Why it is critical to watch and learn from your online reviews

Do you know what your patients are saying about you behind your back? Do you know that your patients are talking about you online, leaving comments and feedback on how you and your staff are doing their job?

  • 90% of customers prefer word of mouth to any other form of marketing for information on services.
  • 70% of Australian consumers trust online reviews.

In the past few years, the term ‘reputation management’ has evolved, but it doesn’t refer to what you publish online. Reputation management is defined as overseeing online reviews about a company or professional. Online reviews are patient testimonials about you or your practice, posted on Google+, Yelp!, Facebook and other review sites.

Are you aware that the new patients you are trying so hard to attract are reading online reviews? 49% of consumers state that they are more likely to visit a business after reading a positive online review.

Quite simply, you need to be watching and listening to what your patients are saying about you online.

What is an online reputation?

This can be defined as the way you are perceived by a random Internet user. It’s what they read about you online, what they write about you online, and what they share about you online.

85% of your patients will leave you for what they perceive is a lack of patient service. With Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging, patients can instantly say bad things about your practice. All it takes to earn a patient’s disapproval is a lack of common courtesy or inattention to detail.

Remember – potential patients read online reviews.

According to research, over two-thirds of Australians read online reviews before making a purchasing decision. 90% of people believe testimonials from people they know, while 70% believe reviews from people they don’t know.

Patients who participate in online conversations usually make a decision during their interaction, and ultimately spend more on a service or product, feeling that they’ve made an informed decision.

How can a medical professional avoid negative online reviews? That’s the big question. The answer is you probably can’t, so you need reputation management.

Reputation management for medical professionals

Many review sites allow a business to respond publicly to reviews. This is always a good idea. In the case of positive reviews, respond with a brief statement of appreciation. For negative reviews, respond with compassion and concern. Invite the reviewer to call the practice and speak with you personally. Mention that patient service is very important to you, and that you would appreciate hearing the reviewer’s story. Do not get involved in a tit-for-tat. Do not defend your actions. Instead, respond only with kind words and empathy.

What your patients think about you is important but what they share further dictates practice success. You need to ensure that you are kept updated of any mention of you or your business on Yahoo, Google, or Bing. To do this, set up a Google alert for your name, practice name, and associates’ names. You will then receive an email every time Google indexes the word or words you identified when setting up the alert.

To set up your Google alerts, go to http://www.google.com.au/alerts.

If you run across a negative review, decide what you’ll do to counteract it and then take action.

Online reputation examples

I so often talk to practices who, in their own words, are ‘sticking their heads in the sand’ and don’t want to hear what is being said or written about them. Many know that reviews are happening out there, they just don’t want to hear what is being said. When I carry out the searches on their behalf, many are pleasantly surprised to hear what people are saying.

Both types of feedback are a gift to your practice – both positive and negative. How valuable is it to know that you have been marked down in ‘time to get an appointment’ and how easy for you to look at your systems and work on this?

Some other practices are oblivious to the fact that they are ‘out there’. They will quite often say, ‘I have no internet presence’, only for me to come back and show them twenty-two reviews from their patients.

They are staggered because they really had no clue that there was anything written about them.

Proactive online reputation management

From a practicing medical professional’s point of view, it makes sense to be proactive in protecting and managing your online reputation. A growing number of patients are inclined to check out a medical professional’s background online before a first visit. The first challenge for a medical professional is to ensure that ratings and review websites maintain the latest information about the practice. Medical professionals need to know which websites their practice is listed on and provide relevant updates as they happen.

In summary

It can take years to build a positive online reputation, but just one bad review going viral could turn everything you have accomplished upside down. With the growing influence of the Internet, practicing medical professionals need to take smart steps to build and protect their professional reputation online.

Case study

One client I spoke to recently had been given a huge amount of 5-star ratings from their patients. They then received a 1 star, terrible review saying that they were the worst medical professionals in their city. The assumption made by the practice team was that the person posting this remark was a jealous competitor (I agreed).

When they searched in their practice management software, he did not exist in their records. When you looked at his Facebook profile, it had no activity except for this one terrible review. Oh yes, and his Facebook profile image was a stock image and not a real photo.

When this happened, the practice owner was obviously and very understandably angry about it and abruptly responded to the ‘reviewer’ online. The problem with this was that everybody who looked at their Facebook page could also see this remark.

My recommendation with any negative feedback that is received on social media is to respond with honour. Use this as an opportunity to show the world how understanding, caring and thoughtful you are.

In this case, I would recommend a response along the lines of:

Dear xxx

We are so sorry that you have had this terrible experience with a medical professional. We have searched our database and we have no record of you ever visiting our practice. We can only assume that you must have made a mistake and confused us with another practice.

At our practice, we pride ourselves on our patient care (as the other reviews from patients show) and would never treat our patients the way you described.

Once again, we are sorry to hear that you had this terrible experience with this other practice.

Best wishes xxx