June 14, 2019
The prevalence of online reviews on websites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp have completely changed how people discover and choose where they shop, especially for small businesses like independent pharmacies.
According to a consumer survey from BrightLocal, a company specializing in search engine optimization tools, 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business. That means almost everyone will find your pharmacy online and read reviews before deciding to visit.
“Online reviews have quickly become the way that consumers find local businesses, replacing window shopping, Yellow Pages, and even word-of-mouth,” said Brad Plothow, vice president of marketing and communications at Womply, which helps small brick-and-mortar businesses manage their online presences. “Businesses that ignore online reviews are ignoring the most effective channel for acquiring new customers.”
None of the trust that has long empowered word-of-mouth marketing is lost when recommendations move from the living room to the internet: Nearly 90 percent of consumers view online reviews as trustworthy as personal recommendations. And while traditional word-of-mouth might reach a handful of people in someone’s circle of friends and family, online reviews reach thousands of people in the entire community.
This free, far-reaching, and effective advertising is particularly good news for small businesses like your independent pharmacy. No longer do deep resources and high visibility give CVS and Walgreens a huge leg up. People who once would have never heard of your pharmacy can now easily discover you. When people search for a pharmacy online, your pharmacy’s name will appear just as readily as the national chains.
Psychology research tells us that people are more inclined toward businesses they’re familiar with than to ones they know nothing about. Patients know what they’re getting at Walgreens and CVS, but your independent pharmacy is unique. Reviews give patients a way to become familiar with you.
Of course, the benefits of online reviews depend on the strength and number of your ratings and reviews. In one consumer survey, more than half of respondents said they won’t patronize a business with less than four stars. And if the business has four or five stars, more than 70 percent of people will be inclined to visit it. However, according to the research from BrightLocal, it takes about 40 reviews for people to trust the average star rating.
So, how do you increase your reviews and boost your ratings to five stars? Try these strategies.
“The best way to get more reviews is to ask your patients,” said Malcolm Stone, founder of ReviewIgnite, an online reputation management firm. You already have a large patient base that views you as a five-star pharmacy. More than likely, those patients will happily leave a review. In the BrightLocal survey, almost three-fourths of customers said they’d leave a review if asked.
When you ask for a review, make it as easy as possible on your patients. You can request reviews in person, but patients may forget as soon as they walk out of your pharmacy. Requesting electronically allows them to immediately go to the website while they’re already on their phone or computer. In an email, text, or social media post, include a link to the review website. For patients who don’t know how to leave a review, offer to show them in the store, or have step-by-step instructions handy.
Make sure to ask for reviews at appropriate times. The best moment is when a patient compliments or thanks you. Use this opportunity to tell them you’re glad to hear that and ask if they’d like to share their experience on a Google or Facebook review.
“The owner should make it a policy and train the pharmacists and technicians on staff regarding when and how to ask for reviews,” Stone said. “You can also automate this process by using one of the many online reputation management software platforms available.”
Even if patients are happy with your pharmacy, they may need more than a nudge to do the work of reviewing and rating your business. Rewarding people for their honest reviews will give them an incentive to get it done.
Consider giving patients a front-end discount, entering them into a contest for a prize, or offering a coupon to anyone who posts a review within a certain timeframe. The combination of a reward plus a time limit—two classic advertising techniques—will drive people to post a review.
It’s good policy to respond to every review directly. The ReviewTracker survey revealed that 80 percent of consumers believe a business cares more about them when its management responds to their reviews. And almost 90 percent say they read the business’s responses.
“The worst thing you can do is let reviews pile up without any response,” Plothow said. “Most consumers see a measured, thoughtful response to a negative or positive review as evidence that the business cares about customer service.”
For positive reviews, respond by thanking them for the review and mentioning that you’re happy to have them as a patient. For negative reviews, respond promptly, apologize, offer an honest explanation, and then find a way to make amends. Take the conversation to a private message or phone call.
What if your pharmacy doesn’t actually deserve a five-star review? When enough patients give the same feedback, it’s time to take a look at what they’re saying. Consistent negative reviews can reveal real problems with your pharmacy. Fixing those problems will give your patients a better experience, eventually turning those low-star reviews into five-star reviews.
“Independent pharmacies need to commit to taking reviews seriously,” Stone said. “The pharmacy owner should share all reviews and feedback with their staff and, depending on the staff size, appoint one or two individuals to analyze and work on improvements to their customer experience delivery. Then conduct a customer experience training session with the entire staff—which should be repeated regularly—to make sure the negative situation does not happen again.”
Negativity influences people more easily than positivity. So, focus on addressing angry patients before they take their issue to the internet. Head off complaints in person before they get posted online by making sure patients don’t leave your pharmacy upset. Even if you can’t fully solve their problem right then, you can soften their anger and begin proactive steps to meet their needs, which might be enough to deter them from posting a negative review.
In a Drug Store News survey, 94 percent of patients said that the most important factor in choosing a pharmacy is convenience. The survey respondents noted that short wait times were the most important convenience, followed by hours of operation.
“Make it easy to do business with you,” Stone said. “For independent community pharmacies this includes flexible store hours, prescription delivery, website access, onsite flu shots, etc. Helping your patients out in these ways will drive more five-star reviews.”
