Dentists and physicians are finding themselves in new and uncharted territory when it comes to dealing with Internet and online reviews. Many are finding that patients are coming up with unreasonable demands for services that, if not accommodated, evoke the threat of damaging reviews being posted. Speaking from our own experience some overzealous clients have bordered on extortion while trying to get what they want.
In addition to the problem of threatened damage, anonymous attackers are going online and spreading lies about businesses of all types. These attacks can originate from disgruntled employees, ex-business partners, ex-personal partners and others intent on doing harm. Additionally we’ve seen a large number of attacks from competitors. If you are a professional service provider and this has happened to you it probably feels like no one has real solutions and your online reputation and livelihood are out of control. This article’s goal is to give you hope that real plans and solutions do exist.
This kind of malicious Internet activity can have a substantial impact. Our firm receives more than 5,000 requests for help per year and we know that professionals can experience anywhere from a 10% to a 90% drop in business after an online attack. The e-tailing group recently published a report about the impact of online reviews that showed that 92% of internet users read reviews and 89% say that reviews influence their purchasing decisions. When your office faces an Internet attack you need to understand the real impact and treat it as an “all-hands-on-deck” problem.
Businesses that are forced to deal with Internet and cyber issues need to focus on three key areas: protection, monitoring and defending. For protection, dental and medical offices need to focus on getting more customers to post positive reviews. We recently performed a study that found that dental offices average just four reviews each. The chart below shows the distribution of dental offices versus the number of reviews per office. Positive reviews counteract negative ones, but for practices without substantial positive reviews a single harmful review can be the kiss of death.
For professional practices, monitoring can be fairly straightforward. You really don’t need to subscribe to a brand-monitoring service; these businesses scour social media for you but can often cost hundreds of dollars a month. Instead you can assign someone in your front office to scan the first couple of pages of Google each week and to look at the key review websites; save yourself the expense.
The challenging question is what to do do when disaster strikes and a killer review is posted online. You need to defend your company, but don’t know the best way. Unfortunately, that problem is the cyber security equivalent of somebody coming into your office and saying, “My tooth hurts – what do I do”? The answer depends upon the underlying conditions surrounding the crisis. Given that the stakes for your business are so high you’re probably better off consulting with experts such as at CIS. That being said, we will give you a few ideas below.
In professional practices there are three general types of negative review attacks: 1) real customers who are upset; 2) anonymous attackers; 3) competitor attacks. For each one the range of responses can vary, and include:
- Doing nothing
- Crafting a polished written response
- Trying to resolve the issue with the poster
- Asking the website to step in
- Identifying an anonymous poster
- Using legal letters to threaten the poster
- Filing a lawsuit to seek damages and force removal
The approach that you choose should be dictated by the circumstances surrounding your particular issue.
For example, we know from clients that come into our group that there are a lot of competitor-on-competitor attacks taking place on the Internet. We also see that professionals under attack often make terrible choices on how to respond, including professionals who have decided to simply accept the problem as a “cost of doing business.” In this case the cost can be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. In our opinion this is the wrong approach.
If you can prove who is behind the attack then the law is truly on your side. We have seen situations in which medical professionals have been caught attacking competitors and as a result facing the loss of their license, being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution and receiving embarrassing press coverage. It’s our view that competitors that do this are nothing more than grown-up bullies that need to be made to pay for their actions. You’ve worked hard to create a great business and successful practice for yourself. Don’t let someone take that away in a matter of minutes with a negative online review campaign.
Cyber Investigation Services, LLC has compiled a six-week, one-article-per-week training course for professionals. This course will teach you everything you need to know to put you on the cutting edge of this escalating problem. The course is free with no strings attached: it’s just a community service that our company provides. Just enter your first name and email below.