May 25, 2012

Demonstrating customer service through social media can help you build your practice. Below are a few tips to help you harness social media to improve your online image and manage patient reviews.

The consumer is changing. Today, the customer has new social media outlets to let them express their feelings about anything; including your practice. People tell their friends about places they’ve visited and share the quality of their experiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. They rate their satisfaction levels with businesses on Google and Yelp. These different platforms serve as hubs for information about your practice.

Your practice needs to care: According to the 2011 Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker, 89% of internet users trust online reviews and 80% of them have changed their mind about which service to use based on negative reviews. Has someone ever posted a patient review about your practice? If you don’t know already, it’s time to find out.

1. Make a list of online forums where you think your patients would look and locate your profile within that forum (some websites to look into should include FacebookYelpGoogle PlacesTwitter, and Foursquare).

2. Once you have found your practice’s pages, make a point to visit those profiles at least once a week in order to monitor your online reputation.

3. Although it’s never too late to make amends with a patient, a timely response to a negative review is always preferred.

Your practice needs to respond: If your practice has acquired some bad patient reviews, there are things you can do to turn this negative word of mouth into an opportunity.

If you haven’t already, claim your practice’s profile (this applies to Yelp and Google Places Profiles).

  • Write a public response to your reviewers. Other visitors to your profile won’t be able to see the private e-mail you send the disgruntled patient. You want other people to know that you care about your patients’ experiences with your practice.  
  • Respond quickly. Treating a patient complaint with urgency will let patients know that you take their feedback seriously. A slow response will also tell people that your practice is not present online; rendering your practice as technology-challenged. 4. Be empathetic—acknowledge the patient’s bad experience.
  • Use a sincere tone when you apologize on behalf of your practice, staff, and doctors. Steer clear of the I’m-Sorry-You-Feel-That-Way type of apology.
  • Invite the patient to contact you personally by providing your real name and phone number or e-mail address. Doing this will help establish the human element of your practice, and people are less likely to act viciously against a person, as opposed to a practice.

Fix the problem if you can. Offer to take off the extra charge, give them a refund, or issue a generous credit. 8. If a negative patient review or comment ends up leading to a practice improvement, tell your reviewer about it: “Thank you for providing this valuable feedback. We have taken steps to implement a new process which will prevent your bad experience from happening again.”

Things NOT to do when responding to patients:

• Don’t get defensive. Telling a patient he or she is wrong or dishonest will not sit well with prospective patients reading your practice’s reviews.

• Don’t write a really long response to the patient review. This can overwhelm a patient or make them think your practice is trying to legitimize its bad service.

• Don’t try to have the last word. There are some patients who can’t and won’t be helped. If someone rejects your sincere apologies and continues to badmouth your practice, other prospective patients can usually tell that the critic is being overly dramatic.

• Don’t delete or hide any patient comments. You won’t be able to eliminate reviews on Google or Yelp, but Facebook does allow you to hide things from your wall—don’t be tempted though! The author of the negative comment is very likely to publicly call you out on your removal of their post. Don’t try to ban this individual either. They will go to other venues to complain about your practice and its attempts to sweep unhappy patients under the rug.

• Don’t ignore people. When a person writes something about your practice online, whether it is how great your frame selection is or how poorly your staff treated them, they’re trying to tell you something. Silence will appear as a lack of concern for customer support. Your practice needs more reviews: Another way to diminish the impact of a negative review (or a few) is to increase your number of positive reviews. The best way to do this is to make your various social profiles highly accessible to your patients:

• Install social plugins and badges on your website homepage that link to your online profiles:

• Set up a review-station in your front office with an iPad that is set to your Google Places Profile. After their appointment is over, ask happy patients to write their feedback on your Google Places page.

• Create a Google Offer or a Yelp Deal to drive more people to your pages on Yelp and Google Places.

• Place a sign in your office inviting patients to rate their experience with your practice on Yelp, Google Places, Facebook, or Twitter. Your practice needs to involve all forms of service when it comes to online interaction. If a patient told you during their exam that your staff and service were superior, you would thank them, right? Saying it online has the same effect, but it is amplified because other people can see it. Social media is powerful in its ability to broadcast a practice’s perceived value. So if your practice can get into the habit of monitoring its online reputation, then it can acquire a whole range of new opportunities to listen, learn, and respond.