The popularity of restaurant-heavy business review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Citysearch has been a boon for diners but can sometimes be a pain for the restaurateurs. Today’s wired customer can publish a complaint about his dining experience before he even leaves the booth, and review sites, Twitter, blogs and Facebook can provide a platform for attacks on your brand by disgruntled customers, former employees or even current employees.
So what can be done to stem the tide?
It starts with a good community manager for your social presence. We often think of an online community manager as someone who just pushes out brand messages, but the role is much more involved than that.
A community manager starts by listening. There’s no way to address online criticism that you don’t know about, so that’s where monitoring tools such as Radian6, Spiral16, Google Alerts, etc., come in. Real-time Twitter monitoring can be done via keyword searches with any Twitter client.
Once the community manager has identified an online complaint or criticism, the next step is to address it. First, she should promptly contact the customer to begin problem resolution or correct misinformation. It’s important that the community manager have a point person on your company’s customer service team who can escalate and resolve complaints. The community manager also needs to have access to the necessary information to correct untrue statements about the brand’s products and services.
Once a complaint is resolved to a customer’s satisfaction, it may be appropriate to ask if the customer would be willing to update, modify or remove the original posting.
Yelp, TripAdvisor and Citysearch all have ways of allowing business owners to handle negative complaints. You can read their policies on their sites, but all of them will allow a business owner or authorized representative to register and publicly post a response to any review. Also, any review that violates each site’s own guidelines may be reported for possible removal.
It’s important to follow good customer relations practices when responding to any online review. A calm, reasoned response to a customer complaint will go a long way toward winning over anyone who might run across the original bad review, even if it doesn’t change the mind of the customer who wrote it.
One of the best ways to counteract negative reviews is to get your fans to post lots of praise! Let them know via point-of-purchase messaging that you welcome their online reviews and thank them when they post. The good reviews will raise your average ratings on review sites and help to push the negative ones off the first page of search results.
However, do not ask your employees to write reviews about you. This violates the terms of service of all of the big review sites. And never post a comment, response or review under an assumed name. This unethical practice is known as “astroturfing,” and it can lead to PR nightmares if a company representative is caught engaging in it.
Now we come back to listening. Be sure to track the issues brought to your attention by online reviews and comments. Some of them may just be sour grapes, but others may serve to call your attention to food, operations, training or personnel issues that need to be addressed. These days, the world is your secret shopper if you’re willing to pay attention.
Finally, don’t obsess over bad reviews. Like the restaurant shown in the image above, you can take some of them with a grain of salt, especially if the opinion is exaggerated or counter to what the majority of other people say.