If you’re still on the fence about how much value you can derive from investing in your online reputation, there’s no time like the present to start taking it seriously.

With today’s mobile-savvy customers increasing their reliance on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to guide their food or beverage choices, it’s become more crucial than ever for hospitality businesses to build and maintain a good reputation online.

Here’s why reviews matter for any hospitality business, and how you can turn more of your delighted customers into positive critics.   

How important are online reviews actually?

For hospitality and food businesses, very.

Digital marketing and the internet has seen to it that consumers today have access to all kinds of information before choosing where to spend their money, and they don’t mind the extra research time either.

The recently published 2017 Sensis Social Media Report found that over 60 per cent of Australian consumers expect to read up to five online reviews before making a purchasing decision. The survey also found – of respondents who provided online reviews in the last year – the most frequently reviewed products or services were hospitality businesses, including hotels and motels (just under 50 per cent), restaurants, bars and cafes (40 per cent).

There’s no doubt that competition is stiff in the Australian accommodation, food and retail industries. These sectors face high financial and failure risks over the next year, according to major insolvency firm SV Partners, which cites low wage growth and weak consumer demand as major concerns for businesses in this space.

“As disposable incomes shrink, and in an environment of low consumer confidence, hospitality and retail businesses may struggle to achieve the revenue necessary to cover their relatively high costs,” said SV Partners managing director Terry van der Velde.

While doing things such as employing a focus on food quality, continually improving the customer experience and maintaining good price points are crucial for repeat business and therefore, steady revenue, the first impression your new patrons get about your business will very likely affect whether they decide to become a paying customer.

Because smartphone penetration numbers are fast approaching the 100 per cent mark in Australia soon, the confidence a potential customer gets about visiting your business today, is likely to stem from the first reviews they read about you online.      

  

If reviews are so important, how can I make my customers write me one?

Many online review sites have strict guidelines to ensure that their reviews are authentic and unbiased. Let’s take Yelp as an example. To keep its content authentic, Yelp’s continual efforts to weed out solicited reviews include:

  • An intelligent recommendation software designed to actively identify and not recommend reviews prompted or encouraged by the business.
  • A Consumer Alerts program that warns people of observed attempts to manipulate ratings and reviews.
  • Actively discouraging businesses not to solicit reviews from customers, mailing list subscribers, friends and family. Additionally, Yelp reminds businesses to refrain from conducting activities such as competitions among staff, or offering freebies, discounts, or payment in exchange for reviews.

Similarly, TripAdvisor ensures quality control by allowing users to report a review that’s suspected to be fraudulent or doesn’t meet its posting guidelines. They also remove any reviews deemed to been written in exchange for gifts, services or money.

It’s important to note that the power of reviews go both ways – positive write-ups can boost morale and increase footfall to your establishment while negative reviews, if not properly handled, can be detrimental to a business’ reputation.

While you can’t (and shouldn’t) take shortcuts to achieving high ratings and recommendations, there are a few things you can do to drive more positive reviews your way.

1. Make your business’ review page known

You may not be able to outrightly ask customers for positive reviews, but that doesn’t mean you can’t nudge them in the right direction. Letting your customers know about your restaurant’s online presence and actively promoting your review page in the following ways can encourage them to give you the feedback you’re after:

  • Optimise your Yelp or TripAdvisor page so it’s got enough high-quality images and information about your business. It also generally helps your SEO if you include a write-up of your business that’s peppered with selected keywords.
  • Place your review page address on customer-facing material. This can be anything from your menu, to gift cards, your email signature, marketing collateral or web content. If you’re using Kounta, you can easily customise your receipts to include your review page address. Encourage customers to “check out your Yelp page” as opposed to demanding a review.
  • Place a sticker at your shopfront. You might increase your chances of getting business or reviews from the 75 per cent of travellers said to prefer businesses with a TripAdvisor endorsement.
  • Embed badges on your site to show your affiliation and existing number of reviews. Yelp and TripAdvisor both have badges that can either be embedded on your business’s website, or earned.

2. Address your negative reviews

There are broadly two types of negative online reviews – the unreasonable rants that you can’t do much about, and the legitimate feedback. You’ll know the difference when you see it.  

While nobody likes a bad review, you’re more likely to turn around the less-than-stellar ones you receive by addressing them, compared to just pretending they aren’t there. The abovementioned Sensis Social Media report found 27 per cent of people believe that businesses can positively influence their opinions by responding to a negative review.

Responding to all your reviews, both good and bad, can also help you build trust with existing and new customers, and affords you the opportunity to highlight all the great things your business is doing instead. Yelp’s advice? Think carefully before answering a negative review and keep your response simple. Contacting your reviewer and establishing a genuine human relationship with him or her also increases your chances of changing his or her perspective for the better.

3. Explore review apps and software

With online reviews becoming increasingly intrinsic to reputation in hospitality, it’s no wonder that the technology also exists to help business owners earn and collect as much quality feedback as possible.

TripAdvisor’ Review Express for example, allows business owners whose properties (hotels and restaurants) are listed on the site to automate an email campaign designed at getting authentic online reviews. The software also has analytics capabilities, and allows customised branding and the inclusion of private surveys. Users reportedly see a 28 per cent increase in collected reviews when using the software.

For something more fluid, a tool like ReviewPush lets you collect all your reviews across multiple sites in one place. Email alerts and response notifications ensure that you never neglect another dissatisfied customer again.

If you’re just venturing into the world of collecting online reviews and want a little more control over the negative ones, a tool like ReviewFilter lets you engage with recent customers via email or SMS for feedback. It automatically redirects customers with positive reviews to sites such as TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google, and if the feedback is negative, it can be forwarded to yourself or a manager to deal with in private.

And, if you’re already using Kounta, simply enable the Collect Feedback Add on in your Kounta account and you can automatically generate emails to collect feedback after each customer transaction through the point of sale.

When properly managed, online reviews are a powerful means of building and improving your business’ reputation, which means more trust between your brand and customers as a result.

Remember, consumers today look to reviews to help them decide what they should spend their money on. Actively promoting your review page, responding quickly to negative feedback and using a little technology can help you on the way to getting your business where it needs to be with reviews. And the more you have, the better.  

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