I think it is great that so many optometrists are now asking patients to complete a short survey about their eye care experience. Credit the success of electronic communication companies that now make it so easy for ODs to send emails and text messages to patients automatically. Understanding the customer (patient) is extremely important to the success of any business (practice).
While most of these surveys (and the online reviews they often lead to) are positive, we are increasingly seeing the big impact a complaint can have on the reputation of a practice. Not too long ago, if a patient had a complaint, they called your office and let you know. In most cases, you worked things out and everyone was happy. Now, instead of contacting the doctor’s office, many people just write their comments on the survey that came to their inbox, or they go to Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo, Facebook or other social media. Whether the facts presented by the patient are right or not, many other people will read the comments.
This seems a bit unfair to business owners, but fear not; it is really not that bad. Here is my short list on what to do if you get a bad survey or review.
Make sure you get a lot of reviews. A bad review is only a problem when you have only three reviews. The bad one gets way too much attention in that case and it never goes away. If you have 50 reviews, no one notices if there are a few negative ones and even if someone notices, it makes your practice look credible. Also, since new reviews are frequently being posted, the bad one gets pushed out of sight fairly quickly and it becomes irrelevant.
We have to presume that the vast majority of people who come to your office leave happy, so if you had lots of reviews, most will be great. If most people are not happy, solve that problem first.
The best way to get a lot of reviews is to work with one of the electronic communication companies like Solutionreach, Websystem3, Demandforce, 4PatientCare and I’m sure there are others. Use this service to email every patient after each eye exam, thank them for selecting your practice and ask them to complete a survey or to write a review. Also, train your staff to encourage happy patients to give you a review.
I don’t like to incentivize patients in advance to post a good review, but if someone does so on their own you can certainly thank them and give them a small gift like a $5 Starbucks card.
If you get a bad survey or review, investigate what happened by talking to the staff involved based on the patient’s comments. You want the truth, so be understanding with your employees about the situation. Show your staff the comments and get their side of the story.
Resist the feelings of anger or hurt that you feel when you read a bad review. You will probably feel the person is not being fair, but that reaction is not the best for your business. Accept that your office made a mistake, even if it is only in the perception that the patient had. Force yourself to see this from the patient’s point of view.
If you can figure out who the patient is (some reviews are anonymous), call the patient right away. Don’t give excuses or try to change the patient’s mind. Instead, thank the person for bringing the problem to your attention. Assure the person that you take the issue seriously and that you will implement better staff training and that your office will improve. Apologize for the problem. That last one is especially hard, but it is what the patient wants and needs and it works wonders.
If appropriate, offer to solve the problem or give a refund.
Be sure to call the patient fairly quickly after getting a survey and you may be able to prevent a bad review online.
If your phone call goes very well, you might consider asking the patient to remove or edit the bad review. Only the person who posted the review can do that. But don’t worry about that; it is not a big deal.
Always post a comment under a negative online review. Be careful with this because many people will judge your response. Follow what I advised you to do on the phone above: thank the person, talk about training and improving, apologize… and if anonymous, ask the person to contact your office so you can correct the problem.
With this approach, negative online reviews do not have to be such a big problem… and a large number of good reviews is great for your marketing plan!
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.