By Dr. Lorne Lavine
They offer trusted insight and give a potential patient valuable piece of mind that they are choosing the right practitioner. Without a doubt, word of mouth is the most powerful way that you can influence someone’s decision about choosing their next dentist.
However, today, word of mouth is changing. What once occurred over a cup of coffee or in front of a water cooler is now taking place online. The change in venue also means that the conversation is no longer between two people; it is now shared with millions upon millions of prospective patients actively seeking a new dental practice.
Understanding this phenomena and employing the right tools to gain exposure, build your online reputation, and attract new patients, will help you succeed and prosper in this changing environment. Jack Welch, the legendary former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, once said, “Control your own destiny or someone else will.” It’s up to you to choose whether your online reputation will consist of a single thread of random gossip or whether it will become your most valued asset, carefully managed and nurtured to give you the best return on your investment.
Building Your Brand in an Online World
Your patients are always willing to share a great experience when it is timely or they are prompted, but if they have a negative experience, they’ll make a point of telling the world about it. As a service provider, you and your staff know this and are diligent to always represent your brand in the best light by offering the best patient experience. You don’t sell widgets; you sell your skills, experience, specialties, personalities, hours, and location—and your very existence and livelihood depend on your reputation.
What I mentioned above is just the first step in building your brand and your reputation. The second step is to understand how to leverage what you’ve built. We all work hard to ensure that we ask our patients for the referrals of their friends and family when they have a good experience. Now, take that most valuable scenario, expand it to hundreds and even thousands of potential patients, and you’ve just moved from the world of offline word-of-mouth referrals to the sophisticated new world of online reputation-based marketing—or word-of-mouth 2.0.
What is Your Online Reputation?
It is highly likely you already have an online reputation—and may not even know it. Your online reputation consists of everything available about you and your practice that someone could find on the Internet. It’s your Web site, your information in online directories, ratings, and reviews about your practice, as well as emerging technologies and online offerings that are showing up on the Internet every day.
As your online reputation is developing and evolving, so are your prospective patients. Consumers want and expect to find the local user information they seek, whether it’s a great French restaurant or a top-notch cosmetic dental practice. They have become accustomed to a greater variety of goods and services and greater access to information. The advent of local reviews provides a return to neighborhood intimacy—and neighborhood reputation. In fact, over two-thirds of people are now using search engines, like Google, to find local services.
Through other online Web sites such as Insider Pages, City Search, Yelp, and Yahoo, consumers can review and rate your business. There is no way to know if their comments are legitimate. In fact, these people may have never seen your dental chair. Like it or not, these consumers are establishing your online reputation—without your knowledge, without your control—and there was nothing you could do to manage this exposure, until now.
It is highly likely you already have an online reputation—and may not even know it. Your online reputation consists of everything available about you and your practice that someone could find on the Internet.
Getting Started With Technology
The first step to building out your online reputation is learning how you can start the conversation with your patients about their experience with your practice. There is an exciting new company called Demandforce that can help. Demandforce is an online patient communication company that realized the value in asking your patients for their feedback regarding their experience with your practice. With Demandforce, each patient is automatically sent a thank-you E-mail message after each appointment. As part of the thank you, they can choose to submit a confidential survey of their visit as well as a public review. Practices can read the reviews and post a response or ask for a review to be removed if it does not meet standard posting requirements. We’ll talk more about Demandforce later, but right now let’s talk about a company you may have heard of — it’s called Google.
How Can You Leverage Technology to Attract New Patients?
As you probably know, the largest and most powerful search engine is Google. Today, 67 percent of all online searches are conducted using Google. Google sees 3.2 billion—yes, with a “b”—visits per month. As a dental practice, you can optimize your Web site to come up in the complimentary, natural search results. If you choose to pay for exposure, you can subscribe to Google Adwords, paying for each “click” generated from Google to your Web site. The higher you bid for a click, the higher your placement in the sponsored section of Google. There are many dental practices that bid more than $6 for every click, resulting in thousands of dollars spent on Adwords each month. One particular practice I am aware of spends more than $3,000 a month on Adwords and claims the cost is “worth every penny.” As with all advertising it has limitations, even beyond expense. Ads are companies promoting themselves, and today’s savvy consumer recognizes this and filters information accordingly.
However, even the world’s search engine leader recognizes the extreme power and relevance of word-of-mouth feedback. Google recently expanded its offerings to enable consumers to search for and compare local businesses online. Try searching for a dentist in your area by typing in your zip code followed by the word “dentist” in the Google search box. A map with a listing of 10 dental offices is displayed above all other natural search results. To the far right of each listing is a link to “reviews.” This is where a consumer can view what your patients say about your practice. Google has hit the referral jackpot: this functionality leverages consumer relationships and capitalizes on the inherent credibility of the first-person testimonial. This is a priceless intangible—something advertising dollars just can’t buy.
Build Your Online Reputation Now
So how do you, as a dentist, take advantage of this new tool, Google local businesses, to guide and shape your online reputation? It is important to remember that this is not a practice snapshot in time, but rather a reputation built and sustained over time. Your best chance of securing and maintaining a “top 10” placement is to be among the first to populate your Google profile—and to keep a steady stream of relevant reviews and quality practice information flowing in to Google. You can do this one of two ways: passively or actively.
Whether you opt to take a passive approach or more of a proactive approach to build your online reputation, I highly recommend you take charge to ensure it accurately reflects and, therefore, benefits your practice.
The “Pull” Approach
You can hope the patients who visit your practice have the wherewithal to create a Google account, find your Google profile, and submit a review. This requires time and effort on your patients’ part, and staff time to inform patients and promote the process. Even if your staff is dedicated to making your patients aware of the online review process, you can only hope they remember to follow through once they go back to their busy schedules at home and work. If history is any guide, a passive approach will result in one or two reviews posted over the course of several months.
The “Push” Approach
Today, the only integrated approach to proactively managing your online reputation in Google is through Demandforce. Demandforce has a data integration agreement with Google that enables dental practices to easily populate their Google profiles, including posting certified reviews directly from your actual patients. Do you remember earlier when we talked about using the Demandforce technology to start the conversation with your patients? This proactive approach results in dozens of reviews being posted to your Google profile each month. Demandforce will also help you optimize your profile and submit additional information such as specialties, languages spoken, insurance accepted, hours of operation and affiliations. You can also choose to integrate online scheduling directly into your profile. The new Google review functionality is included at no additional cost with a standard monthly subscription.
Whether you opt to take a passive approach or more of a proactive approach to build your online reputation, I highly recommend you take charge to ensure it accurately reflects and, therefore, benefits your practice. Your online reputation is your business and those practices that realize it early on will have a significant head start over their peers. Solicited or not, online reviews are here to stay. Our patients’ satisfaction and their resulting word-of-mouth referrals will always be our bread and butter; only the serving plate has changed. What are you doing to shape your online reputation? Have you “Googled” your practice or your competitors lately?
Lorne Lavine, DMD
Dr. Lorne Lavine, founder and president of Dental Technology Consultants, has over 23 years invested in the dental and dental technology fields. A graduate of USC, he earned his D.M.D. from Boston University and completed his residency at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, NY. He received his specialty training at the University of Washington and went into private practice in Vermont until moving to California in 2002 to establish DTC, a company which focuses on the specialized technological needs of the dental community.