The restaurant business has always relied heavily on reviews, but those much sought after reviews are no longer relegated to just the professionals. Every customer can now give their full, unabashed review to the world using Google, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram or any other social channel at their disposal. Study after study shows that consumers find these reviews reliable and consult them when deciding where to dine.

If you own a restaurant, social reviews have undoubtedly come up in your business discussions for better or worse—typically the latter. While you can’t dictate when someone expresses their opinion about your food, service or cleanliness online, there are ways you can preempt it, or, at the very least, manage it.

These five tips will help you avoid missteps when monitoring and responding to social reviews, and even leverage them to work in your favor.

Forget Yelp—Google is all that matters

When approaching reviews, many restaurants automatically think of Yelp because it’s become synonymous with restaurant reviews and, because of that, they put the brunt of their focus on the restaurant channel. However, in our business working with some of the largest quick-service chains in North America, we find the vast majority of restaurant reviews these days are actually posted to Google My Business pages. Facebook Reviews ranks second and Yelp is a very distant third. If you have limited bandwidth for social reviews management, you could almost ignore the other channels and focus exclusively on Google and Facebook to get the most bang for your buck in terms of seeing what is being said about your stores.

Stay hyper-local to reach your true customers

It’s important for every multi-location restaurant to create and maintain a corporate page on Google My Business and Facebook for brand awareness. However, that page isn’t designed to—nor does it—reach your customers. Customers looking to complain about or praise an experience with your brand are going directly to the pages for their local location because they assume it’s a direct channel to the people overseeing that store. Local pages become a much more critical part of your overall social review strategy. Put the effort into properly setting up and managing those pages so you’re well equipped to respond at a local level. At the very least, assign staff to monitor Google reviews in the regions where you’re seeing the most issues. The other alternative is to contract with a third-party organization that has the staff to monitor those channels and respond to customers on your behalf. The key is to treat customers who provide poor ratings and reviews no differently than customers who have called your office or contact center with a complaint directly.

Best practices to engage with reviewers

How and when you’re responding to reviews on social media matters—not just to keep your customers happy, but also to improve your search rankings. The Google algorithm takes into consideration how many reviews you’re responding to and it can have some bearing on your ranking. Also, don’t fall into the defensive trap of merely responding to negative comments. It’s good practice to respond to just as many positive and neutral ones, and it may even encourage more followers to leave these types of desirable reviews.

Timing can play a big role in customers’ minds when they’re bringing up an issue on social media. A delayed response may make them feel as if they’re not being heard or their issue isn’t important, while a quick and attentive response can be all it takes to recover them. Many times, a negative review is just a customer looking to be heard. Recovering that customer ensures that the business retains their lifetime value. Set a time parameter for responding to reviews and do your best to apply it in most instances. We find it’s optimal to engage with reviewers within two hours, but at the very least, we recommend that you aim to respond within an eight-hour window. According to a recent ReviewTrackers study, 45 percent of consumers say that they’re more likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews

If you’re dealing with a significant customer complaint, don’t let it play out on Google or Facebook for the whole world to see. You can gracefully take the conversation offline by simply posting, “I’m sorry to hear that, please contact us at this email, click this link or call this number so we can work through this issue further.”

Don’t just resolve issues—test concepts and uncover trends

Although 90 percent of managing social reviews involves dealing with issues, the program can also be used to uncover trends and test new concepts. We’re increasingly seeing some restaurants using reviews as a form of A/B testing with good success. For instance, if they’re rolling out new store concepts, they will monitor reviews to see how people are talking about the different concepts and factor that into their business decisions.

Analyzing the sentiment of a review can also tell you which words or phrases are deemed negative or positive, so you can adjust your marketing messaging. Understanding that positive or negative things are being said about a new LTO can help the brand determine if the offer is initially being perceived as a success or should not be repeated in the next promotional calendar.

Additionally, you may uncover emerging trends as part of your reviews program. If a large subgroup is mentioning that they’d like to see more plant-based ingredients or spicier items, you may want to consider piloting these types of new menu offerings.

Ask for the review

Many restaurants fear that by asking for reviews, they’ll open themselves up to more negative feedback, but that’s largely an unfounded fear. In fact, the more reviews you’re able to solicit, the more insights you’ll have into what’s happening at each of your locations, so you can make targeted improvements. They can be a valuable window into your operations.

Many restaurants include a guest experience survey on the bottom of the receipt with the chance to win a prize if completed. It’s a pretty standard practice to secure solicited feedback.  On the same receipt, include a call to action that asks customers to complete a review on a social media channel. Repeat (and pleased) customers tend to take these surveys because they’re more likely to want the prizes, which is why their social review posts tend to skew positive. We also recommend asking those customers who provide positive survey results to share their survey on both their and the brand’s Facebook page. Amplifying positive customer feedback on social channels is another form of advertising.  

Social feedback is here to stay and only shows signs of increasing. Running restaurants is not easy—whether you manage one or 1,000. It is inevitable that a business will have a bad day where a customer may not get what they expect. Knowing that consumers can now post their complaint in a very public forum should concern every restauranteur in the business.  Consistently engaging consumers who post ratings and reviews, both positive and negative, shows that you care and that you are invested in recovering guests when things don’t go as planned. Take control of this customer channel and be sure that your brand is managing the narrative.

Brad Christian is the chief customer officer for Market Force Information, a customer experience management company that serves some of the world’s largest restaurant chains and other multi-location businesses. Brad has global responsibility for all of Market Force’s commercial efforts and leads a team of consultants and program development professionals that match solutions to clients’ needs.
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