience. We strive to deliver exceptional customer service. Please contact us so we can learn more about what happened.
    • We’re so sorry that no one was there from our staff to greet your mom when she moved in. We had an unfortunate glitch in our scheduling system, but still—there’s no excuse for that mix-up. Tina from our team stopped by your mom’s apartment yesterday to personally apologize and to give her the lay of the land. (Tina also introduced your mom to her new neighbors.) Internally, we’re reviewing how we make assignments for greeting new residents to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. Again, we apologize for what happened. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you want to discuss this further. My direct line is x302. ~ Michele Hanson, Executive Director

The problem with the first response is that it doesn’t acknowledge the reviewer’s legit complaint—at all. It sounds like robotic corporate speak. No one cares that you “strive” to do this or that—your community failed, at least in this person’s eyes. Acknowledging their frustration is important. Second, don’t ask them to contact you to give feedback. They ARE giving feedback, right here. It’s too little, too late to ask them to reach out.

The second response, however, is much more honest and heartfelt. It owns up to what happened. It also outlines the specific steps taken to address the issue. The invite at the end for the reviewer to call is also a lot warmer than the first response since it gives a name and direct line.

Keep in mind that it usually falls on marketing departments to monitor reviews. As a senior living marketer, your job is to make sure whatever department is the subject of the review is aware of it and responds appropriately online. (You should also monitor ongoing issues and escalate the issue to the right department head, as needed. For example, if reviewers keep complaining about the same employee, then this is something that should be run up the chain of command and properly dealt with.)

What you want to avoid is simply responding with various versions of the same canned response to all negative reviews.

Look for themes in the negative reviews (and the positive ones, too).

Some reviews don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. Someone simply isn’t happy with some random thing, and they need a place to vent. But with other reviews, you’ll read similar complaints with similar themes.

For example, maybe there’s a staff member that people are calling out by name. This can be helpful information for the person’s direct supervisor—not so the person will get fired (unless warranted, of course). But rather so that the person can receive appropriate coaching/training if needed.

Yes, we know that marketers and sales teams have only so much sway. If there’s a major issue that reviewers keep bringing up with the dining department, for example, the marketing team isn’t in a place to fix the issue. But the VP of marketing can discuss the reviews with the head of dining (in a non-accusatory way, of course) and hope that they’re open to addressing whatever the issue is.

(And, of course, if positive reviews keep talking about an awesome employee, you should share this info with their supervisor as well!)

Another example: Maybe there’s a specific point that people keep railing on in their reviews—perhaps something to do with your website. Maybe you use too many stock images, or maybe the real shots you do take make the place look bigger or newer than it actually is. And when people tour, they’re disappointed and they feel they’ve wasted their time.

Again, this is good feedback. It’s time to revisit your senior living website so that the images more accurately reflect what people can expect.

Bottom line: Don’t dismiss those one-, two-, or three-star reviews. Critical reviews don’t necessarily mean negative. They can provide teachable moments for everyone in the community.

If the review is terribly wrong/egregious, follow the proper protocols for flagging it for removal.

Google walks you through how to flag a review for removal, including a one-time appeal if your request is denied.

Only flag reviews if it’s clear the reviewer . . .

  • Is confusing your community with another one.
  • Is a sock puppet (i.e. a fake reviewer).
  • Has posted something that’s completely inappropriate (e.g., profane language, threats of violence, etc.).

Don’t flag reviews simply because . . .

  • Someone wrote a scathing one-star review.
  • You know the reviewer, and they were difficult/had a reputation for being difficult or impossible to please within the community. They still have a right to write a review about their experience from their perspective.

Keep in mind that people have become quite adept at reading between the lines.

In fact, if your community had nothing but five-star reviews, people would likely be suspicious. (And rightfully so.)

Because we consumers read so many reviews when doing online shopping, many of us have gotten good at spotting fraudulent reviews due to things like poor grammar and punctuation, weird wording, or the review simply doesn’t make sense.

Also, keep in mind that the best way to combat a negative review is with a good review. If you have a consistent process for soliciting reviews from prospects, residents, and families, you won’t have trouble managing the occasional negative review.

Wild card idea: Share negative review “success” stories.

You know the saying “turn that frown upside down”? Consider deploying the same approach with the occasional negative review.

No, this isn’t an instant fix—it will take some effort and creativity on your part along with a little luck and cooperation on the reviewer’s part. But this could work in certain situations.

For example, let’s say a reviewer is complaining that her mother doesn’t get any input on meals—and you know this isn’t true. The problem might be that the mom doesn’t know how/when to give input . . . or the adult child hasn’t been getting the full story from their mom due to memory issues. Your task is to turn this negative review into a success story—one that will demonstrate that you’re listening to what people are saying and that you’re willing to act when something isn’t right.

So going back to this example . . . imagine shooting a video on your smartphone where you do a basic intro like this: “We noticed this review from Clare where she complained that her mom, Anita, wasn’t able to give input on the weekly menu that Chef Daphne creates in our community. We wanted to see what was up since Chef Daphne loves hearing from residents. So we got Anita, Clare, and Chef Daphne together to work it out. Here’s what happened next . . .”

And then you capture the moment, whatever it is, of the three women in your community’s kitchen, talking about the menu, surveying the fresh produce, laughing, and swapping recipes like the one for Anita’s famous beef stew.

Think of everything you’d be accomplishing with this video. You now have a great little marketing vehicle that shows off your awesome chef, the kitchen, and the way the chef interacts with residents—all good things and big selling points for senior living communities.

You could share the video on your website and social media. You would also include a link to the video in your response to the negative review. “We reached out to Clare and her mom to clear the air. Watch this video to see what happened . . . “

We’re riffing here, but you get the idea. Talk about building trust with prospects, right?

This is why you need to be creative when dealing with negative reviews. Don’t simply have a knee-jerk reaction and see them as annoying, a burden, or one more thing you must “deal” with in an ever-growing pile of tasks. Instead, look for opportunities and try to turn that frown upside down.

Need help with your community’s reputation management?

We not only help communities manage popular review sites, but we also help them clean up business directory listings and create a review solicitation strategy that actually works. Reach out and let’s talk about reputation management for your community.