Manage Reviews Online in Three Steps

First things first: No practice manager enjoys dealing with online reviews. They're unpredictable, out of the practice's control, and often frustratingly inaccurate. Due to this sense of helplessness, some people simply give up and don't manage reviews online at all. Don't fall into this trap! While you can't prevent people from writing reviews, there's plenty that managers can do to help ensure the reviews reflect your practice at its best.

Do Reviews Really Matter?

In short, yes. According to a survey from marketing group BrightLocal, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do recommendations from a friend. When potential clients search for veterinary practices in their area, reviews from sites like Yelp and Google are often among the top results on the list.

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The impulse of practice managers is to immediately focus on the negative reviews. In reality, the best course of action is to take proactive steps to ensure there are enough good reviews to drown out the outlier. Even the most vitriolic screed will have minimal impact on a clinic that has 25 five-star reviews.

Managing Online Reviews

Here are three steps to managing reviews online and encouraging positive reviews from your happy clients:

1. Know whom to ask, and how

The easiest way to garner reviews from clients is simply to ask them. Most veterinary staff don't like to do this in person, so practices usually solicit reviews through a direct email after an appointment. Reputation management systems can automate this by sending satisfaction surveys after a visit and then asking those who give a high ranking to leave a review. In the absence of such a system, this can also be done manually.

Bear in mind that Yelp's system is notoriously tricky, and has a tendency to reject any review solicited via a reputation management system. It's a shame to have quality clients rave about your clinic online, only to have those glowing comments disappear. You may consider skipping Yelp solicitations entirely and just request Google reviews when using practice management software.

How often should clinics send emails? Danielle Lambert of Snout Consulting recommends splitting email lists into groups of 100 and sending them in small batches. Too many reviews all at once triggers Yelp's algorithms and, you guessed it, increases the possibility that the reviews will not show up as "recommended."

Yes, Yelp is and always has been a thorn in the profession's side.

2. Keep the emails short

If the goal is to garner more reviews, make sure your email focuses on that. Don't bury it under a list of monthly heartworm prevention specials or a piece about dental health.

You're asking for a favor, so make it as simple as possible for people to help. Make a quick appeal directly from the doctors with a brief explanation of how reviews are important to the clinic. You can include a link directly to your Yelp page. It's trickier with Google.

With Google+ winding down as of late 2018, it's easiest to include a link to your clinic's Google Maps address. Clients can access and leave reviews from there with a minimum of clicks.

3. Be a five-star clinic

It goes without saying that the No. 1 thing clinics need to do to earn five-star reviews is to provide five-star service. Clients are more likely to discount a rare one-star review than a run of three-star reviews that all have the same complaint. Like it or not, these are often the most honest forms of critical feedback. Use these as opportunities to improve customer service.

The review process itself can become a source of great customer service. A practice manager in Boston once shared his technique for converting more than half of the clinic's one-star reviews into five-star ones. How? By calling each and every client, hearing them out, and following up on their complaints whenever possible. Although the client's initial experience was a negative one, his response impressed those clients so much that the negative reviews themselves became a source for excellent ones — even if he couldn't solve what they initially complained about! Clients want to know that, when there's a problem, you will be transparent and responsive.

Reviews are a pain, but they're a crucial element of today's marketing environment. With some gentle nudges and a great team providing excellent service, they can work in any clinic's favor.

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Jessica Vogelsang

Dr. V is a skilled communicator known for making the complicated accessible, as a regular contributing author on sites such as Pet360, Good Dog Magazine, Studio One Networks, dvm360, and Petfinder. She has been featured in multiple national outlets such as Ladies Home Journal, Outside Magazine, Yahoo, and USA TODAY.  Her first memoir, All Dogs Go To Kevin was published in 2015.

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