Social distancing is continuing for longer than most of us expected. Between the masks covering our faces and the fact that many veterinary practices are continuing curbside service, veterinarians may feel it’s more difficult than ever to connect with clients the way they did before the pandemic. The solution to this trust and relationship-building challenge may require some creativity and adopting of new technologies.
In this 5-part series, we’ll cover a few ways to bond and communicate with clients even if you can’t see them in person. For today’s topic, we’ll explore telemedicine and how it may fit into (and benefit) a busy veterinary practice.
Part 5: Online Reviews
90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business.*
Just think what that could mean for a veterinary practice… For every 10 pet parents who move to the area or are searching for a new veterinarian, 9 of them may use online reviews to help decide where to bring their pet! And, statistics show that most people (84%) trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Between the fact that many pet parents turn to online reviews when choosing a veterinarian, and the fact that reviews can boost a practice’s online searchability, a strategy for online reviews is important for any veterinary practice. Effective strategies include: learning what is and isn’t within a practice owner’s control, proactively acquiring positive reviews in an ethical way, and knowing the best practices for dealing with negative reviews.
While It’s Usually Not Possible to Eliminate Negative Reviews, It’s Possible to Gain Control of Online Ratings With an Effective Strategy
The importance of online reviews may seem scary. After all, nearly every practice has had at least one client who’s become a “keyboard warrior” and left a seething review on Google or Yelp after their visit. So, what’s a practice owner or manager to do about this common scenario?
Unfortunately, SOME things are out of a business owner’s control. For example, it’s often not possible to have negative reviews taken down—especially if the review contains factual information. On the other hand, the GREAT news is that there are many things within a veterinary practice’s control. This includes strategies for acquiring positive reviews, and knowing how to handle negative reviews.
Simple Strategies for Acquiring Positive Online Reviews
A lot of positive reviews will “drown out” the occasional negative one. They’ll also boost a practice’s star rating—the number one factor people consider when looking at online reviews. So, a strategy for acquiring positive reviews is one way to take control of a practice’s online reputation. Here are a few ways veterinary practices can do that…
- Get familiar with online review platforms. It’s important to know the playing field before talking strategy. There are plenty of review sites, but the most commonly used platforms include Google, Facebook, and Yelp. Start with these.
- Claim all online business listings (examples include Google My Business and a Yelp page). This usually means confirming ownership of the business, updating all business information, and if possible, signing up for notifications whenever new reviews are posted.
- Make it easy for clients to leave reviews by placing links to review sites on the practice’s website, social media, and even automated or follow-up emails for wellness visits.
- Thank clients who leave a positive review. Write a short thank you note as a response on the review site. Some practices even call or send a card to thank a client who left a positive review.
- Boost the mileage of positive reviews by sharing them on the practice’s website or social media, or even displaying them in a frame in the lobby.
For anyone looking to take advantage of online reviews as quickly and effectively as possible, hiring a professional can be a smart investment.
Follow the Rules for Ethically Obtaining Good Online Reviews
This is crucial, otherwise a practice could be in violation of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules. “Unethical” methods of obtaining reviews can result in removal of reviews, a Consumer Alert warning on review platforms, or even financial penalties or legal penalties.
So, how does a practice collect reviews ethically? Check a platform’s rules closely (rules may vary between platforms and be subject to updates), error on the side of caution when in doubt, or seek legal advice as needed. Also, here are a few common things to avoid…
- Don’t offer a payment, reward, or other incentive in exchange for a review (either from clients or from third parties who offer to write a review for a fee). A surprise gift (something small, like a bag of treats) may be acceptable to offer as a thank you AFTER a client leaves an unsolicited review. Just check the review platform’s rules to verify it’s okay.
- Don’t place pressure on clients to write reviews.
- Don’t flood review sites with reviews from employees, family, and friends.
- Don’t leave negative reviews of competitors.
For Negative Reviews, Use a Stepwise Approach and Kind Communications
Here are some steps for dealing with a negative online review…
- Try to relax and learn more before responding, rather than writing an emotional response in the heat of the moment.
- Figure out what happened. Talk to team members involved in the client’s visit. If the review is factual, it might be a valuable learning opportunity for a veterinary practice to improve.
- Try to call the client within 24 hours. Listen calmly to their concerns, and express concern for their pet. Offer to make amends if indicated. Sometimes, this is enough to diffuse a client’s anger and resolve the situation. They might take down the review themselves.
- Respond to the online review if needed.
- If you couldn’t reach the client by phone, leave a professional, kind comment stating you hope they will reach out so you can learn more and help resolve the situation.
- Or, express that you were glad to help resolve the situation (if that’s what happened).
- Never post information about the client or patient. It’s tempting to argue and correct false information in the client’s review, but doing so may violate medical confidentiality.
- If the review is blatantly inaccurate (for example, it’s from someone who never visited the clinic), contact the review site about having the review taken down. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee this will happen, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
A handful of negative reviews (surrounded by a sea of positive ones) aren’t the end of the world. In fact, they can be beneficial. A business or product with nothing but 5-star reviews can elicit suspicion because it seems “to good to be true.” So, although the inevitable negative review can cause frustration, it’s important to spend more time and energy focusing on positive reviews.
Always communicate kindly and professionally. In addition to reading reviews, pet owners will read a practice’s response to those reviews, and well-written responses can leave a good impression. Knowing what’s within a business owner’s control, ethically seeking good reviews, and knowing how to handle bad reviews can help a veterinary practice make a great first impression and persuade potential clients to bring their pets to meet your caring team in person!
Editor’s Note:What’s another way to take advantage of today’s virtual communication tools? Teleradiology consults allow veterinarians to receive information from a specialist on all their radiographs.