Shopping online has become a popular practice, with everything from groceries to furniture being available for online purchase and next-day delivery. The rapid rise of online purchases even has some experts warning of the complete extinction of brick and mortar stores in the not-too-distant future.
Dire predictions aside, it’s hard to deny the usefulness of making purchases online: they’re fast, easy, can be done in your pajamas, and offer you a quick comparison of similar items. Perhaps the most useful of all, however, is the ability to peruse online reviews of the products you’re considering. And you better believe those online reviews are there—they’re everywhere.
Online reviews have been increasingly reshaping the consumer’s relationship with product manufacturers and service providers alike. And it’s showing no sign of slowing down. A BrightLocal survey found that 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation—despite the fact that these reviews are coming from complete strangers.
It’s not even uncommon these days to see people looking up online reviews of products that they are physically shopping for in a local store. Crowdsourcing information on products and services has become the norm because nobody wants to be in the dark about a helpful warning or tip on a given item or provider.
As a healthcare practice, online reviews can present a unique set of challenges. It can often be frustrating to read a negative review from a patient who was given legitimately good service, but didn’t hear the result he or she had hoped for. A lack of appreciation for the technical background and professional obligations a provider has is common, and these are difficult details to communicate once a stone has already been thrown. Indeed, critics have often likened popular review websites, like Yelp and Healthgrades, to the bathroom walls. Anonymity can easily breed exaggeration.
Despite these challenges, it’s clear that online reviews are on the rise and consumer reliance on them is increasing as well. And the good news is that there are real benefits to be had. First off, service providers who acknowledge and work with the power of online reviews notice their search rankings in search result pages soar rapidly as more people leave them reviews on different websites. Additionally, even though negative reviews can be frustrating and difficult to accept, they at least offer a chance for the provider to give a professional reply—often giving the provider the last word. All in all, the increasing use of online reviews means more marketing happening on your behalf, and at no additional cost.
The most important thing to remember about online reviews is that they begin with that first handshake and end with your last keystroke. Of course you want to always offer services that leave patients satisfied and engaged, but even more, you want to reply to the reviews you do end up getting—both the good and the bad (especially the bad).
Your responsiveness on the most popular review websites, like Yelp, Healthgrades, Google, and Facebook, says a lot about your practice to prospective patients. It’s their little window into the type of person you are and the professionalism you practice. It’s also a free and easy way to give yourself an indirect introduction to literally thousands of potential patients who peruse those pages.
At this point, you might be thinking about time. As in, who has the time to monitor their online reviews like this? The answer to this varies, but for busy professionals who don’t want to let their online reviews lay fallow or, even worse, work against them, online services often become the next best option. There are numerous services that claim to not only manage your online reviews, but to even increase them, and our sound advice is always: buyer beware.
It’s important not to take for granted how sophisticated online shoppers are these days. Fake reviews often stand out as an awkward attempt at self-promotion and can quickly have a negative effect. It’s also important that the response you make to a critical review is well-written, understanding, and professional. In other words, it needs to be in your voice. If considering an online review-management service, select one that ensures you will be notified when your direct response is needed. Your future patients will appreciate it.
Approach this new landscape of search-before-you-choose healthcare with the sense of opportunity it provides. Never before have local providers been able to reach such a wide range of interested patients so easily. Never before has a provider with one angry patient been able to reply to his or her negative experience. And never before has the internet paved a way for healthcare practices to soar above the rest with a long tail of glowing reviews. You too can launch your practice to new heights with proper online review management.