Recent research says that patients are learning about audiology and medical clinics online before they even make it through the front doors. In fact, one recent survey found that “84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations” (Local Consumer Review Survey, 2016 http://bit.ly/2jHGCuA). Another showed that 41 percent of patients are using social media to choose a specific clinic or provider (Social Media Healthcare Report, 2015 http://bit.ly/2jHFIxQ).
So, for audiologists and private practice owners, imagine this: you have been successful at juggling the numerous administrative, marketing, and patient-related tasks that are intricately woven together to orchestrate your overall success. You have a business plan, a killer website, you've developed your brand, and you're on Facebook and LinkedIn to let people know who you are. You see that patients leave happy and they send family and friends to you. You receive excellent feedback from the people you interact with every day. People love you! Then one day, you see this online:
What a sinking feeling! You have worked so hard to train your staff, to create a warm and inviting environment for patients, and to establish your reputation as the expert in the area—but one poor review puts all that in jeopardy. Yes, the above is a real review. And it happened to us.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT BAD REVIEWS
The first thing to do when you find a poor review online is to respond—graciously and professionally. It might be easy to try to defend yourself or explain your situation, but that may end up making the whole situation worse. Respond instead with an acknowledgement of the issue, an apology for the trouble, and an offer to improve on the experience. Then, make sure you have business pages in Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yelp. Having business pages gives you the opportunity to respond to reviews personally.
Next, take a close look at what the negative review was about. View it as an opportunity to improve your internal systems or correct behavior within your practice. A negative review may be what you need to improve your customer service or to move your clinic to the next level by finding out what your patients think is important.
Lastly, begin an online reputation management strategy—immediately. The goal of online reputation management (ORM) is to improve your clinic's reputation by countering, weakening, or overwhelming any negative online feedback about your clinic with positive comments from established patients and raving fans.
HOW DO YOU START?
A simple way to start monitoring your online reputation is to create Google Alerts. Simply go to https://www.google.com/alerts where you will be prompted to sign in to a Gmail account. Then, enter the search terms you want the Google Alert to track, such as your name, the name of the clinic, and even the names of your staff. If any review mentions any of these keywords, you'll be sure to see it.
An easier way to create an ORM strategy is to let an expert do it for you. There are several independent companies that specialize in helping audiology clinics. Having someone else who is focused on using tools that can give you a full picture of what's being said about you online and provide solution-driven metrics to help you determine a practical plan of action can make ORM easy, with minimal time investment on your part. For instance, Medical Practice Builders (MedPB.com http://www.medpb.com/) has an easy-to-use, done-for-you Online Review Builder that focuses on gaining positive patient reviews with an automated system. A monthly report tells you about any new reviews and where they're located. For a monthly fee, the Review Builder can be added to your website for patients to access easily, and when it's easy, you'll find that more patients will do a review for you, especially if you ask.
A second independent company in the audiology space offering an online review builder is AuDSEO (audseo.com http://audseo.com/). AuDSEO's “Review Gen+” is another turnkey solution that performs many of the same functions as MedPB's Online Review Builder. Either service should help your practice stand out on a number of important online review directories (Yelp, Google+, Bing, etc.), and should help to increase traffic to your website from Google.
If you're looking for a reputation building option that allows you to be more involved in creating positive reviews, take a look at Hearing Tracker (HearingTracker.com https://www.hearingtracker.com/). This website is geared toward consumers and focuses on providing them with transparent information regarding the audiologists in their local area, the services they provide, and the products in the marketplace. Hearing Tracker is unique in the world of online reputation management in the sense that consumer reviews serve as both a clinically relevant outcome measurement and a source of quality customer feedback for prospective patients.
MANAGE FROM WITHIN
Another way to incorporate reputation management in your clinic is to manage from within. Remember—your patients love you! So ask them to wave your banner proudly! Your reputation is defined by those who experience it. Capture and share your patients’ amazing stories by having them fill out a patient testimonial in the waiting room or after they make remarks about how much they love their new hearing aids (Fig. 1). All you have to do is ask! You've helped your patients, they want to help you, too! Compile the testimonials in a snazzy binder and leave it in your waiting room. Audiology assistants can also help you obtain reviews from patients. Audiology assistants are useful for duties that are important to the success of the practice but do not require your expertise. Because more patients are searching for us online, getting your audiology assistant involved in review building makes perfect sense.
HOW CAN AN AUDIOLOGY ASSISTANT HELP?
Very likely, audiology assistants will come into contact with patients and, if they've been trained well in customer service and obtaining customer satisfaction, they have the opportunity to create their own raving fans. Consider using the task of review gathering as a key performance indicator and reward good performance accordingly.
You can also consider having your audiology assistant send review requests (with permission) to all patients via email. Here are some of the best practices in sending email review requests:
1. Send the email from a real person's email address (i.e., not email@example.com).
2. Have the email written as a personal request from that same person.
3. Include a link button that connects directly to the review system—for example, to HearingTracker or to the review page on your clinic's website.
4. Test different messaging and subject lines to see what works best in getting responses from your patients.
5. Send requests to ALL patients. Remember—no review is a bad review. Research has shown that patients don't expect perfection and may trust reviews more if they aren't ALL four stars.
6. Don't offer an incentive for giving the review. Patients want to help you because you've helped them. Incentives aren't necessary, and incentives for reviews are looked down upon by search engines.
Another effective strategy to gather patient feedback is for audiology assistants to offer patients the opportunity to review the clinic while they are in the office. Use a tablet that is connected to the Internet, and have your clinic's homepage review system open (Fig 2). This way, patients can easily enter their online review while the audiology assistant is cleaning their hearing aids, for example.
It may seem overwhelming to think about how to create a great online reputation. You're busy seeing patients, writing chart notes, and completing all the tasks that make a practice successful. However, because of the increasing trend of patients reading online reviews before choosing their audiologist or physician, having a positive online reputation will give you every opportunity to establish trust in your expertise before that first handshake. The key is to start asking every patient and to keep asking. It will get easier over time, and you'll end up having the control over your online reputation instead of leaving it to chance.