Managing online reviews

managing online reviews
graphics: rondale – 123RF, rosifan19 – 123RF

In a world where your digital presence can have a huge impact on your customer base, monitoring reviews has never been more essential, say experts. By Rachel Smith 

Fact: a whopping 93 per cent of customers read online reviews before deciding to visit a business—so a low star rating or negative feedback can essentially mean the difference between a new patient booking into your clinic, or going elsewhere.

Many dental practices out there realise this, and the importance of monitoring their reviews, but some still don’t, says Carolyn S Dean, marketing strategist and author of Fully Booked: Dental Marketing Secrets for a Full Appointment Book

“I know one practice owner who missed a negative review that had been posted nine months before,” she remembers. “They contacted the patient, apologised and asked if there was anything they could do to rectify the issue, and the patient said, ‘if you’d contacted me nine hours or nine days after the fact then maybe, but nine months is too little, too late.’ The takeaway? Monitor what’s being posted and be quick to act.”

Online reviews are (usually) nothing to fear

The good, the bad and the ugly reviews are all a gift to a practice, says Dean— because they give you an insight into what customers really think. 

“If you’re getting glowing reviews, that’s great for the reputation of your practice and for telling the team—but negative reviews are also positive, too,” she explains. “Customers writing a review saying that your receptionist is grumpy, that they’re always kept waiting, or that the dentist tried to sell them a treatment they didn’t need can help you improve. You might think, ‘right, okay—does our receptionist need some training? Or if we’re always running late, what can we do to manage our books better?’ These are wake-up calls you can learn from.” 

Plus, a mixture of good and bad reviews can actually foster greater confidence in your business, according to Stephen Palmer, executive general manager of White Pages. “Research shows that 68 per cent of customers have further trust when they see both good and bad reviews for a business,” he explains. “This is because the contrast in reviews shows credibility and authenticity.” 

“If you’re getting glowing reviews, that’s great for the reputation of your practice and for telling the team—but negative reviews are also positive, too.”

Carolyn Dean, marketing strategist and author

It’s not cool to lose your cool

A bad experience—whether it’s at the dentist, the hairdresser or the local pizza parlour—is more likely to send customers scurrying to the keyboard than saying something in person, says Palmer. “Yes, you could’ve rectified the issue on the spot, but people simply don’t like confrontation,” he says. “And this can make reviews feel worse, because you’re reading them with little to no context.”

But getting into an online slanging match is a major fail, warns Dean.

“I worked with one dental practice in Western Australia that had a negative review posted,” she remembers. “The principal went crazy online, showing the worst part of himself in responding to the review. What people forget is you’re not only responding to the person who wrote the review—you’re replying to the whole world. Best not to engage; simply say thank you, tell them you’ll be in touch and get it offline fast.”

Fake reviews: how to deal with them?

Receiving a negative fake review can be incredibly distressing and while some platforms will remove them, it can be hard to do—especially on Google.

But business owners are fighting back. In one landmark case recently, a lawyer who lost 80 per cent of his clients after a fake review sued and won $750,000 in damages, while a Melbourne dentist was recently granted a court order forcing Google to unmask an anonymous reviewer. 

“These cases are setting a precedent, which is great—keyboard warriors need to be held to account,” says Sarah Bartholomeusz from You Legal, a lawyer specialising in the medical, dental and allied health industries. “Bad reviews can kill businesses and it’s devastating to spend years as a professional, building up your business or your reputation only to have this kind of thing happen to you.”

So, when do you take a fake review further, and is it worth doing so? “Good question. Often it’s hard to know the impact it might have on your business,” says Bartholomeusz. “It’s something you want to get onto quickly, and try to manage it yourself in accordance with your complaints policy. If you can’t engage with the person or you don’t know who it is, the next step is to seek advice from a lawyer.”   

4 Top Tips

1. Never ask for reviews. That includes any call-to-action on social media or your marketing materials asking patients to review you on Google or elsewhere. “It goes against APRA’s regulations and you will probably be reported,” says Bartholomeusz. 

2. Thank patients for nice reviews. “I think you should always thank your patients for a positive review. You can do this either via phone or email, whatever’s appropriate for your practice. I think a phone call would be a lovely thing to do,” says Dean.

3. Offer solutions to disgruntled customers. “If a customer posts a negative review, try to understand what went wrong and offer a solution,” says Palmer. “Data from Sensis has shown that up to 80 per cent of customers will change their online review when contacted by a business, so these post-transaction conversations are essential.”

4. Don’t outsource review management. “Always have someone in your practice monitor reviews, as they know your clients and their back stories,” says Dean. “I recommend you have a process that outlines how you respond—maybe a junior reads the reviews and escalates anything of concern to someone senior.”


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