“At Meineke, we believe there is a direct correlation between review management and a location’s revenue,” said Matt Labuda, Digital Marketing Director, Driven Brands Inc.

“Specifically, review replies act as an extension of our customer service process by showing both existing and prospective customers that we are receptive to their needs. Online reviews provide a mechanism to even change customers’ minds about the business.”

Labuda’s quote encompasses the fact that online reviews are more than what many would discount them as (solicited positive feedback, competitor negative feedback, or simply online noise). Instead, online reviews are direct lines to engaging with customers, learning from them, and using their words as tools for organizational improvement in the future.

When customers know you are paying attention to their needs, they are more likely to become loyal to your brand.

Here are three ways the most successful brands ensure their customers keep coming back.

1.  Read and Reply to Online Reviews

Just as you wouldn’t ignore someone at your place of business who says she did not receive the service she was promised, you wouldn’t ignore that complaint online. Review sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Tripadvisor are public forums where anyone can see such complaints. If potential customers assume your brand ignores customers, you’re not likely to earn their business.

Katie Milligan, Manager of Guest Services at Firehouse Subs, uses Merchant Centric’s STARS Platform to read and reply to reviews across the brand’s network of over 1,000 locations. Milligan’s team realizes the importance of engaging with restaurant guests online.

 “We have had an increase in review activity since joining on with Merchant Centric,” she said. “Our star-rating has increased, which in turn, leads to more foot traffic and increases in sales.”

Harvard Business School conducted a study that supports this notion. They found a one-star increase in a business’ rating, meant a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenues.

After all, it makes sense that a person whose complaint is addressed, in person or online, is not only going to come back (meaning additional future revenue), but she will also tell her friends (meaning even more revenue). In the digital age, leaving a review has a domino effect. If complaints are genuinely addressed, guests will likely update what was once a negative review, to a positive review. This leads to an improved brand image, with more guests encouraged to engage.

2. Use Data Analytics and Reporting

Multi-location franchises will likely have thousands of reviews scattered across the web, painting multiple pages from different review sites yellow with star ratings and black with text. Going site-by-site, reading one review after the other, would be a cumbersome and nearly impossible task for any brand manager. All of that yellow and black may as well be a work of modern art since one person’s opinion of what it means is going to be vastly different from others. Especially, if those people aren’t looking at it through the right lens or from an educated perspective.

Reporting that helps you determine what praise or complaints are meaningful, versus what are just noise, is crucial to finding meaning in online review data.  It is also important to analyze how many complaints a business can get within the same theme before revenue is negatively impacted.

BPA-themes-v4

Themes that may impact revenue include:

Service

  • For automotive maintenance, what are the expectations for completion of repairs?
    • Service facilities may need to address repeated complaints that maintenance is taking longer than promised to complete.
  • Inaccurate Orders
    • Not completing what was marked off as “complete” when servicing a customer’s vehicle.

Surroundings

  • If you are in the fine dining business, are multiple patrons complaining about the loud dinning room? Will this keep them from coming back?

Product

  • Are the portions the appropriate size to satisfy the guest?

Price/Value

  • Is the price justified by the food offered?
    • Clearly, a high-end restaurant would not want to lower prices based on a few people who were upset by the dollar amount; this may vary by food type, as well as frequency of repetitions.

 Staff

  • Things like lack of product knowledge and behavior issues, repeated regularly, can definitely influence revenue.

3. Create A Review Centered Culture

Some brands may say that review management is something they will leave to franchisees at an individual store level. The unfortunate side effect of this is that it negates valuable quality control for the brand. It also reduces the brand’s ability to stay in touch with customers at the store level.

For a multi-location franchise with hundreds of locations, managing reviews is a full-time job. Not to mention, one that requires proper attention, delicate care, and the involvement of every department in your organization.

After all, reviews often include HR, Marketing, and Operations issues that can negatively impact revenue.

Since online reviews can be captured by anyone, shared anywhere, and live in the minds of your customers forever – if the associate at your store does not have a background in writing, mass communication, or crisis management, trusting him or her to respond, no matter the situation, may be risking revenue.

When a food poisoning complaint at a single location goes viral, people don’t care if the outbreak was only at one location. The brand is known for food poisoning, impacting the brand’s reputation and overall star-rating, when all locations are considered.

Savvy brands realize the need to be proactive and have the proper systems in place before a disaster occurs.

“The key is taking and displaying ownership in what we do,” said Chris Artinian, former CEO of Toojay’s, when discussing the need to be involved in review monitoring and reputation engagement.

“As online reviews continue to become more frequent and relevant … the technology through Merchant Centric has really allowed us to maintain our best practices … and maintain that ownership … the key is a timely response. In terms of overall ratings, this has really made an impact. We’ve monitored guest satisfaction, we’ve improved the overall ratings … we connect with our management and our guests … it all helps us become better equipped to guide and grow sales.”

Artinian perfectly describes the need for a corporate review culture that centers on connecting customer feedback to management and vice-versa.

Conclusion

Since reviews have such a company-wide impact, an expert review team needs the right tools to reply to reviews for all locations, and track each location’s performance over time.

In tracking performance, reporting to decision makers is essential. As mentioned earlier, reporting should identify praise and complaints about operational themes like product, price, selection, and service, to name a few.

Ultimately, it all starts with taking ownership, as Artinian mentioned.

Take ownership of your listings and what people are saying, while replying to their compliments and concerns.  Take ownership of understanding insights from those reviews and what actions are needed. In doing this, you will ensure your brand creates the kind of culture where customer feedback is not only valued, but leveraged to increase revenue.

This is how brands are increasing customer loyalty in an online review age.