You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do, according to Model T founder Henry Ford. And yet in today’s fast-moving digital world, it’s getting increasingly hard for a business to build a reputation just based on what it does do – if no one’s talking about them then all their best efforts could be going to waste.
Where word of mouth and branding were once crucial in building a strong reputation – and both are still important – it is the power of the internet that a business must harness to boost and maintain its reputation and spread the message about what it stands for. And in no industry is this more important than in the world of restaurants, where customer proclivity to leave reviews and disseminate their opinions on their eating-out experiences is at an all-time high.
According to latest figures, Google processes more than 40,000 search queries every second worldwide, which equates to more than 3.5 billion per day or 1.2 trillion a year – but the search engine offers much more than its description implies. The site is quickly becoming a one-stop shop for people to discover online customer reviews and ratings for a business, get directions to a restaurant or point of interest and see opening hours and stats on peak times and when the less busy trading periods are.
All this information is what a consumer often needs to make a decision about where to eat, meaning that if your restaurant isn’t listed on its business listing platform Google My Business, or its details aren’t up to date, you’re potentially losing out on trade.
“If you don’t take this stuff seriously, you should do,” says Adrian Valeriano, vice-president EMEA at OpenTable. “There’s a group of restaurants that do think about this a lot and then there’s a bigger portion who know that it is important but the pressures of the day and all the things they are trying to juggle get ahead of them and so it becomes something further down the list. Google offers a console that every restaurateur should be taking advantage of.”
Reviews are key
If you want people to find your restaurant then coming high on Google’s search ranking can be very useful. Sitting in its local ‘three-pack’: the three listings that appear at the top of search results and as red dots on the map, can be crucial (for example, being listed on the map to the search query ‘what’s the best Mexican restaurant in London?’) and this depends on the quality of your online reputation, not the quantity of keywords on your website, according to online reputation management company Reputation.com.
The more reviews a restaurant has, the higher its star ratings will be, which feeds into the quality of a business’s online reputation (if a restaurant ranks among the top three, customer reviews are included in the search results).
So how does a restaurant boost its reviews? It may sound obvious, but simply asking customers to submit reviews and feedback online will add to a restaurant’s ranking. According to Reputation.com, a steady stream of recent online reviews helps to boost rankings in a ‘near me’ search, so a business outranks its competitors and captures more local business.
The issue of reviews isn’t straightforward, however, says Valeriano. “Restaurants have a love/hate relationship with reviews. Mention TripAdvisor and people see red. Part of that is while they want that content they want to have accountability and not someone who went on a website and posted something about them, regardless of whether they have actually eaten at the restaurant or not.”
In response to this, OpenTable has a verified reviews system that allows diners who booked through the platform to submit a review but only after a restaurant has verified that they actually dined there.
“We thought about this a lot when starting our reviews programme. How do we address the need for consumers to get an impression of what a restaurant is like while also giving the restaurant an opportunity to say ‘yes, this is real’. Reviews are a key piece in the decision-making process, but diners want to read reviews with integrity, and restaurants want to share them.”
Social media can also play a crucial role in collecting customer reviews. For example, Facebook Reviews allows customers to provide online feedback and ratings about restaurants. The social media giant uses star ratings and reviews in its algorithm that determine where a post ends up in a person’s news feed, with a restaurant’s visibility based on the number and quality of reviews it receives.
Social media is also important in boosting a restaurant’s Google rankings as the search engine takes into account an organisation’s entire social presence, including recent reviews and interactions from sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The more people are talking about a restaurant on social media, therefore, the greater the chances of that restaurant appearing higher in a Google search.
The multi-channel challenge
Another key pillar with maintaining and boosting online reputation is to respond to social posts and reviews — whether positive or negative. Those that ignore customers’ comments do so at their peril. According to Reputation.com, a well-crafted response addressing the reviewer’s concerns can turn it around in a business’ favour. It says 95% of unhappy people will return to a business if an issue is resolved quickly.
The emphasis should be on the ‘well-crafted’ though, says Reputation.com director Anthony Gaskell. “A common mistake made is managers or staff responding to customer feedback in the incorrect way. Like any other brand communication, businesses should consider whether their reply is using the correct tone. ”
However, with so many different websites and ways for customers to post comments and reviews, it can become an almost impossible job to keep abreast of what people are saying about your brand across all the various digital channels and respond accordingly.
This was an issue faced by Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), which operates 1,600 restaurants, pubs and bars including the All Bar One, Toby Carvery, Harvester and Browns brands. Each site can have potentially 20 or more ‘reputation sites’ (Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, OpenTable) – resulting in more than 30,000 points of presence to monitor and manage and it did not have the ability to respond to reviews or social comments in a timely manner.
The company brought in Reputation.com, which provided customer-facing employees with a way to respond quickly to guest reviews and be aware of their feedback in real time. All general managers, their assistants and kitchen assistants now use the mobile application as part of their daily work routine, while operational managers and regional and district management teams can use it to monitor trends, check for potential issues and see the best performing locations. “The growth of social media has made online reputation more important than ever,” says Phil Urban, CEO, M&B.
According to the company’s 2017 report, managers are now responding to 83% of online comments, up from 59% a year ago. “As managers have increased their level of engagement with their guests, we have also seen average feedback scores increase over the course of the year with total net promoter score having increased by 7.8 percentage points to 59%,” it says.
“When we started using Reputation.com, we were concerned that managers might divert too much time to responding to guests online instead of interacting with their guests in person, but this has not materialised,” says Sophie Chadd, M&B’s marketing support manager. “Monitoring and responding to reviews is now part of their job. Like it or not, this is where the industry is going”.
The Insider: Anthony Gaskell, director, Reputation.com
Does the restaurant industry takes online reputation seriously enough?
Overall the hospitality sector and restaurants in particular are some of the original ‘pioneers’ of the online reputation space. Any business that is service-orientated will often be up-to-speed with this sort of thing as a service is typically more personal than a product purchase and so reviews play an important role. There is still room for improvement of course; for example, not all restaurants analyse and truly understand the customer sentiment to improve their operations.
How important is it for a business to take control of its online reputation?
It is critical. With 90% of adults in the UK online, it’s essential for businesses big and small to take control of their presence in this environment. Additionally, according to research by TripAdvisor, 87% of UK diners are influenced by online reviews when choosing somewhere to eat. When you see statistics like these, it is obvious how important online reputation management (ORM) can be.
What are the biggest mistakes restaurants make in this area?
The main mistake is simply to not manage their online reputation in its entirety. Too many businesses across all sectors, not just hospitality, only see ORM as review management and it’s so much more than that. An effective ORM strategy should not just include online reviews, but social media management, business listings accuracy, customer experience surveys, case management ticketing and more. If they are monitoring their online space, then another mistake restaurants sometimes make is to not manage all of the different sources of feedback. For example, a restaurant might be prolific at generating and responding to reviews via TripAdvisor but might not spend so much time – or any at all – monitoring Google, Facebook or other review and social media channels. This can then mean that their online reputation is skewed between sites online and could affect people’s perceptions depending on where they search.