Making a negative positive
The probability that someone will say something negative about your practice is high, so it's a good idea to create your own
positive Web presence now to balance out things in the future, Merrihew says. Include customer testimonials on your Web site.
Make sure to update the testimonial page regularly, or it won't be effective, he says. People will wonder why your last nice
comments from clients came years ago.
Also, cost doesn't need to be an issue when you're creating a practice Web site. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars.
For instance, AAHA members can create their own practice site through AAHA's Web site. Other options include doctors creating
their own free Facebook pages or taking advantage of online review Web sites that offer free pages for businesses, like Yelp.com.
Invite your customers to post positive reviews on your Web site or on Web sites that offer consumer reviews like
http://yelp.com/ and Angie's List (
Because Angie's List doesn't allow anonymous reviews and consumers pay to be part of their online community, many of the reviews
tend to be more positive and thoughtful than free sites.
About 11,000 veterinarians are reviewed on Angie's List. And when people do complain about a business, many times it comes
as a result of poor communication, says Hicks, the founder of Angie's List and its chief marketing officer.
Dr. Kate Knutson of Pet Crossing Animal Hospital in Bloomington, Minn., a mid-sized practice with about 25 employees, says
she includes language addressing open communication in all her client handouts.
"One of the most important things that all our pieces of client literature says is, please do not hesitate to tell us if we
have done something to your disliking," says Knutson, who is also an AAHA board member. "It's always about communication or
the lack of communication.
"I learned that we were often misinterpreting people's actions, making inferences. Clients wouldn't say they were angry, but
we assumed they were. Maybe we, ourselves, were in a bad mood and were impacting the conversation. At some point, if you think
somebody is not satisfied, you need to ask them."
The goal is to stop a client from leaving the office angry.
At Pet Crossing, complaints are logged in a client complaint book. And team members who take the complaint have the responsibility
of fixing it right away and telling the rest of the hospital about it — whether they made the mistake or someone else did.
"Then we write the client who complains a thank-you for bringing the problem to our attention," Knutson says.
In the worst-case scenario — when a doctor does make a mistake that causes the death of a pet — the best way to handle it
is to be honest, Knutson says. Talk to the clients and let them see the medical records, she says. Let the clients ask questions
and give them honest answers. "If you don't, they're gonna always feel that you did something wrong," she says.
Knutson can speak with some experience on this topic. One of her own cats died while being treated by another veterinarian.
The death was the result of a medical mistake. It still chokes her up to talk about it. One of the worst parts about the death,
she says, is that the veterinarian never said sorry.
The truth, as Dr. Knutson sees it, is medicine is not perfect and the people working in it aren't perfect either. "Sometimes
we're tired. Sometimes we don't know exactly what we're getting into. And sometimes we fail," she says. But being transparent
about that restores trust between your clients and yourself, so they know you're doing everything you possibly can to make
their pets healthy.
Ms. Ruiz Patton is a freelance journalist living in Cleveland.