As I write this, May’s big holiday weekend looms. With it, tourist season kicks off and masses of visitors will descend on my city, Vancouver, along with all the other vacation hubs. It’s the start of hospitality’s high season, and our teams at ICUC will sprint into action – relieving client teams for holidays of their own, providing critical intervention on social channels at peak times, and more.

But among our top priorities will be responding to online customer reviews as early as possible, so our clients’ high seasons don’t hit any lows.

So, I want to share with you today why I think responding to customer reviews is not optional in today’s business environment. Consumers are empowered now, they speak up when unhappy and share the joy when a company has gone above and beyond – but unhappy customers are far more likely to leave a review than a happy one, which really tilts the scales and makes those four- and five-star ratings elusive.

In fact, some experts say that it takes 40 positive customer experiences to generate enough reviews to offset a single one-star review. (Breaking down that math: It takes four 5-star reviews to offset one 1-star review, and some studies estimate only 1 of 10 positive experiences nets a review, unless companies actively solicit reviews. And roughly 70% of consumers will leave a review if asked. Are you asking?)

Leave No Review Unacknowledged

I’m sure you’ve experienced complaining to or praising a company for how they’ve serviced you. How receptive were they to your feedback? If they really took it onboard, how did you feel? “Heard”?

Exactly. And that’s why I feel it’s imperative to acknowledge every review – good, bad, or neutral.

First, there’s valuable information there for you, if you’re willing to hear it. How to improve, how you’re hitting the right notes, and more.

Second, responding to reviews is still the path less taken. Nearly two-thirds of all customers who leave reviews will never hear back from management after doing so. Be the exception.

The Power of Google

Today, Google is the review site of choice. When someone Googles a company, their ratings pop up along with the company overview. Unlike Facebook, who’ve done away with starred ratings that suggest so much from the number of stars earned, Google still uses the five-star review.

Over 63% of consumers say they’re likely to check Google’s reviews before visiting companies now. That’s in part because Google makes it so darn easy. Even if just plugging a company into the Google Maps app for directions, their reviews appear too, giving consumers a last chance to change their mind about giving a company their business because they only have 3.5 stars.

But what if you looked at the reviews behind those 3.5 stars and saw the company replying to each one? You’d give them the benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t you? Exactly!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Review Response

Do be thankful. Always acknowledge and thank the reviewer, regardless of whether it was positive, neutral, or negative.

Do have a process. Establish what can and cannot be said in responses. Have a plan for escalating important feedback in a timely manner.

Do speak to specifics. Use the reviewer’s name. Mention specific details in their reviews. This shows you’re not using a canned response to brush off feedback.

Don’t get into a volley. Once you’ve replied, be done. Leave a thoughtful response and let it go. If the consumer replies to your reply, just let them say their piece.

Don’t be defensive. Combative, defensive replies turn off would-be consumers. Take the high road and be gracious.

Don’t take the easy out. When needed, do a custom response, not a canned template. Give your team the power to intercede and create solutions that solve negative experiences. And never tell the reviewer to contact a phone number or email that isn’t answered promptly.

5 Strategies for Responding to Reviews

1. Use a personal touch for bad reviews.

Reviews with one through three stars deserve a personalized response. Hear their feedback and thank them for it. There’s no need to write a novel in replying to negative reviews, especially since reviews are typically short now as people use mobile devices to review on the fly.

A good personalized reply would be, “Nancy, we were sad to hear your stay with us wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be. We know how important it is that guests enjoy their getaway, and we wish you had. We don’t get feedback like this often, as you can see by our good reviews, but your feelings are important to us and we’ll use this as a learning opportunity with our staff. We hope to see you again.”

2. Use canned responses when appropriate.

For positive reviews of 4 to 5 stars, it’s okay to use a canned response that thanks the reviewer for taking the time. But use a variety of responses to keep it interesting.

Choose replies that reflect the attitude and tone of your company, like, “We love happy customers! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your good experience. We look forward to seeing you again.”

Now and then, customers will leave detailed positive reviews. Acknowledge these with a personal touch. “Wow, Pete, we’re proud to hear you loved your dining experience so much! We think Chef Smith’s take on a ribeye’s pretty tasty, too. Thanks for spending your anniversary with us. See you soon.

3. Don’t forget neutral reviews.

Acknowledge that a neutral review means there’s something more you can do to improve your offerings. “We’re disappointed we didn’t nail a five-star review from you. We’ll take your three for what it is – notice that we can be doing better. We hope your next experience takes your three to a five.”

4. Escalate, escalate, escalate.

Have practices in place to recognize when reviews should be escalated. Tag content and words for escalating to the VP of Operations, such as unsanitary, rude, hygiene, dirty, nasty and so on. Such reviews can be helpful for shedding light on staff behavior and showing where training opportunities lie.

But the internet can be a dark and disturbing place, and there are people who will leave menacing reviews that should not be dismissed. Escalate reviews that contain unsettling terms like gun, bomb, kill, drugs, attack, and involve the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel for these unnerving reviews.

5. Have a monthly report.

Create monthly reports that track the volume of reviews per channel and their average rating. Note any updated or changed reviews. And, of course, keep track of user sentiment. Over time, these reports can show where you’re improving, or where you need work.

Responding to Reviews Works!

I can’t stress enough how much I believe in review-response as strategy for building your brand and wooing new customers. I get that it can be a taxing task to add to a seemingly never-ending list of jobs, but we do response management, you know. The steps above are exactly what we do for our clients, so if you need our help getting on top of reviews, talk to us.

In fact, I shared one of our “response” success stories back in my first newsletter. Here’s what I wrote about Boston Pizza asking us to rock their responsiveness:

“One of our clients, Boston Pizza, wanted to improve their responsiveness to online reviews. So, we did. How’d that turn out? We took them from a 6% response rate in 2016 up to 96% in 2018. That spurred a 182% increase in search frequency on Google and Google Maps (from 39 million up to 110 million). Let’s say those numbers morph into just five more guests spending an average of $21 a visit per location per month. That’s $105 more a month for each of their 382 locations, for $481,320 increase over a year. And that’s a conservative estimate. What if it’s 10 guests? Maybe 15? 20? Now that’s a return on investment.”

That’s it for this month. If you’ve got reviews you need us to rock, or holidays coming up you’d like us to help ease staffing woes, don’t hesitate to contact our team.

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