Just type your or your hospital’s name into Google and all sorts of stuff shows up, some good, some bad and maybe some really awful. In this world of universal, instant and fairly anonymous communication using the Internet and especially social media, both good and bad things can happen.
The good, of course, includes much greater reach to potential clients, existing clients and very inexpensive marketing and professional education. The visual nature of the Internet also makes photos and video an outstanding way to tell your story and allow you to stand out.
Unfortunately, some people will, fairly or not, use this medium to complain about your service or facility to the same huge audience.
On your business site or social media pages you have good control, and this is fairly easy to contain. But on other large commercial ratings sites such as Yelp, City Search or Yahoo Local, it appears you are at the mercy of some unreasonable people. When an angry client decides to exact revenge against your hospital, he can appear to have the upper hand and lots of undeserved control.
That is a scary prospect for a business owner.
Instead of being scared, businesses should view the Internet as a tool to work directly with upset clients, fix the issue if possible and hopefully turn them into loyal clients.
The best way to handle online complaints is to use social media to nip them in the bud. A recent survey showed a third of all businesses offered no response to angry customers. That is the wrong approach.
Of the businesses that did contact an angry customer online, 18 percent of the customers were so happy with the follow-up that they converted to regular customers and even referred new business. A third of them went on to post positive reviews of the business and how they were so well handled. Another third went so far as to delete their damaging posts.
So it seems your first step is to contact the people via the social media or even by phone, discuss the problem and offer a solution. This will yield positive results for that person and the thousands watching, because online reviews live forever—and that can be a good thing.
This also means you need to act quickly. Reviews that are months or even years old (because you did not know they were there) have done their damage and your repair will seem like too little too late.
You should be “listening” to the net, every few days. Set up Google Alerts using your name and hospital name as key words and get daily emails sent to you by Google. Backtype.com will also send you daily email alerts.
Once you discover a problem, it’s simply a matter of researching the case and using some good, old-fashioned client service to resolve the problem and make the complaining party happy.
Does this work? USA Today reports that more than half of all Fortune 100 companies now use social media to solve customer complaints, because they see that companies that respond to online criticism quickly and strongly get results.
Most veterinary hospitals do not receive many aggressive complaints so it usually doesn’t take much of your time to correct a problem.
When choosing rants to respond to, look for ones that are less than a few days old, are on prominent sites and are about problems that you can solve. Those that appear to be the same person under different names ranting about the same case will be obvious (both to you and to others) as unreasonable personal attacks and they lose credibility.
When this type of rant appears on your Facebook page, immediately post your Facebook rules, then delete the remarks and block the sender. Do not hesitate; state your policy and then delete. Ask your state veterinary medical association for a sample Facebook posting policy that you can easily adapt that to your practice’s FB page.
When defending your hospital online, do so as the hospital and in a proud and honest way. Talk about your professionalism, your service and the pride you have in what you offer.
Don’t get into the details of a case. Keep online responses polite and direct, then ask the client if you can contact her by email or phone to discuss the specific details of the complaint.
This is known as “taking the issue off-line” and many times gets a resolution that will benefit all of you. Once the matter is resolved, ask the client directly to remove the damaging remarks. Following up with the client in a few days or weeks can really show you are sincere about the resolution.
Conversely, when you know you have a very satisfied client, why not hand her a prepared detail sheet showing how to go online and give you a positive review? Perhaps offer a small gift (like a Starbucks gift card) for doing so. This could pay huge benefits.
Sometimes you can’t can’t rectify a problem for a person who simply wants to damage you. There are times when you can only offer a sincere apology and walk away from the conversation. Considering legal action for slander or malicious intent will be a waste of time, as proof of damages is practically impossible.
Reputation management is a new and fast-growing industry. Because consumers are free to voice even unjust and malicious opinions, companies such as Reputation.com, Reputationmanagementconsultants.com and Ironreputation.com have quickly developed.
All offer, for a fee, services that will help you deal with this growing problem. Today, any public figure has to use such services because the country is so polarized that no matter your position, someone is going to attack you—especially online. Consequently, this new industry has come to the rescue.
Get the step-by-step process for removing negative reviews or pushing them down in the search engine results in "How to Manage Your Animal Hospital's Online Reputation, Part 2."
Dr. Humphries is an adjunct professor of media and communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station. He is the founder of the Veterinary News Network and an award-winning television producer and speaker.