By Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Today, you and your practice have an online reputation, one that needs monitoring and managing. Here is a checklist to help you to turn online consumer comments into a powerful marketing tool for your practice.
Online marketing continues to grow in effectiveness. With 80 percent of health-care consumers using online research, this new digital form of word-of-mouth offers the ability to reach potential patients in a cost-effective way. But there can be a downside that must be acknowledged. Research presented in the Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker shows that negative online information is being used more by consumers. In fact, 80 percent of respondents say that they’ve changed their mind about a purchase after reading negative information online. This is up from 68 percent in 2010.
Online Reputation Checklist
1. Search yourself, practice and associates on Google.
2. Claim all review sites that feature your practice.
3. Learn how to report an inappropriate review.
4. Develop a response strategy before you need it.
5. Encourage reviews from satisfied patients.
6. Monitor all channels (programs like Google Alerts can help.
Here are Key Steps to Effectively Manage Your Online Reputation
Find Mentions of Your Practice Online
You will not be able to defend yourself about public comments that you don’t know are there. While you may think you know everything about your practice, you may be shocked at what may have been written on review sites and social media, either by confused or misinformed patients, competitors or internet spammers. Perform a thorough internet search for every “key word” associated with your practice including your name, associates' names, practice name and your town combined with terms like “eye care” and “optometry.” Do not just skim, but review critically every entry for as many pages as you need. This may take some time.
Claim local review sites
If you conduct a Google search for your name and practice, you may be surprised to find the following: A series of patient comments that run the gamut from positive to negative to brutally honest: "Staff is really rude, glasses were all wrong and more expensive than online." On sites such as Yellow Pages, Google, Yelp, Merchant Circle and Angie's List, you have an online reputation that you may not be aware of--but surely should be.
For example, one local review site had my practice web site listed as “lenscrafters.com.” You must prove to these sites individually that you are the rightful owner of your business before you can correct wrong or outdated information and add additional information such as descriptions and pictures. This is called “claiming” the site and can take from minutes to days to complete.
Services that Manage Your Reputation
There are a growing number of companies offering “online reputation management services.” For a fee sometimes upwards of $3,000 per month, they will attempt to sanitize their clients’ online information by seeking out and eliminating negative information and reviews, while bolstering the good information.
While most optometrists find professional online reputation management neither necessary nor cost-effective, it is vital that you monitor information about yourself online and take action when necessary.
Flag Inappropriate Comments
Most review sites have a way to alert the site that someone has written an inappropriate comment. This is known as reporting or “flagging.” If someone writes a review that violates the Terms of Service or “TOS," such as use of inappropriate language; writing a review about a business they’ve never used; or using a review of the practice to launch spam, the site will review the comment to consider deleting it. If a comment is clearly inappropriate and seems like it was written just to start trouble, flag it.
Develop a Response Plan
Find out what happened - Before you or staff responds in a defensive way, take the time to research the situation with the staff involved. Frequently there will be some form of miscommunication, and clear documentation will prove very helpful.
Weigh the effect – Ask yourself: is this an attack on you and your practice or is it a neutral comment that you are sensitive to? How will prospective patients interpret it? How will they interpret your response? If a message is posted on Twitter, fewer people will be exposed than they would to a Google review.
Determine the private response – When possible use a two-pronged approach. First, if the identity of the patient is known, respond to the review privately. Be sincere in your response, but not too emotional. Remember that their negative comment is one perspective of a situation; not the “wrong” perspective, but also not the only perspective. If you or your staff made a mistake, don’t just apologize, but show that you’ve learned your lesson and are making changes. Spell out what went wrong, how you screwed-up and how you plan to fix it. Draft responses quickly, but not out of emotion. Have someone carefully proofread it before sending.
Determine the public response – Public responses can be used to let the online community know that you take patient satisfaction seriously. But remember that you cannot publicly release any medically protected information, even to correct misunderstandings by a patient. Use a personalized, but general response such as: “We really hate it when we let patients down. At XYZ Eyecare we strive to get it right for everyone who comes to this office and clearly we didn’t in this case. Let’s talk and see if we can resolve this issue and learn how to prevent this in the future.”
Learn from the situation - If the complaint was legitimate then revisit office policies and procedures to determine what can be modified to prevent problems or limit potentially negative perceptions patients might have. Once these changes are in place and patients see the changes that have been made, they will frequently use the same social media platform to comment on the improvements.
Know when to get legal help - If a person writes something that is clearly libelous or repeatedly harasses you or your staff online, then legal help may be needed. These actions go well beyond the typical frustrated patient. Fortunately, these situations are extremely rare, but if they occur do not hesitate to get your lawyer involved.
Encourage Positive Reviews
Positive reviews and social media comments provide excellent references that you can feature online. They allow prospective patients to hear not only that patients like you, but why they like you. Additionally, positive reviews will outnumber any less stellar reviews, improving your overall rating. Some patient communication services, such as DemandForce, a service I use in my office, automatically collect reviews following each patient encounter. For some sites, like Google Places, you can simply ask patients to provide reviews. Be warned that some sites such as Yelp filter out inactive reviewers and reviewers who were asked to provide reviews.
Monitor all channels
Everyday the internet grows bigger, so you must continually monitor for new uses of your practice name. Services like Google Alerts can be set up at no charge to send you an e-mail every time someone posts something about you. You also want to make sure that you regularly check Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts so that you can respond quickly and appropriately.
By implementing the right online management strategy you can maintain and improve your practice's image and be guided to improvements that better serve patients.
Case Study: Twitter
I set up Twitter to send me notifications of any mention of my practice, Bright Eyes Family Vision Care or its Twitter name, @BrightEyesTampa. One recent Saturday afternoon my cell phone alerted me to this message left by a patient:
“Dr. Nate is wonderful & really knows his stuff but customer service is horrible & not willing to help out a patient in a bind."
While I appreciated the compliment, I was concerned that an incident had occurred while I was not at the office and that the patient felt strongly enough about it to share it publicly with her friends.
I immediately contacted her by Twitter and asked if she would like to e-mail me privately with her concerns. She did e-mail and explained her frustration with a long-standing policy we have had about contact lenses.
I explained that the staff was properly following office policy, but that we would reevaluate the policy and offered to send her two boxes of contact lenses at no charge. This resulted in a very happy patient and the following message on Twitter:
“Yes! There is still good cust serv out there!@NateBW & @BrightEyesTampa Thank you for the quick & generous resolution to my issue.”
Online communication can be a wonderful tool for growing an optometric practice. But like all tools, they can have unintended consequences. A little bit of effort and planning will not only identify and respond to less-than-perfect information online, but will help guide you in providing even better patient care and growing a stronger practice.
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Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, of Bright Eyes Family Vision Care in Tampa, Fla., is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. He is a member of the American Optometric Association, and is currently immediate past president of the Hillsborough Society of Optometry, as well as chair of the Children's Vision Committee of the Florida Optometric Association. To contact him: Doc@BrightEyesTampa.com.