In today’s fast-moving digital world your best sales tool isn’t your venue’s marketing manager (if you’re lucky enough to have one), your Instagram feed or your Facebook ads – it’s your existing customers.
A recent study found that customers trust recommendations from friends and family over any other type of online marketing or advertising. And without a recommendation from a loved one? 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
So what does that mean for you? In order to thrive in the competitive foodservice industry, you need happy customers sharing great reviews of their experience at your venue. Which in turn will get new visitors to come to your website, and hopefully your door, for the first time.
There are a few ways you can drive more online reviews, so we’ve brought together the ones that are the most simple and cost-effective for busy foodservice professionals.
It may seem awkward to ask your happy customers to leave reviews, but your customers are usually more than happy to help! Don’t be intimidated to ask your customers for a favour – especially your regulars who will probably be excited to help out. Consider your timing and make sure you are asking them when they are at a positive moment in their ‘customer journey’ i.e.: they have just brought a friend to your café, they tagged your café on social media, they came back for the second time in a week.
Another thing to consider when asking is the way you ask. Instead of coming right out and asking directly for a review perhaps start the conversation with an open-ended question like “how did you like the special today?” That way you can gauge their satisfaction before asking for a review (and get feedback on your special).
Make sure there are places to leave reviews
There are so many third-party websites that house reviews that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. But many customers see these reviews online well before they even see your website, so you need to make sure they can learn about you no matter where they're doing their online research.
Start with Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp and Facebook. Make sure you have some high-quality images included and general information about your business. You should also ‘claim’ your Facebook and Google page (if one has been set up by customers already) so you can monitor incoming messages and respond to reviews quickly.
Create incentives and reminders
If you have many happy customers but the reviews just aren’t rolling in, perhaps you should consider offering small incentives for reviews. This could be as simple as a free coffee, gift card or discount for their next visit.
Another thing to consider is whether or not your existing customers know you have an online presence. By adding your review page address (or even a TripAdvisor or Facebook icon) to your menu more customers will be reminded to review their experience.
Always respond (even to the negative ones)
The first thing to remind yourself is that you WILL get negative reviews. There will always be that one customer who leaves a scathing attack on your food, your staff or your atmosphere. Don’t sweat it. But do reply.
Our customers tell us there are generally two types of negative reviews: the rants and the feedback. Instead of pretending they don’t exist, take the time to address the problems in each review rationally and apologise for the bad experience. You’re never going to change a ranter’s mind but the people with legitimate feedback will appreciate you taking the time to respond and may even return.
Reply to the positive ones too – thanking them – as responding to all reviews can help you build trust with existing and potential customers.
Share your positive reviews
Speaking of positive reviews – you may consider sharing them on social media. Highlight reviews that stand out on your social channels by formatting them and sharing as a standalone post. If customers see other people writing reviews they are more likely to do it themselves (we’re all followers at heart).
The value hospitality businesses can gain from driving online reviews and growing their online reputation is immense. So, you should definitely start taking it seriously. While focusing on food, staffing, service, your venue and your prices are important, the first impression potential customers get about your business is crucial to your business’ success.