Patients’ experience of your pharmacy is the single most important factor that influences reviews. No strategies can overcome a poor experience, and no tactics can earn better pharmacy reviews than great care.
“Deliver a ‘wow’ patient experience,” Stone said. “Getting more five-star reviews starts with the pharmacy staff. This means having a patient experience plan in place. And as the owner of the pharmacy, you should be setting the tone for what a good patient experience looks like.”
Negative reviews have a disproportionate effect on your business. A spotless record can be tarnished with a single complaint. In one survey, 94 percent of shoppers said an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. And a study from Convergys concluded that single negative online review can cost businesses 30 customers.
For community pharmacies, a tarnished reputation will be difficult to overcome. “Local reputation is critical—and negative reviews live forever,” said Nicole Pinero, a specialist with Evergreen Partners, a public relations firm specializing in crisis communications, reputation management, litigation support, and issues management consulting.
But negative reviews don’t have to leave a permanent mark on your business. With the right responses you can turn a poor review into a positive. Preserve your pharmacy’s reputation with these proven PR strategies when you encounter negative reviews.
Don’t let the patient’s complaints go unanswered for long. “Jump on it and keep it simple,” Pinero said. “Be personable and apologetic.” Assign someone to monitor your online reviews daily, so you’re always on top of negative posts.
In your response, invite the person to continue the conversation privately by phone or email. “Leaving a manager’s name and contact information is good customer service,” Pinero said. “It shows a level of commitment to the customer by wanting to resolve the problem. A personal response to a negative review can open the door for the reviewer write a positive review about how the business responded.”
Don’t divert, justify, or make excuses when someone lodges a complaint. And definitely don’t tell patients they’re wrong. Try to empathize with the negative reviewer, even if the complaint seems unreasonable. “The customer isn’t always right, but we absolutely don’t want them to feel they’ve been wronged,” Pinero said.
Face the gripe head on first by apologizing for their poor experience. Follow that with an honest explanation for why the experience may have occurred and how it will be improved in the future. For example, say a patient complains about a long wait time when she went to your pharmacy at 5 p.m. to fill a new prescription. Politely respond by saying that your pharmacy offers opening hours beyond just 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to accommodate patients with regular work schedules, but note that the pharmacy often gets busy around 5 p.m. Give an explanation of the options you provide to patients to avoid long wait times, like automatic refills and free delivery.
“Be measured, thoughtful, and brief in your response,” Plothow said. “It’s tempting to get defensive and emotional when responding to negative online reviews, but that’s self-defeating.”
Sometimes, your staff will make a mistake. When you’re at fault, do whatever it takes to resolve the issue until the patient is satisfied. Then make sure to explain what steps you’re taking to ensure it never happens again. Thank them for their review and their time to help improve your pharmacy’s service.
It’s tricky to determine when you should and when you shouldn’t provide patients who complain with compensation. A good practice is to offer online reviewers compensation only if you or your employees made a legitimate mistake or oversight. Any obvious customer service issue, like unfriendly techs or clerks, also warrants some kind of compensation. But do it privately, through email or by phone.
“The first thing is to have a plan for responding to negative reviews,” Malcom Stone said. Consider putting together a script with general responses, keeping them brief and HIPAA-compliant. Establishing a protocol or policy will enable quick and consistent responses.
Review websites are the easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to attract new patients. Which review websites should you be paying attention to?
More people will find your pharmacy through Google than through any other review website. Google’s search engine and Google Maps guide consumers to 1.5 billion destinations every year. Nearly two-thirds of consumers say Google is their first choice for checking on a business. And it’s the site people are most likely to use to leave reviews.
How to set up your business on Google
• Search for your pharmacy and make sure it’s listed on Google My Business
Facebook isn’t technically a review website, but it has ratings and reviews for businesses. The social platform has more than two billion active users per month and Facebook pages receive nearly five billion comments every month. It’s second only to Google when it comes to business reviews.
People are far more likely to share or like your business page on Facebook than any other website, including Google, and those shares can generate more traffic to your business page socially. One survey revealed that Facebook is the most popular way consumers recommend or review local businesses.
How to set up your business on Facebook
Yelp is a website and mobile app that connects people with local businesses, attracting more than 170 million users per month. It’s also the most trusted of all review websites. Yelp’s influence on consumers has been so strong that critics have asked whether it has too much power over consumer choice. According to an article from the Harvard Business School, a one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenue.
Yelp reviews also rank high on search engines. That means your pharmacy’s Yelp business listing will display near the top of the page, before other review websites like Foursquare, when people search. That’s significant because 63 percent of consumers use a search engine to find online reviews.
How to set up your business on Yelp
Like Yelp, Foursquare helps people discover new places with recommendations from the community. More than 50 million people use Foursquare every month. Although Foursquare isn’t as popular as Yelp, you need to have a positive presence on it. People who use Foursquare might not use Yelp and vice versa. This means you’re missing out on a large number of potential customers if you don’t focus on both websites.
How to set up your business on Foursquare
This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.
Read more articles from the March issue:
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is an independently owned pharmacy services organization based in Kansas City, Mo., that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, distribution services, and more.
PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.
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