Chris Barrett, CEO Operatic Agency
Consumers are more empowered than ever to interact with brands online — sharing images, asking questions, and leaving reviews. This type of interaction offers restaurants an incredible opportunity to build relationships with their customers. That said, some consumers are taking to review platforms to post their opinions on COVID-related vaccine and mask mandates. They’re doing so by leaving 1-star “review bombs”, expressing their opinions in comments but many without comment at all. Even worse, some users are leaving review bombs by masking their opinions behind defamations related to service and overall experience. With as many as 92% of people checking online reviews before visiting a restaurant and 88% of people trusting online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, these negative reviews can significantly affect your star rating, and worse, your reputation and the success of your business.
- Register and verify. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Register with review sites, especially those most meaningful for your industry (such as Yelp.ca, tripadvisor.ca, opentable.ca and zomato.com/canada) so you’re alerted when someone leaves you a review. Verify your Google My Business and Bing Places profiles so that you can manage reviews and leverage the useful features they offer. Finally, set up Google Alerts to track mentions of your business. https://www.google.ca/alerts.
- Humanize your brand. Make use of features like Google My Business posts and FAQs to proactively explain vaccine and mask mandates are government-driven and not specific to your business. Don’t take a stance on right and wrong, but rather take the opportunity to show that these mandates are imposed on your business and that you appreciate the support and understanding of your patrons.
- Proactively request reviews. 92% will visit a restaurant with a four-star average or above. That drops to 72% when you get into three-star territory, and plummets to 27% and 13% at the two and one star levels, respectively. Getting as many reviews as possible – proactively – will cause review bombs to have a lesser impact on your overall score, if they should occur.
If you’re fortunate enough to not have experienced a review bomb, you can be proactive and minimize the potential impact it has on your business by doing the following:
In circumstances where you’ve already been review bombed, there are reactive measures you can take to minimize the impact, including:
- Engage with your reviews, positive or negative. 97% of users who read reviews also take the responses from businesses into account, with as many as 45% of users saying they’re likely to support businesses just because they’ve responded to negative reviews. Best practices include a few basic elements. First, the online world operates 24/7 and people expect a quick response. Deal with negative reviews promptly before they escalate or other customers read the review without your side of the story. Second, be polite and professional. Don’t react to a negative review; instead respond in a manner which doesn’t push blame onto the reviewer. Finally, after acknowledging the challenge in your response, provide your contact details and offer to connect “offline”. Please note, this is best accomplished through a dedicated customer service email and not a personal email address or phone number.
- In the message itself, try to find common-ground solutions. Mask mandates, vaccine passports, and reduced capacity are all important measures to get us “back to normal”. While you may not be able to resolve these impositions right now, you may be able to offer alternative solutions for those who can’t dine-in. For example, if possible, offer unique outdoor dining experiences, food delivery, incentives for curbside pickup, or try selling meal kits as options to show patrons frustrated with government legislation you’re doing your best to work with every valued customer, within the parameters you’re given.
- Finally, report the illegitimate reviews. Some review platforms are already working on the ability to detect and remove review bombs. While that capability comes to life, many offer the option to report a review. For example, Yelp can freeze a company’s page when a review bomb is suspected and will remove it. You can also report inappropriate reviews to Google if the review is unrelated to your service offerings or otherwise against their review policies.
It’s worth noting you should avoid falling into the trap of companies offering to remove reviews for you. They often accomplish this by shutting down your accounts and re-opening new ones. When this happens, you’ll also lose any positive reviews you already have and will be starting from scratch. Furthermore, you’ll still be at the mercy of the next negative review (potentially, even more, damaging with no positive ones to balance it out). This can cause you to drop in rankings and therefore diminish your online visibility. Remember: a customer will tell approximately three people about a positive interaction and approximately ten about a negative one. With the advent of online channels, those stats have ballooned with the average online interaction seen by as many as 2,300 people! This makes it imperative not to take shortcuts and instead consistently invest in your online reputation with the same effort you put into building your in-person experience. For those who already have too much on your plate (pun intended), hiring an agency partner who understands where the foodservice industry and internet collide can pay significant dividends.