Tragedy hit a Conneticut restaurant earlier this year when the manager, incensed by a bad food review, shot and killed his chef.
An outrageous and rare occurrence, thank goodness. But it does go to show how high passions can run when it comes to online reviews.
You might have a good location, lovely rooms, fantastic food and great customer service, but you’re operating in a competitive world that just keeps on getting tougher.
So you need good online reviews to draw in new customers. With diners making enthusiastic use of review sites ranging from TripAdvisor to Yelp and TrustPilot, they’re the modern equivalent of word-of-mouth, which has always been the most potent marketing tool.
Reputation revenue expert Sanj Naha is Head of Sales Support and Enablement, B2B Marketing and International Groups, at The Fork, a TripAdvisor company.
He says: “You might say: ‘Online reputation – why bother?’ but this is why: 90% of consumers read online reviews.
“Would you want to do business with a company linked to ratings of 1 out of 5 and phrases such as: ‘Bad service’, ‘Terrible experience’, ‘Horrible food’?”
Good reviews, of course, have quite the opposite effect. A good example of a restaurant that receives great reviews is the Covent Garden branch of Dishoom, an NFS customer, currently rated in the top three by Yelp in London. That can’t be bad for business…
So how do you go about encouraging your customers to log on and leave positive online reviews? It’s an area where ethics are important – fake reviews are usually easily spotted and should never be considered.
So first, make sure your hotel, restaurant or venue is genuinely operating an excellent service and making customers happy. Without that, nothing will bring you positive reviews.
Many savvy businesses are keeping their operations in tip-top condition with the support of management software – restaurant POS systems, for instance.
They capture real-time information that helps you check the performance of every aspect of the business, from online booking to stock and labour control. They also provide significant insight into your guests so you can provide a personal service – a highly valued commodity.
And – importantly – a restaurant management system has social media tools that can help you monitor your online reviews, alerting your management team if a diner is posting a negative review.
That way, you can put any issues they have right before they even leave the restaurant, turning a negative into a huge positive.
Once you’re sure your business is operating well and generating happy customers, what can you do to encourage them to post the kind of reviews that will persuade others to follow?
Sanj says the modern customer wants a personalised offering, responsive communication and staff empowered to give them great customer service. Mobile access is incredibly important in these app-friendly days, and they want everything quickly, with no delays.
Sanj recommends several tips on how to improve your online reputation and find your place as a top ranked business:
1) Create amazing service and food
2) Make the most of your listing content
3) Create a great first impression
4) Go for picture power
5) Be contactable
6) Take charge of your reputation
7) Offer free wi-fi
8) Increase the number of reviews
9) Engage with every review.
Create amazing service and food: As we’ve just discussed, the right restaurant POS software can help.
Make the most of your listing content: Claim your page and give it more information and identity, so it’s more engaging.
Create a great first impression: Make sure the first thing potential customers will see reflects well on you.
Go for picture power: We all look at posts with good or unusual images more than those without. Find pictures from all kinds of sources and make sure you have permission to use them.
Be contactable: Make it easy to find your contact details.
Take charge of your reputation: You can create ‘promoters’ by asking loyal customers to post reviews praising your restaurant. Minimise ‘detractors’ by taking action to put negative experiences right before customers post downbeat reviews – your restaurant management software can help you spot this situation.
Offer free wi-fi: You can collect data by using a wi-fi gateway service and encourage Facebook likes and posts.
Increase your reviews: Use your software to collect email details for TripAdvisor Review Express, a free email service that allows hospitality businesses to send customisable bulk emails to up to 1,000 guests asking them to submit reviews.
Engage with every review: If you do get a negative review, it’s not the end of the world. Respond in a way that shows empathy, and provides an explanation and assurance. With positive reviews, say thanks, offer further information and look out for cross-selling opportunities.
Get into the habit of doing these things regularly, or delegate a trustworthy member of staff to do it for you. Building your online reputation is worth spending some time on – and Sanj says there’s even more you can do.
“You can use review feedback to enhance your value proposition. Track which of the review sites your online traffic comes from, and learn how people navigate your website. After that, you can use the information to optimise the user journey.
“You can also use the review information to target messaging that will convert your online traffic into leads, bookings or calls to action.”
That’s got to be worth a little effort…