It almost doesn’t matter what kind of business you have these days: the Internet is going to be involved. Even if you don’t have a website or a social media presence (which, honestly, you should), people are going to find you online. People are going to find out facts about your business like where it’s at and what it’s hours are; but, they’re also going to talk about your business. This is something you can mold to your advantage if you have the right strategies; you definitely need to lean into the online review culture because it could make or break your business.
Consumers are generally more likely to review food service businesses than any other; but, more and more online reviews, scoring and so forth have an impact on the success of all types of businesses. For example, blogs that produce ranked lists of the best (or worst) companies in various industries will likely look for online reviews or customer feedback in computing that business’ score. To lean into this and make the most of it for your business, you’ll want to have a stable strategy, or rather, strategies, for getting your customers not only to leave reviews/feedback but also to leave positive reviews and feedback. Those are the ones that have the power to attract new customers; negative reviews, just the same (maybe even more) have the ability to turn potential clients away.
Experts advise asking your happiest, most satisfied customers for reviews more often than not. Asking directly, in person, has been shown to succeed in significantly more reviews than, say, sending the request via email. One of the best opportunities for such an application is when an associate has given particularly attentive service to a customer. At the end of that transaction, when the client has found what they’re looking for and is already expressing their satisfaction and gratitude, the associate can encourage them to participate in whatever reviewing process your company has set up. Most customers who are already pleased with service are more than happy to do so, especially if a connection or bond is felt between them and the associate.
It doesn’t have to be associates who ask for the reviews; experts merely suggest that the employees who build the strongest connection with customers are the best ones to seek reviews directly.
While some review websites like Yelp discourage (or prohibit) the incentivization of reviewing, this is a strategy that works for many businesses. This can take many forms, like rewarding the customer service associate who receives a positive review or rewarding the customer who leaves a review at all. If you’ve ever gone to Victoria’s Secret, you’ve had a sales associate offer you assistance and then make sure and confident you know their name to mention when you check out. I believe they get the commission on the sales if their name is mentioned; they get some type of incentive if you remember to say it. Some companies are doing similar things when it comes to reviewing, like promising bonuses to employees that receive positive reviews. This encourages both better customer service, and it encourages your employees to solicit reviews. Experts have found that this strategy particularly works for at-home services, like exterminators or installers.
Then there is technology; this is all going on the Internet, after all. In a shop I worked for, our cash-register system was through an iPad; when a customer received a digital receipt, they were always prompted to comment on their experience with our store. There was an indirect incentive here because there was also a reward program for customers spending over $25 that involved receiving text messages. Generally, this meant that our most regular customers were prompted for review, often right after they’d received a “star” which meant that they were that much closer to a $15 off reward. Our store was small and niche, so we had an absolute intimacy with many of our customers and often received supremely positive reviews this way.
I participate in reviewing whenever I order through Seamless or some such website. I am particularly incentivised to do so because I depend on that rating system to know which restaurants in my area are worth my time; I hate when a restaurant has only five reviews, or, worse when the reviews are positive, but that doesn’t hold up once my order actually arrives. Seamless texts me after I receive a delivery asking specific questions about my experience (was the food good, was the order of time), asks me to rate the transaction from 1 to 5 (5 being the best) and then gives me the opportunity to leave a review. Sometimes all I have time for is the questionnaire and rating; but, this is a solid way to attract reviews for your business.
That being said, prompting customers for reviews via email or text does not seem to have the same rate of return as asking in person. I think there is a difference between doing so directly after a transaction, as with the store I worked for or Seamless; but, nonetheless, there is a less human connection using this strategy and therefore, it seems, less likelihood of a lot of reviews. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get reviews this way, just that it may be more difficult. Experts advise providing first a survey if you’re emailing to weed out the negative or indifferent customers and then sending a second message to the satisfied customers prompting them for a public review. This is similar to having your associates ask happy clients in person. Experts also advise designing the email system to be as personable and intuitive to use as possible. Use an email address that sounds like a person’s name; perhaps you can set up automated messages that send to each customer from an actual associate’s email, so they recognize the name. Make sure it is evident where they should click to take the survey or leave feedback. Finally, always be tweaking your system, paying attention to what gets the most responses and the least and tailoring the body of the message, the format of the email, the subject line and so forth to garner the most feedback possible.
Whether or not you have your associates tell your customers that they receive bonuses or rewards for positive reviews, one of the best strategies for getting a review process running company-wide with consistency is to incentivize it. Hopefully, your employees understand and care about the value reviews can bring to your business, and how that impacts their job. If you can give them, even more, stake in the process, it’ll help everyone involved. Reviews make or break businesses while also providing a service to other customers; I’ve often found a restaurant on Seamless that had a high overall rating, but several review responses that said the hot wings (my favorite) were disappointing. That saved me from a wasted transaction.
Don’t just ignore the review process or let yourself think you have no power in the situation. Online reviews should be a part of your marketing strategy almost; they’re an opportunity to show potential customers that your business is trustworthy and reliable, to boost your online and in-person presence, and to continuously improve your business to bolster its success even more.