How much weight do reviews truly carry? The answer is, a lot. Ninety-three percent of consumers read local reviews when making a decision–since it informs customers as to whether a business is worth patronizing or not, according to data from BrightLocal. For restaurants, not only do reviews impact traffic, but also revenue. A report from the Harvard Business School stated that for each one star increase on Yelp, a restaurant can see revenue gains of between 5 and 9 percent. And, the same research from BrightLocal found reviews make a lasting impression: 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust those of friends and family. A new positive review on Google or Yelp can be the difference between customers choosing one business over another. While it’s clear that positive reviews boost traffic and revenue, the impact of negative reviews is more complex.
The True Impact of Negative Reviews
Negative reviews can be a major hindrance to businesses. In fact, negative reviews are the reason why 86 percent of customers stop doing business with a company. It’s not only significant negative reviews that are the culprit, but research even shows that two out of 10 prospective customers are dissuaded from going to a business based on only one negative review. And, one in three customers also say they won’t eat at a restaurant with a rating of three stars or lower.
Further, a study of over 200,000 small businesses showed that businesses with reviews between 1–1.5 stars earned 33 percent less than average ranked businesses. Along with this, a 2021 survey from BrightLocal revealed that 40 percent of people only accept four stars or better. Too many negative Google reviews also impacts placement in search results as Google’s algorithm prioritizes higher quality reviews for consumer search results. Negative reviews can also impact employee morale and other elements of day-to-day business operations including losing potential customers before they’ve even walked in the door. If reviews are impacting a business in this way, censoring or blocking reviews is a sure way to make the situation worse as 62 percent of consumers say they will not buy from a company that censors its reviews.
It’s impossible to make 100 percent of customers, 100 percent happy, 100 percent of the time, so negative reviews can, and will, happen despite every effort to prevent them. The good news is that when negative reviews happen, your restaurant doesn’t have to suffer. Here’s how.
Surviving Negative Reviews
There are different approaches to improving business reviews, with some being more effective than others. One proven method is to “push down” negative reviews by gaining more positive reviews.
When pursuing positive reviews, beware of generating fake reviews. Not only can it be incredibly obvious that reviews are fake, but they also pose a violation of guidelines and will result in getting kicked off a review site. In addition, NBC reported that the FTC views fake reviews as misleading and can carry with them fines up to $46,517 for each fake review.
Instead, increasing the number of positive reviews is better achieved the following ways:
- Provide a pleasant, enjoyable experience for customers with a clean restaurant, quality food and good customer service
- Place a sign in a window informing customers that the business uses Yelp or appreciates reviews
- Hand out cards or print a link on receipts where customers that encourage customers to leave a review
- Incentivize reviews by entering customers into a drawing when they leave a review
- Utilize digital display signage with a QR code and call-to-action to leave a review
- When a negative review is left, respond to the customer and offer to remedy the situation - sometimes this motivates the customer to change his or her negative review to a positive one
The above best practices provide a more traditional approach to generating positive reviews, but in this day and age, technology is in restaurants’ favor. With technological advances, securing more positive reviews–and pushing down the negative ones–is more easily accomplished.
An Innovative Approach to Reviews
Imagine this scenario: A loyal, repeat customer walks into your restaurant and accesses the free WiFi on her smartphone. While enjoying her meal, she receives a text message asking about her experience and providing a link to the restaurant’s Facebook account where she can leave the review. The odds of her not only providing a review, but a positive one, are high since a loyal, repeat customer obviously likes your restaurant and has a positive experience if she keeps coming back. This is accomplished through integrated WiFi marketing.
WiFi marketing is when a restaurant collects customer data in exchange for access to a free WiFi hotspot connection. The integration piece is when the data is then utilized to segment and target customers to send personalized emails or SMS (text messages). The hyper-segmentation capability via owned data enables a restaurant to pinpoint which customers are loyal, repeat customers vs one-timers, and can also define when customers visit and what they order. So, in essence, it provides a look into the customer’s preferences and behavior.
Once the customer has logged onto the WiFi the first time and provided his or her information, the hotspot will recognize that device, and also that customer, each time the person walks through the door and is automatically connected to the WiFi. At that point, an SMS (such as a message requesting a review) can be delivered at just the right, exact moment: when the person is there, in your restaurant, having a favorite burger. The customer then clicks the link which leads straight to the ability to leave a review on Facebook. Not only does your restaurant receive a positive review, but that review shows up on the customer’s profile under their “about” section. The integration aspect of integrated WiFi marketing is the utilization of WiFi, SMS (or email) and social media to achieve the end result.
By adding a technologically advanced and robust system for prompting and requesting reviews, a restaurant can greatly improve its overall review average. Additionally, it is an opportunity to collect customer feedback to know what improvements may inspire customers to leave better reviews. Knowledge is power. By uncovering patterns that may be resulting in negative reviews, businesses can address necessary operational improvements.
By including a personal touch coupled with a scientific and analytical process to evaluate a customer base, a business can not only push down previous negative reviews but encourage customers to leave more positive reviews. Beyond the metrics, it’s also important to show customers that the businesses they’re interacting with and buying from care about their experience and ultimately, boosting the brand’s reputation.
Stephen Gould is a restaurant marketing technology expert and CEO of CogoBuzz. He is an entrepreneur with a successful history providing guest-engagement software solutions for the hospitality industry and he is the founder and CEO of NConnections. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Central Florida. Before transitioning to technologies within the hospitality industry, Steve worked in government contracting and internet security for 18 years. He led research programs, authored development methodologies, and built and delivered software products across the globe.