Here's how to take the fear out of online patient reviews -and what to do when negativity happens.
Let’s talk about one of every dentist’s favorite topics: online reviews. No matter how hard you’ve tried to ignore them, online patient reviews play an important role in marketing your dental practice. To understand why dentists have such a distaste for the topic of online reviews, let’s look at a strong parallel-why patients dread their dental visits.
Patients are afraid of pain. They’re afraid of costs. They’re afraid of the unknown. Yet we all know when patients start taking care of themselves by seeing the dentist regularly, dental visits often become less invasive, expensive and intimidating.
The same logic can be applied to dentists and online reviews. Dentists might not know how to ask for reviews. They don’t want to come across as cheesy and salesy to patients. They’re afraid of potential fallout from a negative review. Yet the dentists who are proactive in managing their online profiles and actively ask for reviews on a regular basis find their practice in a less precarious and potentially more profitable place.
In the spirit of spring-and fresh starts-let’s clean up and beef up your online profile and attempt to take a more active role in managing your patient reviews.
1. Get started
You have to know where you’re starting from, and that means conducting an online audit of your online reviews to get a baseline. Take a few minutes to Google your name, any associates’ names and your practice name. What sites come up in search engine results?
If you’ve never done this before, you’ll find a host of online directories and websites have created a business profile for your practice. It’s completely up to you to keep track of where and how your practice is listed online.
At the bare minimum, each profile should be updated with the correct practice name, physical address, telephone number and website address. This is to establish consistency and to make sure you can easily be found by people who are already searching for you.
Pro Tip: Make sure every site is listed under the same name. You may understand that Dr. Joe Molar is the same as Molar Dentistry and Joe Molar, DMD, but prospective patients-not to mention search engines-may not be able to make the connection.
2. Sharpen your focus
Decide how to direct the majority of your efforts. It’s up to you as the practice owner to ultimately determine which web directories deserve the bulk of your attention. However, Google should be one of the top sites you focus on.
Google is still the most popular search engine of choice, and it only makes sense it will show their Google My Business (GMB) listings most prominently on every search engine results page. It’s imperative you optimize your GMB profile, including lots of positive patient reviews, to attract more customers.
After Google, choose at least one or two more sites where you’ll build out your profiles and direct patients to write reviews. Several of the most popular among patients are Facebook, Yelp and Healthgrades.
Pro Tip: It may take up to a week to verify your business on Google My Business, as they typically mail a postcard to your physical location to validate you are indeed the business owner. This is a safeguard to help prevent the wrong person from claiming a business on Google.
3. Set your practice apart
Once you’ve decided which sites you want to focus on, build out your profiles as far as each site will allow. Upload the practice logo and photos of the doctor(s) and pictures of the practice. Photos don’t have to be professional quality-clean, well-lit photos taken on your smartphone are perfectly fine.
Add hours of operations, choose services offered and highlight your business description. This is all in the effort of providing patients and Google itself with as much information about your practice as possible.
Pro Tip: Businesses with photos receive 42 percent more requests for directions and 35 percent more click-throughs to their websites than businesses that don’t include photos.1
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4. Get the team involved
Now, it’s time to start gathering reviews. This is where the office team comes in. The front desk staff and hygienists often have more time for one-on-one interaction with patients than the dentists do, so it’s crucial to get them on board.
Explain to them the critical importance of garnering positive reviews to the practice’s ongoing success (perhaps have everyone read this article!) and have each team member plan in advance to choose one patient each day who they ask for an online review.
Pro Tip: Gamify it! While offering patients incentives to post reviews is out of the question, creating a reviews-oriented challenge for your staff to meet can be a fun way to help motivate the team.
For example, set a goal of getting five new reviews on Google per month and when the practice hits that mark, lunch gets catered in one day from everyone’s favorite local restaurant. The whole team can then write reviews for the restaurant to support another local business.
5. Set expectations
In today’s digital world, everyone favors immediacy, but slow and steady wins the race when it comes to online reviews and reputation management. Online patients are savvy and expect consistency. It takes time to build momentum. Collecting one to two good reviews a month over the course of a year is much more beneficial than getting 10 one month and none for the next six months.
Pro Tip: To automatically prompt patients to complete post-appointment surveys and write online reviews as well as to be alerted every time a review gets posted online, dentists should explore online reputation management service providers with strong track records in the dental industry such as Digital Air Strike (digitalairstrike.com), DemandForce (demandforce.com) and PatientPop (patientpop.com).
6. What to do if and when the inevitable happens
One of the reasons dentists shy away from online reviews is the potential for negative comments. This is completely understandable; everyone has heard the horror stories about dentists who have suffered serious business losses and others who even sued former patients over negative reviews. However, those stories are the exceptions, not the norm.
The truth is online negativity can happen to even the best dentist; however, it’s all about how you prepare and respond. Accumulating a treasure trove of positive patient reviews doesn’t only make you look good, but the practice’s repository of positive reviews actually serves to protect your reputation in the event a patient posts something less than ideal.
“Many dentists are afraid to respond to reviews, and rightfully so,” says dental marketing opinion leader Fred Joyal. “The wrong response can make matters worse, which is why online reputation management should be outsourced to a professional service.”
What do you do when and if you do get a negative review without a reputation management pro in your corner? Ignoring a negative review is certainly easier but can also be perilous. Online patients are discerning and fickle. They’re watching to see how businesses respond to negativity.
Take the high road by posting a positively framed response that demonstrates your practice is committed to righting any (perceived or actual) wrongs. Don’t go tit for tat with the reviewer about the facts respresented in the post, even if the story doesn’t add up.
Simply acknowledge the patient’s comment and state you’re sad to hear about his or her experience. Offer the appropriate contact information, including a specific name and phone number, for the patient to discuss a positive resolution of the matter offline. It’s that simple.
Pro tip: Keep your communications HIPAA-compliant by training the team to respond in generic ways that don’t reveal any identifying patient information. Refrain from mentioning or acknowledging names, vital information, appointment times, diagnosis and treatments.
No one likes to hear negative comments about themselves or their practice. Often, disgruntled patients just want to be heard. It’s up to you as the dentist and business owner to determine if one patient’s grievance will make or break your online reputation.
Start taking a more proactive role in managing your online reputation this summer-and see where it leads you and your practice for the second half of this year and beyond.