10 Best Practices for Responding to Online Reviews
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With today’s technology, it has never been easier to hear the voice of the customer. This is especially important in the restaurant, bar and hospitality industries. With sites like Yelp and The Infatuation devoted to giving customers a forum to post their reviews, business owners need to know how to navigate this new technology.

And responding to online reviews isn’t just good customer service. It can be good for your marketing as well. By responding to reviews, you may be helping to increase your visibility in the Google search results, especially for those local searches that are so important for restaurants.

So how should you respond to online reviews? Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t just focus on the negative. You should respond to positive reviews too. In fact, it may be MORE important to respond to positive reviews. By responding to positive reviews, you are demonstrating that you value your customers. And positive reviews give you a chance to toot your own horn a bit as well (“We’re glad you liked your dessert. Our apple pie is an award winner.”).
  2. Do express gratitude. You should sincerely thank your reviewers – both positive and negative. This is especially true if the negative review provides you with insight on how to improve your customer experience. If the customer gives feedback on something that you were unaware of, then that is a gift. Be thankful for it.
  3. Do look for specific details. It’s easy to get caught up in the complaint but you need more. When did this happen? What location? Can you identify the server involved? It’s ok to reach out to the customer to get more information, but best to do that outside of the review site (“Hi, I’m very concerned about your experience. Could you contact me so I can get a few more details so that I can make sure we get this corrected?”).
  4. Don’t get into an argument. There will come a time when you will get a review that you believe to be completely unwarranted. It might even make you angry. Resist the urge to lash back at a negative review. That doesn’t mean you can’t respond at all, but you need to walk a tightrope when responding bad reviews. Keep your tone “matter-of-fact.” Apologize even if you sincerely feel that you did nothing wrong (“I’m truly sorry you had a bad experience.”). You should stick to responding to facts but resist the urge to name-call or otherwise fight back.
  5. Do evaluate any complaints. We all hate to hear bad things about ourselves or our work. But sometimes, the truth hurts. And sometimes, you really are at fault. You need to take a step back and objectively evaluate what is being said. Is there something you could do better? Is this a problem that many people might have or is it an issue specific to one customer? Be open enough to use feedback to make positive changes to your business.
  6. Don’t forget who your audience is. When responding to a review, you might think that you are having a one-on-one conversation with the initial reviewer. But in reality, you should be writing for all the other people who might be reading that initial review. Everyone knows that things go wrong sometimes. But how you respond to those situations is more important than the initial screw up. So, when you are responding, be mindful that a larger (and potentially more important) audience is watching.
  7. Be personal, yet professional. It can be a good idea to respond by using the reviewer’s name (if known). This is a subtle, personal touch that can help set the tone of your response, whether it is positive or negative. But keep in mind that you aren’t having a simple chat with an old friend. You are leaving a semi-permanent statement that will continue to reflect on your company long after the original issue has long been forgotten. Maintaining professionalism is key. You need to balance that professionalism with bringing a sense of your company’s personality.
  8. Don’t be a robot. If you get many reviews, it can be tempting to respond to them with canned responses. Resist this temptation. Posting the same thank you note over and over makes your company look hollow and doesn’t feel good to the original reviewer. Including some sort of personal detail in each response is the best (“We’re so glad you liked the clam chowder. It’s actually my grandfather’s recipe and some of my fondest memories are sitting around the table with him and a piping-hot bowl of chowder.”).
  9. Do research your reviewers. Not all reviewers are equal. And learning a bit more about who reviewed you can help guide your response. Does the reviewer only post negative reviews? Do they have a lot of followers? Responding to a reviewer who has hundreds of followers might warrant a more considered response than someone who is always ranting to their 1-2 followers.
  10. Make it right if you can. This one can be a bit tricky. A lot of businesses will make an offer (“Please enjoy a free dessert on your next visit.”) but this can be a slippery slope. There are some reviewers that create reviews solely on the hope of being offered a freebie. Setting that kind of precedent can be bad as it invites more, potentially unwarranted criticism. One way around that is to ask the customer to contact you directly (“Thanks for your review and we are sorry about your experience. Please call me at the Main St. location so we can try to make it right for you.”). By taking this offline, you can still show the larger audience that you are committed to rectifying the situation but without encouraging others to post bogus negative reviews just to get a freebie.

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