I've been asking every patient seen in my practice to complete a satisfaction survey for over 25 years. We used a simple prepaid post card for many years but we now send a thank you email after each exam and we invite the patient to take the survey by clicking on a button. I wrote Tip #17 about surveying patients in May 2002. I still read every patient survey we get and I learn from them.
Patient surveys have always been important but the concept has been elevated to a higher level with the popularity of online reviews. Whether it's on Google, Yelp, Angie's List, Yahoo or a host of other sites, patients no longer just tell you when they are not satisfied with their eye care; now they tell everyone. If your practice has not received a negative review yet, it's just a matter of time.
Do reviews really matter?
Um, yes, they do. The vast majority of patients who contact your office look you up on the internet. They may do a Google search for your last name or they may type the word optometrist plus your city name. They may only be looking for your phone number. But when the list of practices pops up, if yours has a reference to a review or some number of stars, do you think the patient will read it? Of course they will. People who are shopping love to read reviews and they can be quite informative. I'm sure you've read them for some products or services.
The best strategy for reviews
Here is the best strategy for success in the new world of online reviews: get a lot of them! There are two reasons why you are better off if you have dozens of reviews. First, your practice is probably quite good in the area of patient satisfaction. Most reviews will be very positive and if you have a very small percentage of bad reviews along with many great ones, you still look great. The rare negative ones actually add credibility. Second, if you receive many reviews, a bad one will quickly be pushed downward in the list and will not be as visible.
The best way to get a lot of online reviews is to ask patients for them! Train your staff to ask happy patients to write a review for you. Post a sign telling patients you appreciate their reviews. And the most effective way I've found for getting more online reviews is to work with an online communication and marketing company (like Websystem3, Solutionreach, Demandforce, etc.).
Preventing bad reviews
There are many ways to prevent bad reviews, including placing customer service at a very high level, but here is a specific technique that will stop most of them. Adopt a technique used in many restaurants: ask each patient as they check out "Was everything satisfactory with your visit today?" Every time I've had a complaint in my practice, I wondered why we didn't know the patient was unhappy. I'm always pretty sure that if I knew, I could have corrected the problem. Of course, the question must be sincere and with real interest.
If the staff member can determine that something is bothering the patient, she must take decisive control. She should apologize and advise the patient that we will fix the problem. She must show she cares and the office will not leave the matter alone. In most cases, the office manager should be alerted or a promise made that someone will be in touch.
What to do if you get a bad review
I recommend you have a protocol and a staff member in charge of how to respond to a complaint, a bad survey or a negative review. In my office, a high level staff member calls the patient as soon as possible. She apologizes and takes any steps she can to correct the problem. We also tell the patient that we are sending a $50 gift card as a token of our appreciation for his business and as a gesture of our concern. Plastic gift cards with the practice name and logo serve many purposes for us.
This approach prevents bad reviews, but if the review is already posted and the patient can't remove it, we post a short, polite response so readers can see we care. The important thing in responding is to not be defensive. I like to see an apology for the problem and thank the patient for bring this to your attention. We pledge that we truly care about customer service and we will work to improve in this area. It's not about revenge for the original poster, it's about making others see that you care.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.