It is the age of digital media, and whether you like it or not, your practice is online. Even if you shun social media, that doesn’t stop users from talking about you or from reviewing your practice on sites that scrape your name and location from business listings.
Since you can’t control the entire internet by avoiding it, let’s look at what you can do. By stepping in appropriately online, you at least have a chance to participate in and hopefully direct the commentary about your practice – by offering transparency and accountability to your patients and potential patients.
If you haven’t participated online up to now, a good place to start is Facebook. You can create a Business Page for your practice, and start asking patients to review you. (As you wade deeper into the digital world, you’ll find more platforms to explore, such as Twitter; and more review sites to monitor, including Yelp, but we can use Facebook as a template for handling your online reputation.)
There are several different kinds of reviews you can get on Facebook, which allows both a “star based” system (1-5, with 5 being excellent) and commentary. People can use the review system directly, or they can post to your wall with observations and without using stars.
The best kind of review, obviously, is a five star rating accompanied by a glowing personal story of exceptional customer service and clinical care provided by your practice. These reviews are worth their weight in gold; they are better for your practice than any amount of paid media.
Nearly as good is a post to your Page with positive comments about a specific staff member – dentist, hygienist, office manager. A photo of your patient with a great smile is also a great vote of confidence for your practice.
A neutral review is a high star rating with no commentary. It’s good in that it keeps your overall rating high, but not so good in that it appears that the person reviewing didn’t feel passionate enough about their experience to write a few words about it.
As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. No matter how flawlessly you perform, eventually someone will have an unfavorable reaction, and the web is the first place that person will probably go. They don’t really feel like confrontation (if they did, they would have spoken up at the time of service, in your office) but feel perfectly safe (and justified) in venting their frustration in front of an online audience.
A bad review can be low star ratings, angry commentary, or both. Again, a star rating alone doesn’t carry as much weight as a comment – it’s not good, but it’s not as bad as it could be; after all, the patient didn’t feel strongly enough about it to rant. In case of a low star rating, sending a private message to the poster of the rating asking how you let them down and what you can do to remedy the situation can go a long way towards resolution and a change in the rating.
Comments however, are where real action is needed. When a patient posts a disappointed or angry comment online, there are several things that need to happen:
1. You need to know about it.
If you don’t know about the bad review, you can’t even try to fix it. Being aware of what is said about you on the web is the first step you can take towards reputation management. Check your social media accounts frequently, and set up Google Alerts or use a social media management system like HootSuite to alert you when your name, or practice name, comes up online.
2. You need to take a minute.
A knee jerk reaction to an ugly post is the worst thing you can do. It simply adds lighter fluid to an already burning fire, and can send the situation completely out of control. Get over your shock, your hurt and your anger, and then react in a controlled manner.
3. You need to have a plan.
Someone needs to be in charge of responding, and that person needs to act quickly and decisively. If several people take turns monitoring the web, have the game plan for reputation management in case of crisis laid out and accessible.
4. You need to act.
Once you’ve been alerted to the existence of a bad review, given yourself a minute to adjust, and refreshed your memory as to the game plan, you need to take action. The following is a list of steps to take, which can be adapted to fit almost any situation.
Carefully read the complaint and dissect it, listing each point and noting whether or not it is valid (if you, or any of your team members, dropped the ball, be honest!)
Start a visual file. You should screenshot the review as well as your response and all subsequent interaction, in case something gets deleted.
Don’t delete. The temptation to simply delete a complaint or hide reviews may be strong, but you don’t have control over third party platforms and the poster will simply become angrier and take their review to Yelp or another platform where even more people will see it. (Exception: Foul language is grounds for deleting an angry post; but in such cases make certain you reach out immediately through private channels.)
Keep it real. A response should have two components: an apology and a solution. Posting a non-apology is one of the worst things you can do!
Look at bad reviews as opportunities. They exist, therefore you have to deal with them – moaning doesn’t help. You have to deal with it, so why not deal with it in such an amazing way that the poster changes their mind about you and agrees you are pretty fantastic after all?
Start by owning up. If you did something wrong, admit to it. Say you are sorry, and mean it. Ask what you can do to make things right, and follow through. 99% of the time, the angry person simply wants to feel that they have been heard and taken seriously.
Maybe you didn’t do anything wrong. If the complaint is something you are 100% certain isn’t your fault, see if you can “fix” it anyway. Maybe the insurance company sent them a bill by accident, and they thought it was your fault. Bend over backwards to help, even if it isn’t your job to rectify the issue.
Be transparent, but respect their privacy. If their issue involves personal details that could be covered under HIPAA, let them know you would like to handle the matter privately for their own protection.
Follow through. If you are fixing their issue, give them a number or an email address they can reach you at, and stay in touch with them throughout the process. Let them know they are important and that you are committed to making things right.
A happy patient who leaves a happy review is great. An unhappy customer who is converted into a happy one is amazing.
You may be wondering – do online reviews of your practice really make a difference? How much stock do people put in online reviews, anyway?
The answer is – quite a lot of stock. The digital world is where the new word of mouth is, and people trust their online peers to give honest opinions. This is particularly true in the health industry.
Reviews can actually have a dollar amount attached to them, representing how much the review is worth. Dell recently published an internal study in which they assigned an actual monetary value to both their customers and online interactions:
- Worth of average Dell customer: $210
- Estimated extra revenue thanks to online promoter: $32
- Estimated revenue lost due to online detractor: $57
A bad review could damage your practice almost twice as badly as a good review benefits you. That’s why asking patients for good reviews, and doing your best to turn bad ones into glowing recommendations, is so important. Make it a New year resolution to pay more attention to your online reputation, and add value to your practice in 2015!