Don't Underestimate the Importance of Online Reviews

The power of online reviews can’t be understated. So, how does a dental practice accentuate the positive and tackle the negative – real and otherwise?

Print & Go Guidance

By Susan Richards

In a perfect world, successful dental professionals could grow their business with personal, enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals. Such as, "Mr. Jones" would tell his new neighbor how friendly and efficient his dentist’s office is; "Ms. Smith" would rave to her client about her orthodontist’s quality work and affordable rates.

In the real world, however, online reviews can drive traffic to and from businesses, even when the feedback itself isn’t real.

According to 2018 Pew research, 93% of U.S. consumers use reviews and ratings found online when choosing goods or services for the first time, which can include oral healthcare needs. While the majority of Americans think reviews are beneficial, many of them can’t differentiate authentic feedback from fake.

In studies compiled by Entrepreneur, researchers found that 79% of consumers have seen a fake review, but most couldn’t identify them. Those numbers are pretty scary considering 94% of respondents reported they were convinced to avoid a business by a negative online review.

Shooting for Five-Star Ratings

There are many components to digital marketing for the dental practice, including targeted advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), and converting patient satisfaction into positive referrals. When looking for a new dental office on the internet, prospective patients often continue their research by visiting one of the many popular review sites to learn more about each dentist. These platforms include Google, Yelp, Facebook, Healthgrades, and 1-800-Dentist, among others.

Dentists can improve their online performance by asking happy patients to share their positive experiences on a digital survey or leave a review at one of the aforementioned sites. If all went well, many people tend to forget to do so after their appointment, so a congenial follow-up phone call or text requesting feedback is appropriate.

Testimonials are a powerful tool for digital and print marketing. Positive online reviews can encourage potential patients, as well as boost your website traffic through search engine signals. Let’s face it, most people are attracted to five-star ratings.

Fighting the Negative Energy

The flip side is the dreaded one-star review that can damage an otherwise excellent online profile, especially for practices just starting out. According to ReputationX, a reputation management firm, 86% of potential customers hesitate to do business with someone who has negative online reviews. Addressing the concerns of dissatisfied patients is key to managing your reputation online, but how does a practice tackle a review that isn’t even legitimate?

Interestingly enough, the responses should be similar.

A recent consumer review survey showed that 89% of potential customers are more likely to pursue a business that responds to all of its reviews – good or bad. So, while ignoring the trolls on social media is usually advisable, disregarding negative online reviews – fake or real – is simply not a good strategy.

If an actual patient leaves a negative review, it’s important to respond quickly and politely, while strictly adhering to HIPAA guidelines. This means not confirming the reviewer is a patient, even if they do so in their post. A Dallas, TX dental practice paid dearly for responding to a 2016 Yelp review by disclosing an abundance of personal information in violation of HIPAA.

Be sure to use generic language and stick with explaining office policy, such as scheduling protocols and unforeseen emergencies that can impact wait times. Thank the reviewer for their feedback and invite them to reach out with questions or suggestions. Provide an email or phone number, so they feel heard and appreciated without their privacy being compromised. When a business helps to resolve a matter quickly and professionally, almost 100% of dissatisfied customers will return.

Fake Reviews

Fake reviews have become big business that may impact a dental practice in two ways: They will either negatively impact the overall rating with bogus complaints, or a competitor can boost their online presence with a slew of purchased reviews from customers that don’t exist.

The latter problem was in the spotlight in October of last year when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put businesses on notice for this illegal practice. The FTC asserted that “fake reviews and other forms of deceptive endorsements cheat consumers and undercut honest businesses,” and culpable parties would pay a steep price.

The issue of fake negative reviews is trickier to address and requires diligence on the part of the dentist or practice management team. Fake posts are typically more aggressive or nasty in tone than genuine customer complaints and may not be very specific in their claims.

It’s easy enough to determine if the reviewer is an actual patient by checking records and appointment schedules. Most platforms have "Terms of Service" that prohibit non-patients from leaving fake reviews. Once it’s determined that the review is fake, flag and report it immediately to the site where it’s posted. As with negative reviews, be mindful of HIPAA when reporting the content and sharing information with a private third party.

Next, it’s important to reply as professionally as you would a true review, although erring on the side of caution by not referring to their patient status. Thank them for their feedback and make the offer for them to contact the office directly to discuss the matter.

Deceptive reviewers obviously won’t reach out, but now it’s on record that you’re aware and handled it quickly and professionally. It also doesn’t hurt to politely ask them to remove the fake negative review while waiting for the platform to take action.

In Conclusion

While fake positive reviews are illegal, the deceptive negative feedback is usually not – although it could be considered defamation in some cases. Either way, it’s crucial for the modern dental practice to regularly monitor its online presence and local standing. That can be time-consuming and as a result, many marketing companies have added reputation management to their business services.

Meanwhile, be sure to accentuate the positive by incorporating a request for reviews into each appointment or post-treatment follow-up. Genuine and happy patients will always offset the fictitious online community.


Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.

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