Optometrists and ophthalmologists may be wondering if a reputation management program is cost effective. Want to find out quickly? Google “eye doctors near me.” Look at the online reviews for your practice and for those of competing specialists. For most people this answers YES to the question: Do I really need reputation management?
It sounds like a lot of work, identifying and monitoring your online reviews. But a few years ago, only the giants in healthcare could justify a web site that was more functional than just a digital version of a paper brochure. Today, a web presence is much more affordable, and everyone knows they need an online presence – ideally with appointment setting, a patient log-in system, bill pay and more. According to SoftwareAdvice.com, statistics show that more than 70 percent of potential patients search online before making an appointment with a provider.
As the cost of an online presence has dropped, so has the cost of building and protecting your online reputation. There’s a rapidly-expanding universe of sites with online reviews, from Google and Facebook to doctor-rating sites like Healthgrades and Vitals. And, people pay attention: some 85 percent of respondents trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation, according to a 2017 survey by BrightLocal. Eye care providers who want to excel in this environment must implement a practical program for managing their online reputation. Here are three strategies that can help:
Online Reputation Management Includes Asking for Reviews
We recommend you begin building your reputation by asking patients after their visit if they would be willing to provide feedback. Create an automated text message or email to reach patients soon after their visit, with direct links to popular rating and review sites: e.g., Google, Facebook and Healthgrades. By asking permission and making it convenient for patients to post online reviews, you’ll likely get higher response rates.
Consider using signage and handouts in your waiting room that explain how to post an online review. Invite patients to “Share Your Experience Online,” reiterate your commitment to the highest standards, and let patients know their opinion can inform others seeking eye care. When your practice impresses visitors as truly interested and responsive to their opinions, you earn the trust of current patients, and the interest of prospective patients. BrightLocal’s Consumer Review Survey 2017 show that new patients are nearly as likely to trust online reviews as much as referrals from people they know.
How Optometrists can Handle Online Reviews
Negative online reviews are enough to make you wince. Your ophthalmology practice works hard to deliver quality care. How could it be that a patient is outspokenly unsatisfied? Most online reviews, especially those posted soon after the appointment, are positive. But negative reviews happen. So, it’s important to be vigilant about monitoring your online reputation.
In a way, a negative review is a customer service call. Your patient believes there is a legitimate issue. Not responding to an online complaint is like not answering or not returning a phone call. By taking unfavorable online reviews seriously but not personally, you demonstrate that you are listening, and that you truly care about patient concerns.
Dealing with negative reviews
Think through these questions:
- What’s the best way to respond?
- What can you do to resolve the issue?
- What can you learn from it?
First, decide who will monitor and who will respond to reviews, what the initial response message will be, and who will be the point of contact for resolution and service recovery. We recommend responding promptly to all unfavorable reviews, thanking the poster online for their feedback and offering to further discuss the issue offline. Give the patient either a phone number or email address and the name or title of a person to contact at your office. This helps prevent the complaint from escalating online in view of potential customers, and reduces the chance of HIPAA rules.
Addressing negative comments in a timely manner helps the patient and the practice see eye to eye. We often hear from clients about patients who change their negative review into a positive response after the practice quickly resolved the problem. Both the individual who posts the review and the next visitors to your review section will appreciate your caring attitude toward patient concerns.
By approaching them calmly, you and your staff can come to see negative reviews as learning moments on how to improve service. Everyone on the team wants the practice to succeed, so addressing and resolving issues can help prevent the loss of current and potential patients.
What About Positive Reviews?
What’s better than receiving a positive online review? Responding to one. Send a quick note to thank the patient for their feedback and restate your commitment as an optometrist to world class eye care. Prospective patients will notice. And, sharing and celebrating positive feedback with staff is a great way to build morale.
Take a Time-Effective Approach
Owners of smaller practices may believe there isn’t time for reputation management. Where do you start, you might be wondering, and can you even make a difference with a small staff? These time-saving tactics can help manage your online reputation, with the help of some technology.
First, assign ownership to online reputation management tasks. It’s recommended that the owner-senior optometrist be the owner of the program, but notthe person who responds to online reviews. This divide and conquer approach distributes the time needed to manage your online reputation.
Know What to Say
We recommend creating templates for soliciting online reviews, and for responding to them, good or bad. This will save you from reinventing the wheel with every patient interaction. You should add a brief personal comment to responses, so they don’t all sound the same.
Consider Automated Monitoring and Alerts
Managing online reviews can be like herding cattle – or cats. It can be time-consuming to check every review site. You need a centralized solution that can pull in these reviews for you to read and respond. A reputation management solution can help here.
Also consider setting email notifications to come to you when any review – negative or positive – is posted. This will save you even more time. We further recommend prioritizing which online review sites make sense for you to manage. Another Google search can give you an idea of where to start, and you can add more as you go on.
In conclusion, your practice is your business. Your online reputation is the way current and prospective patients perceive your practice and decide whether you’ll get their business. You need to take ownership and figure out the best way to manage it. The know-how and technology is available, and practices across the country use it to manage their reputations.
Is the picture clearer now? Today is the best time to focus on reputation management.
Want to learn more about reputation management best practices? Download our ebook, Building a Healthier Online Reputation.
About the Author
Brian helps healthcare organizations better understand their healthcare consumer challenges and needs, in order to efficiently manage and improve patient satisfaction.