You’d be surprised. Every multilocation brand today has a social media agency or department, and most, though not all, are running some type of local listings management program, whether internally or with a partner. But plenty of brands are neglecting to do anything about online reviews of local stores. Reputation management for national brands may be the single biggest overlooked opportunity in local search.
Make no mistake: brands know the reviews are there. They just don’t know what to do about them. The barriers to action are numerous, from lack of time to the perception that getting involved with online reviews somehow conflicts with a brand’s image. But it’s easy to demonstrate, qualitatively and quantitatively, that most brands will benefit from an active reputation management program.
Qualitatively, monitoring and responding to your online reviews creates a positive brand impression. If a customer has a bad experience at a store and writes a negative review on Google or Yelp, the brand can let the review sit there as an unchallenged vote against doing business with them – or they can respond, apologizing for the bad experience and offering to make it right the next time the customer visits.
That response is not just there for the customer who wrote the review. It’s there for all the other potential customers who use reviews every day in order to judge the relative merits of businesses that appear in search. As criteria go, reviews rank highly in consumers’ minds, with 84% of consumers trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations. When it comes to negative reviews, that statistic can have a devastating effect. But the bad impression created by a negative review can be mitigated by a sincere response from the brand.
Even positive reviews can and should be responded to, as a way to thank loyal customers and build your fan base. For one thing, if a brand only responds to negative reviews, it can look as though they are in damage control mode, caring only about minimizing the effect of complaints. The point of review response is to create an authentic voice for the brand, one that shows you appreciate your fans as well as paying attention to your detractors.
Quantitatively, the numbers show that engagement with online reviews has clear practical payoffs. For one of Brandify’s restaurant clients, responding to reviews over the course of 12 months correlated with increases in review volume as well as positive sentiment.
The restaurant began its review response campaign in July 2016. Before that time, no online reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook had responses from the brand. During the course of the review response campaign, we saw overall volume of reviews increase as well as volume of positive reviews. Average review volume in the last six months of 2016 was 6,483 reviews per month, increasing to an average of 10,948 reviews per month in the first six months of 2017. This 69% increase in overall review volume includes a 76% increase in average volume of positive reviews per month.
It’s impossible to isolate all other possible contributing factors; on the other hand, the brand’s review response campaign was the most significant of its activities in local during the last 12 months, so it’s reasonable to conclude that engagement with consumer reviews had an influence on the increases we measured.
Again, the evidence is clear that reputation management has positive benefits for brands. If the reasons above weren’t enough, Google calls out review response in its guidelines for how businesses can improve local ranking. If review response is a positive ranking factor, brands are absolutely losing business by not participating.
How to overcome the barriers that hold many brands back? Look at the example of Jiffy Lube. Tops in its vertical, this quick-service auto chain has 2,000 stores and generates enough revenue to place it among the most lucrative franchises in the U.S. Still, Jiffy Lube has a perception problem, and this problem is reflected in its online reviews. People like Jiffy Lube for its convenience, but over the years the brand has attracted a reputation for careless service as well as pricey add-ons.
My local Jiffy Lube has only a 2.8-star overall rating on Google, with several one-star reviews complaining about service. It would be easy enough for the brand or the franchise owner to throw up their hands and assume nothing can be done about this.
It’s true that reputation management on its own can’t fix these issues. But they can help in numerous ways. To begin with, there’s the mitigation effect I mentioned earlier. A very dissatisfied customer whose comments receive no response is an unanswered mark against your brand. Others who visit this listing will see only the negative. If, however, they saw a response from the business like this, the negative effects would be reduced: “Hello James, we’re sorry to hear that you had a bad experience at Jiffy Lube. We always try our best to provide excellent service to customers. We’ll investigate your issues and do our best to make sure they aren’t repeated. We hope you come back!”
The same Jiffy Lube has a 3.5 rating on Yelp, not as bad as Google, but their Yelp profile is still an open forum for one-star reviews and unanswered complaints, with no brand voice in sight. This is especially ironic given the fact that both the Google and Yelp listings are claimed by the business owner. Jiffy Lube simply hasn’t taken the extra step of responding to customer reviews.
Review response will not fix underlying service issues, although it will have an impact even if no other changes are made to your business. But it’s insight into those service issues that represents the other side of the coin of reputation management. Even more than customer surveys, unsolicited reviews on third party sites contain a wealth of information about your brand that can lead to operational improvements, staff training changes, and better brand messaging. Though the complaints against Jiffy Lube may seem daunting to tackle, a few targeted changes could make a meaningful difference. Listening to what customers like or hate about you is the best way to target improvements to the customer experience.
When I talk to brands, I encounter all sorts of objections to taking on the task of review management. One of the more memorable was a discount retailer who said: “Listen, we know our staff is rude. We know our floors are dirty. We’re not going to change any of those things. But it does matter to us when people say our shelves are empty.” The insights reviews can offer may mean different things to different brands, but if you want more and happier customers, you need to listen to what they’re saying — and join the conversation.