The Ongoing Challenge of Reputation Management for Multi-Location Brands

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Consultants and review management providers have been making the same case for years: multi-location brands need to pay more attention to their reviews. After all, consumers use online reviews as a primary means of evaluating local businesses before making a decision about whom to hire or where to shop.

Plus, reviews provide a free source of consumer feedback that can help companies to improve their customer experience, often by providing qualitative input on topics that other assessment tools, like surveys and NPS scores, tend to miss. Companies that respond to the reviews they receive online create the impression that they care about the feedback they receive and about providing the best possible experience to their customers. Paying close attention to online reviews also helps in the fight against review fraud — after all, if you aren’t reading your own reviews, you’re missing out on the opportunity to flag illegitimate reviews for removal.

There are signs that brands are slowly moving down a path toward improved consumer engagement at the local level. In SOCi’s 2022 Localized Marketing Benchmark Report, we find that multi-location brands are responding at somewhat improved rates compared to the results we saw in last year’s report. The average multi-location brand in this year’s report is responding to 36% of its reviews on Google, up from 31% last year. The good news is that the bar is relatively low for a brand to exceed the median performance level of all multi-location businesses. The bad news is that brands are still struggling to implement comprehensive review response programs.

How brands are performing on review response

Reputation results differ significantly by industry. Multifamily property management companies respond to 74% of their Google reviews on average, whereas retail brands respond to just 29%. Review response rates also vary widely by platform, with response rates on Yelp coming in much lower than response rates on Google. This year, the average multi-location brand is responding to only 6% of its Yelp reviews, whereas the highest performing businesses in our study respond to about 23%.

The context determines what it means to be competitive; brands can benchmark themselves against the typical business in their industry in order to target performance levels for each platform that exceed the norm.

Of course, brands should strive to go far beyond the average, especially in an activity like reputation management that has such a clear impact on how brands are perceived at the local level — and on how they perform in search. In a separate study we conducted this year, we found that the average location in the Google 3-Pack has a rating of 4.1 stars and a review volume of 353 reviews. Brands that make their way into the 3-Pack see 126% more search traffic and 93% more calls and clicks than brands ranked lower.

Traditional thinking has kept many multi-location brands from devoting themselves wholeheartedly to store-level reputation management. Large brands may feel their reputations are formed at the national level, with expensive social media campaigns and advertisements in traditional media. The more pedestrian activity of monitoring and responding to store-level reviews may seem comparatively trivial in its impact.

Many successful digitally native brands have adopted a different approach, marrying traditional marketing with a people-first orientation that strives to make every customer interaction as positive as possible. In the words of Zappos executive Tony Hseih, “Customer service should not be a department. It should be the entire company.”

How multi-location brands can craft a review strategy

Brands can implement tactics that allow them to respond to local reviews at scale without sacrificing the personal touch. Just as they do with customer support in general, brands should have a playbook for responding to online reviews, one that accounts for typical situations and provides suggested responses that strike the right professional tone. Brands using reputation management platforms can implement templated responses with multiple variations that allow customer service representatives to customize and personalize responses while saving the effort of composing every response from scratch.

Brands should strive to respond to as many of their reviews on all platforms as possible, though some reasonable steps can be taken to prioritize. For example, when implementing review response for the first time, brands may find they have reviews going back several years that have not been attended to. Because responses are marked with a date, it would be conspicuous, not to mention disingenuous, to respond a year or two later to a review the reviewer has probably forgotten about. Going back six months or so is sufficient.

So too, many Google “reviews” — as many as 47% according to a study we conducted last year — include star ratings only and no text. While it’s possible to respond to no-text ratings and some brands do, this is also not really a priority. Instead, brands should focus on relatively recent reviews that offer an opinion, whether positive or negative. Thank the customers who praise you, and respond constructively to those who complain or offer criticism. Review responses need not be lengthy — in fact, it’s better to be concise and to the point — but they should be professional and generally optimistic in tone.

Companies whose products and services are more expensive and occasional in nature will generally require less convincing about the importance of nurturing every customer interaction. It’s a dollars and cents proposition for them, with every touchpoint increasing the likelihood of converting a valuable lead. This is why we see property management companies scoring relatively high in our results, whereas many retailers, focused on high volume and low average purchase, tend to think of customer interactions as interchangeable.

This makes the opportunity that much more compelling for a retail brand with a different approach to dominate the competition by listening to and caring about every customer’s experience. Moreover, even so-called value-oriented brands who focus more on low prices and high availability, hoping to get away with a low bar for customer experience, can benefit by attending to customer feedback.

Reviews should be analyzed (whether manually or with sentiment analysis technology) for the information they contain about your brand’s offerings, amenities, and service culture. They provide a granular, hyperlocal snapshot of how your local marketing plans are performing on the ground. Responding to reviews is good customer service and leads to increased loyalty and conversion; analyzing reviews can help brands to dial in the optimal in-store experience.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.