Whether you engage with review sites or not, there is no doubt about it – they are here to stay. Emma Mykytyn reports.
The rise of user review websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp have been criticised for many aspects of their business models, such as algorithms that appear to hide the best reviews and promote the worst, fake negative reviews (sometimes from rival businesses), paid-for positive reviews and attempts to pressure businesses to take out advertising they don’t want, amongst other issues. Despite this criticism, such sites are growing in popularity and influence among consumers. This rise doesn’t seem to be stopping.
Research shows that 79% of visitors trust review sites with TripAdvisor and Yelp top of the class for hits. This is despite media stories of untrustworthy reviews. Potential customers also visit these sites in huge numbers.
The big review sites are well established and open to a large audience with much of the internet-savvy generation confident in the brand message that the reviews are honest and unbiased which can equate to more visitors to your venue.
One of the benefits is that smaller businesses get to punch above their weight, PR-wise, without the added cost of employing an agency.
So what should you do to maximise the opportunity? First of all develop a plan to utilise the added exposure gained by these sites – think marketing. This potential threat needs to be minimised or used to the benefit of the business. Define measurable goals such as cut the number of three star reviews for your business or double the number of 5 star reviews. Give each goal a timescale and keep on top of these timescales. Social media is not child’s play, this is serious money stuff! Do you need to hire someone to handle this? Someone needs to be responsible and accountable for these goals. Using the cleaner won’t work here, or indeed the overworked and stressed sales director! The goal here is increased customer satisfaction which leads to more income. Increase that revenue by investing in better staff who can control the output.
However, with the benefits of extra publicity comes the disadvantage of not knowing who is posting the reviews. The Guardian reported that KwikChek, an online reputation company acting on behalf of hoteliers, estimate that there is a minimum 27,000 legally defamatory comments on TripAdvisor.
With the switch from producer-led information to consumer- led reviews, learning how to deal with the reviews and how you respond is where you get the ball back into your court, and make it work for the business. Your business needs to approach TripAdvisor etc with the same objective marketing head as you would dealing with a face-to-face customer experience.
Guests look at those reviews and the responses from management (if the business has decided to respond to specific points or simply taken the time to thank the reviewer for their feedback) to form an opinion on your business before visiting, so you need to get the response right.
Firstly, get over the hate. Sites like these are here to stay, so you will have to work with them instead of battling against them. Of course not all the reviews will be positive. You need to remember that this customer took their time out to provide (hopefully valuable) feedback and acknowledging this should be a basic first step. Don’t just jump right in with a standard cut and paste job. This is a chance to be seen by millions of people. The value of reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor mean that responding isn’t a job to be left to late at night when you are tired or fed up.
Try to respond to all reviews whether good or bad. This is your chance to influence the customer to come back. Take time out to respond to the positive reviews and your customer will remember this. Ask them to say hello next time they come in. Make the whole experience personal and respond in the same friendly way you would if speaking to them normally in real life. It’s easy to respond to a positive review, but what about a negative one? Three points to remember: acknowledge their anger, take the conversation offline and resolve the issue. Be brief and polite in your response and take it away from the site to discuss further – no one wants to see a whole online argument. For moderate reviews, ask the customer for feedback on how you can improve the experience (free business advice).
One of the more technical points is to use Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in your response – this is probably not the first thing you’d be thinking of. Use the discussion to your advantage and raise your TripAdvisor/Yelp/Blogger business page profile on Google. Don’t make it too obvious and keyword heavy, mention your business name, what is your niche product i.e. are you the best gin joint in town? If so, put it in there! These keywords count.
Use your new marketing strategy to be proactive not reactive. Actively ask your guests to write a review at the end of their visit. Do you have email addresses of visitors? Remind them to fill in a review when they get home. Try and remember how much revenue review sites can bring in to the business. This will make the effort to keep in touch with your customers and keep on top of your social media presence.Think of your customer when replying, read the review as if you were a customer. What would you like to hear back?
Develop a plan and measure it. Employ someone to handle your social media, don’t leave it as a last minute end of the day chore. Be proactive in gaining better reviews. Chase up positive clients and request a review.
Respond to both positive and negative reviews. Make customers feel valued and deal with their feedback appropriately. To summarise; there are no secrets to handling review sites. However, with the right mind set, strong backing from your staff and some planning you will succeed.