When Leonard Tau’s father opened his dental practice in New York in 1971, attracting business required very little effort.
“My dad put a shingle up, and the patients just came,” Tau said.
By the time Tau started his practice in Philadelphia in 2007, the Internet had made life anything but smile-worthy for dentists.
What are now more than 100 websites that collect and republish consumer reviews (Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.) can turn a patient’s miserable experience with a root canal into a reputation nightmare for a dentist. That’s not counting fake reviews posted by competitors.
There’s not enough Novocaine on the planet to dull that pain.
And it’s why Tau, owner of Pennsylvania Center for Dental Excellence, now has a dual career – the second one dedicated to getting dentists, and any small business for that matter, to practice “reputation marketing.”
“It’s about building trust and credibility,” said Tau, 40, of Blue Bell. And about being proactive discouraging bad reviews.
To quote iSocialReviews.com, the website for the software Tau helped develop and now sells: “Never Let a Bad Experience Go Public.”
Personally, Tau said, he is “not about suppressing negative.” A litany of positive-only reviews is not believable, he said. But people in general tend to complain more than compliment, so the aim of iSocialReviews is to ensure positive patient feedback gets on review sites, too.
It’s an aggressive approach the Internet has made a necessity, said Marc Brownstein, interim director of the Center for Corporate Reputation Management at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and president and CEO of the Brownstein Group marketing agency in Philadelphia.
“The Internet holds companies and individuals accountable every day,” Brownstein said. “You have to manage your brand every waking hour.”
But, he added, software programs can do only so much: “In general, the best defense against negative reputation is be excellent at what you do.”
How Tau’s dentistry came to take on a tech/marketing emphasis stems from an experiment in June 2010, when, he said, he became the first dentist in Philadelphia to offer a Groupon deal.
“It was a huge boon to my practice,” said Tau, who sold 513 vouchers for treatments valued up to $750 at just $59 each.
That led to invitations to speak at professional conferences about the experience. In July 2011, Tau had his first paying client for marketing advice.
He estimates he has been picking up one new dentist or practice a month – for $4,500, if he doesn’t make an office visit; $6,500, plus travel expenses, if he does.
His expansion into software development started with an article Tau wrote for the January 2013 issue of Dentaltown magazine titled “Yelp Can Be Detrimental to Your Practice; Ways You Can Combat It.”
Someone who read the article was creating a reputation-management software program and contacted Tau for his help. Launched about 18 months ago, iSocialReviews is used by nearly 100 dentists, said Tau, who charges $347 a month.
The software is designed to collect feedback from patients before they leave a dental office, with the staff in sole control over which patients to select for input.
Patients’ comments post to Facebook, the dentist’s website, and an iSocialReviews Google-indexed website. Tau said patients are encouraged to share their thoughts on review sites of their choice, as well.
The software can also analyze on which of the largest review sites a dentist’s patients are registered and determine which sites need a positive review the most. It sends prompts to patients to encourage comments there.
“If you ask the right patients, close to 100 percent will leave you positive feedback before they leave the office,” says a promotional brochure for iSocialReviews.
If a patient submits a critical review to iSocialReviews, his or her dentist is alerted via text message so concerns can be promptly addressed — and, ideally, an Internet bashing averted.
That Tau has struck a nerve – to use a sensitive term in dentistry – is evident from how much he is away from home these days. He travels three to four weekends a month for speaking engagements and consulting work, he said, hopeful that dental schools will address reputation management in their curriculums.
One of Tau’s clients is Richard Racanelli, 37, a dentist in Las Vegas who has just rebranded his practice and created a website under Tau’s tutelage.
“As more younger people get into dentistry who are into technology, that’s going to become more of the norm,” Racanelli said.