For dental practices, reputation is everything. Traditionally driven by physical word-of-mouth and their bricks-and-mortar presence, a dentist’s reputation is a reflection of their expertise, patient care, and overall customer service and experience. The importance of reputation and the factors that influence it has not changed, but where it exists has. That’s because word-of-mouth is digital today.

With online reviews – which are rapidly growing in influence – at their fingertips, consumers hold the power to shape a practice’s reputation. A couple of poor reviews can hurt a practice’s reputation, while a few positive reviews can boost a practice’s reputation and even improve patient acquisition and retention.

A strong online presence, therefore, is now a must-have, not a nice-to-have. But how can you use reviews to boost yours? And crucially, how can you do so with as minimal an administrative burden as possible?

The importance of nurturing your practice’s reputation

Did you know that 84% of consumers are influenced by Google Reviews? And that 51% of consumers say that a business’ response to reviews can change their perspective on the business? It’s not an exaggeration to say that the way your practice encourages and responds to online reviews is an absolutely essential part of customer experience and acquisition. While some believe the customer experience process starts when treatment does, it begins before they even walk through the door.

For many Aussies, a trip to the dentist can be a daunting experience. They want to know that the dentist they choose is going to be able to provide them the level of service they demand. And to determine that, they turn to online reviews, and most prominently Google. When a consumer searches for, for example, ‘dentist near me’ the top results will be the businesses with the highest quantity and quality of reviews, and the highest quantity and quality of review responses. This is a key part of search engine optimisation (SEO).

Your practice must be there online, where they’re searching. Podium research reveals Aussies are also more willing to travel further and pay more for a business with higher reviews, so reviews can even open up your practice to new customers from further afield. Reputation management is an ongoing process and one that plays a significant role in the success of a business long-term.

Building a stellar reputation starts by creating a lasting impression the moment a potential patient begins their search. Dental practice businesses often think that reviews are valuable because they act as testimonials, and it’s an important component, but the added value of a review lies in the ability to build relationships. When you engage with your customers beyond their time in the practice – for example through thanking them for leaving a review or offering a solution to alleviate a negative review – their affinity to your business, and therefore their loyalty, grows. So don’t be afraid of reviews; embrace them as a tool for growth and success.

Managing reputation is changing thanks to A.I.

While this probably sounds well and good, you’re likely thinking ‘but how do I make the time to respond to reviews’? Thanks to emerging technologies like conversational AI, this is now a reality and is helping practices improve the patient experience, build trust, attract new patients, and keep existing ones coming back. You’re almost certainly aware of the ChatGPT phenomenon; a generative AI tool that enables users to almost instantly do anything from sumarising a novel, to writing a covering letter for a job application or planning an entire holiday itinerary.

While it can indeed do all those things, the real innovation is in the pragmatic ways it can drive real benefits for real businesses – including dental practices. For example, just as AI can draft a covering letter for a job, it can also enable businesses to automatically reply to reviews – positive, negative or neutral – in context. The benefits of integrating AI into your operations are more than just time savings. It boosts your engagement and relationship with those customers and increases your search engine optimisation.

In the age of digital dominance, healthcare practices must embrace online reputation management as a crucial component of their success. These tools aren’t purely hype; they can drive real benefits for real businesses like yours. Patient feedback and reviews wield significant influence, and thanks to emerging technologies like conversational AI, dental practices can augment their existing strategies for patient engagement, improving response times, empowering staff to tackle more pressing tasks, and laying the foundation for a thriving community of patients.

By Brad Granger, Country Manager, Australia at Podium