Today, 93% of Internet users’ activity starts with a search engine. Consumers and patients are constantly searching online for answers and doing research before making important purchasing decisions. In the aesthetic and medical industry, few patients visit a new practice (even with a referral) without researching a provider first and that, inevitably, includes reading online reviews.
While many practices embrace this reality, and the value of online reviews, others are also challenged by this landscape – sometimes it can feel like an online ‘free for all’ and a lot of Internet noise, be that on Healthgrades, Facebook or Yelp. But online reviews don’t have to be the enemy, and by embracing them, inviting them, cultivating and learning from them, you can and will see a positive business impact.
Why online reviews matter
According to research, 79 percent of consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations and 67 percent read at least 6 reviews before they trust a business enough to purchase a product or service. The data reinforces what we instinctively already know – that third party reviews have become an important way of vetting and building trust. Particularly in an industry with luxury price points and services, a lot can be at stake when a patient comes to your office. Their time is valuable, and so is the money they’ll spend on their health and skin. Making a good decision before they’re in the door is important. In short, reviews beget more reviews, and good online reviews bring in new patients.
Setting yourself up for success by prioritizing patient service
Understanding the importance of online feedback can help you refine or improve one of the most important facets of your practice: service and patient cultivation. That includes everything from the first call a patient makes to book a consultation right the way through to post-procedure care and follow-ups. Patients are looking for reliable, helpful service and providers that go the extra mile, not just at the beginning, but all the time and over the years. When you’re able to provide that, consistently, and with excellence, you will set yourself up for success and improve the chances of positive online reviews. And because much of this will involve individuals beyond yourself, in particular, your staff, it’s an opportunity to invest in training and empower staff to be brand ambassadors while continuing to pay attention to possible patient pain points and inconsistencies that can be improved. The process is never done!
Keep communication channels active and transparent
One of the reasons why social media has become so popular in our industry is because it appears, rightly or wrongly, to peel back the curtain and provide better accessibility, transparency and new avenues for gaining information and engaging patients on services they’re curious about. This trend can teach us a lot about how patients (and particularly millennial patients) expect to be engaged. Notably, it tells us that being on social media can be a positive way of providing added value as you share ‘behind the scenes’ information that instills trust. Similarly, it highlights that by being available, ‘in touch’, and open to transparency and feedback more often, your business has confidence in its services and value. Leveraging email, reminders, newsletters, social media and patient outreach not only demonstrates this confidence (and is just good practice) it also gives you an opportunity to spot and address grievances before they escalate into negative reviews.
Invite positive online reviews from existing patients
Many physicians are afraid to invite reviews. They worry that this presents an awkward conversation or undermines their authority. But asking for feedback is a fantastic way to engage with longstanding or loyal patients who know you and your practice best. Everyone likes to feel as though they are heard: it’s all in how you ask. We generally recommend proposing a review as an opportunity to share and help other patients to learn more about the practice. Framed less as a benefit to ‘you’, but as a benefit to future patients seeking care. A few suggestions:
- Consider tracking lists of loyal, happy and engaged patients in the practice.
- At their next appointment initiate the conversation at the end of their consult.
- Follow this up with an email that is as personalized as can be. Offer it as an option, (never solicit or incentivize) and make it easy for your patients to take that next step by including direct links to top review sites like Yelp, Google or Healthgrades.
Answer negative online reviews with grace
Negative reviews will come and there are few physicians who have never received one. Often, these reviews are actually in response to a patient not feeling heard or sensing that their views or experiences were not validated. While answering some reviews may just ‘feed the fire’ (we all know those cases), in most instances, responding to a review shows consideration and attention. Thank the patient for their review and time to share it, apologize that this was their experience (acknowledgment is key!) and invite them to contact the office directly to discuss further. This process alone can defuse heightened emotions and may even result in patients removing or changing their review entirely.
Finally, practice reviews can be a good ‘compass’, if you let them
Practice reviews can offer you a glimpse into whether you, your staff and your practice are headed in the right direction. By taking in the good and the bad, you can identify feedback as opportunities for growth or build on areas of strength. If you’re receiving reviews about customer service at the front desk, for example, this might be the time to prompt a review process or adjusted training. Better to know about this key process upfront and address it, than to let the problem go unresolved. On the other hand, if you’re receiving positive reviews about one provider, or service, consider it an opportunity for developing that individual, rewarding their performance or further amplifying an area that separates you from the competition.