Reviews and ratings have become big business for online searchers, particularly those looking for help choosing the ideal (and local) dentist for themselves or their family.

According to BrightLocal:

  • 80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 60% of consumers need to read four or more reviews to perform an opinion
  • Nearly half of all prospective patients say a doctor’s reputation matters

But if you happen to have negative content posted online associated with your practice – regardless of its merit – it can have long-lasting negative repercussions.

If you’re in business long enough, then negative reviews are inevitable. Part of that is because it’s human nature that a patient is far more likely to submit online reviews and ratings if they had a negative experience than if they had a positive one.

That doesn’t mean you should hide yourself or your practice from the web. The internet is all but a must-use space for dentists looking to be found online by local prospects. But if you live by the digital sword, you can’t expect to walk away completely unscathed.

It’s nearly impossible to satisfy all of your patients. For those who aren’t happy with your service or their results, you can be certain that the ratings sites and social media networks will become their bully pulpit from which they air their grievances.

What can you do to make sure your potential patients see the good reviews of your practice, rather than just the negative ones?

Protecting and preserving your reputation – the two-prong approach

There are two strategies you should focus on as you embark on reputation management:

  1. Proactive reputation management
  2. Reactive reputation management

Proactive reputation management

Being proactive is always good, no matter what your end goal is. Building and protecting your positive reputation is no different. You want to ensure that you have a solid and positive presence on review and rating sites where your prospective patients search.

Your proactive approach to reputation management will include publicizing and sharing patient testimonials, actively engaging with online reviewers, and ensuring your practice contact information is accurate and consistent across the web.

But which reputation and ratings sites should you focus on? While you can turn to sophisticated (and at times costly) tools to help you build a presence on nearly all major sites, why not start small by asking your patients where they turn to for reviews and ratings? That way you can feel certain that you’re spending your time where it matters most.

Over time, you can expand to use a software-as-a-service to build your presence elsewhere.

Reactive reputation management

First, let’s go over the realities once again: negative reviews are inevitable. That’s why you need to establish a reactive reputation management strategy in order to counteract these negative reviews.

When you appropriately address negative reviews in a timely manner, you can, essentially, take the wind out of their sales and lessen their impact on your prospective patients.

Your reactive strategy can also help you hone in on the sites you should be working to develop. For example, if one of your negative reviews from Healthgrades is ranking high on Google, you’ll likely want to find a way to counteract that review (by, for example, actively encouraging your patients to submit reviews to that site).

But how, exactly, can you find these negative reviews about your practice? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Set alerts on Google, Yahoo! and Bing
  • Assign a staff member to monitor the postings on all relevant sites
  • Use social media monitoring tools to keep tabs on any and all references to your practice or staff
  • Consider using an external monitoring service

Anytime you see a negative review about you or your practice, you might want to offer up some type of public reply (that also falls in compliance with HIPAA regulations). These replies offer two specific benefits:

  1. They establish a bridge between you and the original reviewer so that you can remedy the issue and rebuild that relationship
  2. When done publicly (with tact and respect) it can show other prospects and reviewers that you don’t just bury bad reviews under the rug and hope they go away. You welcome all feedback as a chance to improve your services

But be careful how you choose to reply to bad reviews. Stay positive; avoid pointing fingers; and certainly resist the urge to deliver excuses as a reason for a bad experience. Something safe and generic such as: “Thank you for expressing your concerns. If you could be so kind as to contact our offices directly so we can discuss this matter with you further. Patient satisfaction is our number one goal” could be enough to lessen the damage of that review.

You could go one step further, particularly when it comes to the most common complaint made by patients of dentists: long wait times.

In this instance, you could highlight why there might be longer than average wait times in the office: “As one of the few dental practices in the area that offer a wide range of services, we pride ourselves on providing quality and individualized care to all of our patients. We apologize for those instances when our approach impinges on the scheduled appointments of our other patients and are working on ways to remedy the issue.”

This statement doesn’t write-off the reviewer’s complaint, nor does it come across as too defensive. If you think about it, it comes across as a positive problem because it shows that your practice is in high demand.

Beat bad reviews over the head with awesome reviews – it’s simple math!

One of the best ways to minimize the impact of negative reviews is to bury it under a slew of positive ones.

How do you go about building your pile of positivity?

It can be as easy as simply asking your patients, although it’s best if one of your staff members does the asking.

A simple and friendly ask, such as: “You’d really make our day if you provided a positive review online” can go a long way. Remember, direct your patients to the sites where you need the most help.

Finding the good in negative reviews

While your goal should be tackle and address negative reviews, we can’t ignore the fact that oftentimes there is some truth within these unsavory comments.

For example, if you happen to get consistent reviews or poor ratings focused on rushed patient visits, then maybe it’s time to make some changes in your procedures to give your patients more face time?

Negative reviews are a natural part of your dental practice, which is why you should develop both a proactive and reactive approach to reputation management.

Sure, relying on tools or agencies to help you manage this load can be a real asset, but even if you’re confined to just you and your staff, you can make a positive, and lasting impact on the online reputation of your practice.