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Don't let online reviews ruin your veterinary practice rep
Resolve Internet complaints and talk up your veterinary practice on the Web-before it's too late.
When I lecture to other practitioners about marketing, I used to tell them to be careful about making people angry. A happy person might mention a good experience at your hospital to three people, but an angry person will complain to at least 10 people.
Today, that same complainer is going to run to the Internet and tell 10,000 people, not 10. And most of these people are "professional" complainers. They have one bad experience and blast you for it. And it's not just you. They're going after the people who installed their flooring, the dry cleaner, the plumber—everybody.
Some of these complainers are your clients—or could be someday. You need to be ready—and willing—to treat every Internet review like the danger to your practice's reputation and new-client numbers that it is.
Watch the hate
I've started paying attention to my online reviews on Google, Yelp!, and other websites. I recently caught wind of a negative review from September 2010. The client told a long story about how our doctors are great, but then she blasted us anyway. This client, an attorney by trade, is a regular, but her pet received vaccines at another clinic. We didn't know, so we gave the vaccines again. When the client brought it to our attention the next day, we apologized, refunded her money, and assured her the vaccines wouldn't do any harm.
The kicker? It happened in 2005. Five years after we made a mistake and immediately fixed it, she complained.
I figured out who it was from the first initial and last name from the review and called her up. "I don't get it," I said. "This happened so long ago. Why bring it up now?" She said she thought it was her duty to tell the story to others online.
I may publicly respond to the review on the same website. I might ask her, as an attorney, if she's ever made a mistake. Has a client ever been dissatisfied with her service? But I intend to keep my sarcasm subtle.
Keep the peace
I've hired a consultant to look at our online reputation, and I contract with a company that takes positive comments from our surveys and posts them online. If you don't want outside help, here's my quick and dirty advice:
Read your reviews. If you see a pattern in complaints—clients waiting too long, receptionists are rude, clients don't feel valued—use them constructively. Fix what's wrong.
Reach out to complainers. Some reviews you can ignore: A nonclient without an appointment was upset that you couldn't vaccinate a dog five minutes before closing. But if a review does bother you, if the story doesn't sound right, or if the complaint sounds like a fixable situation, try to find out which client complained and call. Don't challenge the story—apologize and ask what happened. And don't ask the client to change or delete the review. He or she will think you're apologizing just because you want something. You're truly concerned, and you thrive on making people happy—show that to the client.
There are no checks and balances when it comes to Internet reviews. Websites don't have to verify stories and follow up on complaints. But you should. Take your online reputation seriously, and reach out to complaining clients in a compassionate manner. You'll reap the benefits, if not with a chronic complainer, at least with the other potential clients to come.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jeff Werber owns Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles. Please send comments to email@example.com.