I Am The Greatest – Everyone Says So

By Sharon Livingstone

You know how it is. You go to the interwebs to search for a broccoli soup recipe* and end up reading reviews of yourself on a random website.

Sadly, this is a true story.

I happened upon some website for practitioner reviews. It wasn’t Whitecoat but it looked so similar that the site had probably skimmed Whitecoat’s information. What the heck, that broccoli isn’t going anywhere, I thought, and searched my own name. Wow! There were a lot of reviews. I won’t repeat them but I walked away with my ego polished and enormous.

But should I (or any potential client) believe how fantastic I am as a massage therapist because of these rave reviews?

Let’s take a look at some of the issues:

1. These reviews were requested by either the health fund or an affiliate when a client made a claim or had a claim processed via HICAPS. This happens quite soon after the treatment, so the bliss of the massage may still be there.

2. There’s no way of knowing if the reviews had been doctored, or if negative reviews are even published.

3. They don’t tell the whole story. For example: one reviewer said I was so great they travel from Melbourne (to Sydney) to see me. I know who that person is and I know they have a myotherapist in Melbourne they like and see regularly. They moved to Melbourne after being a regular client of mine for 3-4 years. They only come for treatment nowadays when they’re in Sydney for work. At a glance, you’d think I was an amazing therapist that people travel from all over the country to see. I do have several regular clients who live remote from Sydney but the truth is that they’re farmers whose wives are from Sydney, and the farmer pops in for treatment when they’re visiting family. Apparently driving 100km to play a rugby game is fine but travelling that distance for a massage doesn’t happen.

Testimonials

The AMT Code of Practice clearly sets out for members that testimonials shouldn’t be sought or appear on their websites or other advertising mediums.

We might believe that they’re a brilliant way of telling a prospective client how fab we are. However, there are a few concerns:

1. We don’t publish the negative testimonials. We only ask clients who we know would give us a rave review. I think the word I’m searching for is “biased”.

2. There’s no way for a client to tell if a testimonial is fake, i.e. written by the therapist.

3. We can’t name the client providing the testimonial because we may find ourselves breaching the Privacy Act 1988. That means verifying a review is impossible.

4. Testimonials are usually undated – is it even still relevant?

When a client contacted me recently for a recommended therapist in her new location, I called up the list of AMT members in that area and started searching them out via Google. More than 1 had testimonials on their website. Oops.

This may be an ideal opportunity to review your website and, if you have some testimonials still sitting there, bin them.

Social Media Reviews

Here’s where it gets murky. There’s a theory that Google reviews will push our website up the Google search ratings, so a massage therapist might ask clients if they would like to write a Google review. No pressure but it’d be appreciated and I’ll give you $10 off your next massage. Already we’re crossing a line. Asking a client for a review when they’re straight out of a treatment is catching them when they’re vulnerable and steps onto a fundamental issue – massage therapists have a position of power in the therapeutic relationship and asking a client for a favour is an abuse of that power.

Of course, it’s not easy (or even possible in most cases) to exert control over reviews on Facebook, Google or any of the plethora of review sites that exist in our online world. That means if we offend someone, there’s nothing to stop them flooding our Facebook page or our Google page or any one of those sites with terrible reviews. And there’s nothing to stop them getting their friends or Twitter followers to pile on to the terrible reviews.

It can be an ugly online world out there.

The Terrible Review

There’s nothing so ego deflating as a bad review. Or even a less than perfect one apparently. Welcome to the modern world.

It’s one thing for a less than satisfied client to tell their friends or family or colleagues that they just had a massage that didn’t send them away in a fog of bliss and betterness. It’s another to have that less than satisfied client take to social media to tell anyone who listens/reads about their experience.

There’s a lovely rock in the corner. You’ll find me sheltering behind it.

I love a good review site. I use them regularly for finding the right holiday accommodation, television, shoes, hiking gear or books. I usually ignore the 5 star reviews – they’re either fake or not representative of the experience of everyone. I trawl through the 3 and 4 star reviews – that’s generally where reality lies – before going to the 1 and 2 star reviews. OK, I admit this is usually for my own amusement. When someone has a bad experience, they really go to town.

But what is even better is when the subject of the review – the hotel or business – weighs into it. Some do it well – apologise for the bad experience, advise what has been done to rectify the situation and offer a service to the disgruntled reviewer. Some crumble – they attack the reviewer, they make claims about the reviewer’s bad behaviour, direct the reader to all the 5 star reviews (that are probably fake) or they simply deny that there is a problem. The business owner that opts for this hysterical response to the negative review is enough for me to rule out their business/product. Their customer service is woeful, their after-sales service is terrible and it’s likely that their product is not great.

My suggestion for the bad review is to ignore it. Let the reader decide how genuinely it represents the service. Maybe take on board what the grievance was and learn from it. If there’s a compulsion to respond, don’t do it straight away – that initial shock/horror/crawl-under-a-rock reaction will lead to an irrational/emotional/cringe-worthy reply. Leave it overnight at the very minimum. Then:

  • Be polite
  • Apologise
  • Thank them for helping you to grow as a therapist
  • Ask for them to contact you to discuss ways you can avoid someone else having the same experience.

It’s unlikely they’ll ever visit again – you only get one chance at a first impression – but if anyone is reading that awful review, they’ll see a mature response from a reasonable person.

Reviews That Matter

All the old hand massage therapists will tell you that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. It’s true. If a trusted friend or colleague says, “Hey, if you need a massage, then Sharon is the therapist for you. She really listens and doesn’t over treat, and you’ll walk away feeling a lot better”, the person will generally believe them and ask for the details. Or, as one of my teenage clients allegedly told her colleagues, “She’s close, she’s convenient and she’s good.”

The Official Word From AMT

AMT has recently released a position statement on testimonials. It is essentially a summary of many of the issues flagged in this article. The statement is available for download here:

http://www.amt.org.au/downloads/position-statements/AMT-Position-Statement-Testimonials.pdf

*The broccoli soup was magnificent.

About the Author

Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but discovering job satisfaction came from helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller who is also a coffee snob.

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