Online Reviews: How To Make Them Work For You (even the bad ones)

Don CrosslandMarketingLeave a Comment

Online Reviews - Proper Reputation Management

Online reviews are either the bane of a restaurant’s existence or the bread & butter on which they feed. There’s not a lot of space in-between. If you are not saddened or maddened by them, you are probably ignoring them. It might be a good tactic for your sanity, but its a very bad tactic for your business.

Recent survey data has shown that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. 74% of people polled say positive reviews instill more trust in the business. A whopping 90% read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business.

Here are some guidelines for managing your online reviews so you can preserve your sanity while taking advantage of a great marketing opportunity. Using these tactics will maximize your great reviews and help you turn negative reviews to your advantage. We call this reputation management.

Here are the review sites we suggest you focus on:

  • Google (most important for local SEO)
  • Facebook
  • Yelp
  • Trip Advisor (important if you depend on tourists)

The Rules of Reputation Management

If you downloaded our free guide, 3 Restaurant Marketing Ideas That Are a Better Use of Time Than Social Media, you’ll already know the first two rules. If you haven’t downloaded it, yet, you really should. We’ll review the rules, just in case. These are meant for responding to bad reviews because that’s where all the potential for making things worse resides.

Rule 1: Be nice

Be professional, not personal (not to be confused with personable). Every time I think about review response I always think of a scene with Patrick Swayze in the awesomely terrible movie Roadhouse. He’s instructing the bouncers of an often violent bar on how to deal with brawling customers. “Be nice.” Even when they are forcibly removing a drunk patron, “Be nice.” That’s the number one rule: be nice.

Rule 2: Respond for the readers, not the reviewers

The chances of you changing the reviewer’s mind or having them retract a bad review are slim and none (and slim just left town). You are not responding to bad reviews for the person who wrote it, you are responding for the hundreds of other people who are reading it going forward.

Think about it. If you’re reading a bad review and the business responds with an apology and an offer to make it right, you are more apt to write off the bad review as an anomaly. It will also give you a good feeling about how the proprietor handled the situation.

Not trying to change the reviewers’ minds or not trying to defending yourself will also help you get out of a ‘taking it personally’ mindset. Think about what can you say that will make a prospective client show that you care about all of your customers’ experiences.

Rule 3: Take responsibility

This is a hard one to swallow because it hurts our pride. But, if your business has any part of the blame for whatever went wrong, take the hit, make an apology, and offer to make it right. Take the hit even if you feel completely blameless.

This is an amazing opportunity to turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal customer. Customers who have had a bad experience and the business takes responsibility and quickly moves to solve the problem often become fiercely loyal to the business. They felt heard and cared for. That’s powerful.

correct bad review response.

Boom! Responding and taking responsibility changed “never going back” to “I’ll let you know next time I’m coming in.” Chances are good that reviewer will update their review with more stars and tell the story of how it was made right.

The world is full of assholes and Yelp seems to attract them like a lodestone (if you think Yelp is bad, check out the comments on YouTube… damn). So people may not always respond positively to your apology. That’s ok. See rule #2. You look good and they look like a whiny jerk.

People are also more inclined to cut you a break if they see that you’re willing to solve problems. Someone might be unhappy getting substandard service on a particular visit, but they’ll still give you four stars and then complain in the review hoping for a response. This gives you an opportunity to make it right without taking the hit to your overall rating.

Communicate with happy guests

These are easy. Unfortunately, most businesses only respond to bad reviews if they respond to any reviews at all. This ’squeaky wheel gets the grease’ mentality leaves out your most important customers—the happy ones who are likely to return.

Recognizing your happy customers makes them all warm & fuzzy inside and dramatically increases the likelihood of a repeat visit.

Repeat customers are crucial to your business. If your restaurant’s repeat customers are not around 70%, you’d better have some massive marketing efforts to bring in new customers. You’re pushing a pretty big boulder up a steep hill every day.

People love getting recognized. You can respond with something along the lines of, “Thank you for your review. We are so happy you enjoyed your experience. We can’t wait to see you again.” Studies show that this gives people the same dopamine hit as being responded to by a celebrity. I’m pretty sure that person is coming back.

Getting More Positive Reviews

The more reviews you have, the better your local SEO and the easier it will be for hungry people to find you. The more positive reviews you have, the more customers you will attract.

The easiest way to get more reviews is: just ask. Have your server ask people who are enjoying their experience. Especially the ones who already have their phones out (because that never happens in a restaurant). Have a stand on your table asking for reviews. Most POS systems allow you to customize your message on your receipt. You can ask there, too. You get the idea.

In addition to the previous reasons for responding to positive reviews, another is it encourages more positive reviews. They’ve seen you gushing over previous reviews and they want that dopamine hit (it’s a very powerful drug). They want you gushing over what they wrote. Go ahead, gush away.

If you’re doing email marketing (and you really should be), send out an email with a poll: “How likely are you to recommend our restaurant?” or “How much did you enjoy your last dining experience with us?” Automate the email so 8-10s are sent another email asking them to post a review.

What you absolutely cannot do is pay people to give you reviews, either through money, gift cards, or free food. not only is this against the terms of service for all review sites, but Google also has the legal right to find you up to $10,000 for a paid review.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from recognizing a happy, loyal customer who left you a nice online review and buying them a glass of wine or an appetizer. That’s just good customer relations. 

There’s a lot more information out on the inter-webs about reputation management than I could possibly put in this one article. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly. If you want to dive deep, here’s a great article about reputation management.

I’d love to hear any funny/horror stories about online reviews in the comments. I know you have some.