Don't let bad Internet reviews bite

Are online ratings services your friend or foe? Here's how to make them work for you.
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Apr 01, 2008

Let's say you're casually googling your practice one day when you find a review that makes your eyes pop out of your head:

They have the highest clinic death rate. That's because no certification is required to work there! There are four investigations pending against this clinic, including animal cruelty. Records prove that most of the deaths occur either when the pet is left alone overnight or during procedures. I don't recommend this clinic to anyone who values their pet's life.


Illustration by Steve Pica
This is an actual posting I found on the Internet about a veterinary clinic I was consulting with. The folks at the clinic had no idea this review existed until I brought it to their attention. I was curious about comments like this, so I searched six ratings sites using 40 practices I work with. Five practices had no reviews or weren't listed on the sites, and 27 had positive reviews. Eight practices had negative comments.

The practice mentioned above conducted a complete investigation of the comment, and it turns out the review wasn't written by a client, but by a disgruntled employee who had been fired. This is why it's important to keep an eye on these Web sites. How much damage has this employee done to the practice?

Know your stuff

First things first. You can't do anything about erroneous or bad reviews if you don't know what's out thereā€”so start surfing. You need to look at the ratings sites and find out what, if anything, has been said about your practice. In "Check These Out," on the next page, I've listed the most common sites in order of popularity, based on my research.


The bottom line
This list is certain to change as the ratings industry grows and more customers log on, so it's important to search for your practice on the Web regularly. If you don't want to do the legwork yourself, there are online "clipping" services you can hire to monitor the Internet and e-mail you any comments, good or bad, about your practice.

The advantage: You

Despite all the potential problems they create, online review services are the wave of the future. Don't ignore them. Instead, use them as marketing and client communication tools.

In a recent edition of American Spa, columnist Karl Bantleman described how he turned online ratings services to his favor. If someone complained, he'd contact the person, invite her to revisit the spa, and attempt to resolve the problem, real or perceived. He even ended up using some of these people as mystery shoppers. According to Bantleman, here's what you need to do to make online ratings services an effective tool for your practice:


The legal lowdown
> Respond promptly to bad and indifferent reviews using the resources available on the site. Post your own reply, but be open about the fact that you're the business owner.

> Offer to rectify the situation if the review was negative or indifferent, and enlist the reviewer's help in improving your service.

> Join a site and write reviews of businesses in your area (but not your competition or your own practice). This makes you a member of the community.

> Participate in featured business advertising programs, such as a sponsored listing or a banner ad.