In 2012, about 37 percent of American households had a dog, and about 30 percent had a cat (so says the American Veterinary Medical Association, anyway). Some households (mine included) housed both cats and dogs. That's a lot of fur, a ton of mess and a heck of a lot of expense. Much of that spending comes in veterinarian's offices, and the outcomes there aren't always great. Little creatures, as much as we love them, can fall ill.
And sometimes, they die.
When pets die, owners can take one of two roads. On the one hand, they can thank the veterinarian for the hard work that went into trying to save the pet. But on the other hand, they could blame that vet for everything that went wrong. And when clients do that, they often complain on social media, and that could mean reputation disaster for veterinarians.
Now, vets don't have the lock on online attacks. Doctors, dentists, chiropractors and nurses can all be blamed when something goes wrong, either to a human or to a pet. But lately, I've seen some evidence that has me thinking that vets face hazards that are so severe and so remarkable that they really should take the time to look at the strategies they're using, and shore up any vulnerabilities they find.
Hacked-off clients can use all sorts of tools to lash out against a pet doctor, including:
- Angie's List
This is the same weapon list these people would access if they wanted to destroy the reputation of any small business (or large business, for that matter). But it only took a few minutes of digging to find a spectacular example of a veterinarian attack that was launched close to a decade ago, and which is still working right now.
From what I can piece together, a tiny little dog named Stempy died while under the care of a veterinarian in Texas. The owners put together a very effective (and keyword dense) website against that veterinarian, and they backed up that effort by posting on the doctor's Yelp page, over and over again.
Those Yelp reviews have been filtered, so they don't appear on the front page of the site and they don't impact the doctor's overall star rating. But they're easy enough to read after clicking a "see reviews that are not currently recommended" button. And that website? It ranks above the doctor's own home page on Google searches.
Now, I didn't link to any of those sites here. (In general, we don't like to publicize sites that can drag down the reputation of others.) But believe you me, much of the information shown on these attack sites is pretty compelling. The little dog just looks helpless, and the veterinarian seems heartless when you're staring into that fuzzy face.
And unlike doctors, which might have a boost from insurance companies who are compelled to keep their names clean, vets don't seem to have any help in fending off an attack like this. Unfortunately too, there are many attack sites out there.
At the moment, there are dozens and dozens of blogs that are targeting specific veterinarians, and there are many more Facebook pages (including one called "Regret a Vet") that are devoted to discussing problems people have with their pet medical professionals. When things with pets go wrong, people seem all to willing to take to social media to mount an attack, and many others seem willing to read up on those sites. Vets who are attacked are on their own to clean up the mess.
What to Do
It would be all too easy for me to make some sort of generic proclamation about how vets should provide better service and keep owners from getting angry. But the truth is that pets might die when they head in for care. And sometimes, people are so devastated by that death that they'll lash out at the nearest target. Often, that's the veterinarian.
The solution involves building up relationships with clients who are willing to tell the other side of the story. If you're running a clinic, do you:
- Put your Yelp, Facebook and Twitter links on your website?
- Ask your clients to share their thoughts on any of these sites after a visit?
- Use these channels to discuss success stories?
- Blog about good pet outcomes?
Making it easy for people to share the good could help you to drown out the bad, if it should happen.
And if something bad has already happened to you and your vet clinic, please contact us for help. We can assess the damage, pull together a plan and help you recover, no matter whether that problem started a week ago or a decade ago. We can help.