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Why online reviews are important for your veterinary practice customers, and where you can help them.  

While the pandemic has created many changes in our industry, one of the constants is the sameness of many distributor reps. Most are repping the same products and services that, in the absence of a special, are being sold at the same price and terms.

Previously I’ve written about some ways to make yourself stand out with your customers. Since then, I’ve had numerous occasions to engage in discussions about online reviews of veterinary practices. I believe the pandemic has heightened the importance of these reviews, and I believe this is an area where you can create a sustainable competitive advantage to maintain your lead position or create an opportunity for yourself where you’re not the primary source. Let me suggest a couple of ways you can approach this, and then you can decide if any would work in
your territory.


Before your next call, do a search for “Veterinary Hospitals in that City, State.” That client should appear along with several reviews. From that point, you have a few options to start a conversation designed to help that hospital be more successful.

If there are no reviews or the last review is more than 6 months old, there’s a tremendous opportunity for you to talk to the decision-maker about the impact of social media and encourage them to start asking their clients to post a review of their hospital. With the pandemic and social distancing, more potential customers than ever are using digital tools to search, and if that hospital isn’t there and getting positive reviews, they’re probably being dismissed without a second look.

If there are positive reviews, they should be followed, within a week, by an acknowledgment from the hospital thanking that customer for their review. Something like, “Thank you for your kind words about Malone Veterinary Hospital. The staff and I attempt to do what’s best for (the pet’s name) and our customers, so we are always encouraged when we meet and exceed a customer’s expectation.”

If there are negative reviews, they should also receive a response within 48 hours. Let me demonstrate how I believe these negative reviews should be handled.

Example: A practice owner, treating a cat with a chronic illness, recommended an abdominal ultrasound. The client took the cat to a clinic down the street, where they did the ultrasound. The cat ended up being euthanized, and the client posted a bad review for the original practice owner. The practice owner replied, pointing out that they recommended the ultrasound. The cat owner replied with another bad review and got all her friends to post bad reviews.

Clearly the practice owner’s response only inflamed the situation. It became one of those “If I can prove my point (we recommended an ultrasound), will you drop yours?”
The practice owner’s response was very logical, but the reviewer was running on pure emotion.

It is important here to remember that the negative review is not going away, and the real objective is to minimize their impact. So, a better response might have included empathy and acknowledgement of the customer’s point of view without agreeing with that point of view. The following example illustrates both empathy and an acknowledgment of the reviewer’s point of view without agreeing with the review:

“I was sorry to hear that (cat’s name) was euthanized. These situations are difficult for everyone involved. I was pleased to hear that you followed our recommendation of an ultrasound. Finally, but most importantly, I apologize that our service did not meet your expectations as we strive to deliver the best medical care to all our patients and the best service for their owners.”

The reality of today’s business climate is that veterinary hospitals (or any business) are not going to satisfy the expectations of every potential customer. Bad reviews are part of doing business and are out of the practice owner’s control. What can be controlled is how those few bad reviews are handled and this is where you, the distributor rep, can be most helpful and raise your image in the eyes of your current or prospective customers.

Now I realize that you have quota pressure and are probably thinking “With everything else, I don’t have time to be educating practice owners about online reviews.” So don’t try it with everyone. Pick 6-10 potentially good customers that are giving you a fraction of their business today and try it with them on your next visit. There is very little risk with these customers while the payoff could be a substantial increase in your business.

To further minimize your risk, if you find a negative review that you’re unsure how to handle, copy it into an email and send it to me. I will provide you with my suggested response.

I believe you will find that your hospitals will see you in a different, more positive light. The most successful distributor reps I know focus first on making their hospitals successful. Their hospitals then help make them successful distributor reps. Try it for yourself.

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/HAKINMHAN