TripAdvisor is truly the marmite of the on-trade. Without a doubt it has its flaws but it's an essential part of your marketing for 2017 whether you engage in it or not.

 

 

The fact is reviews have never been more important

 
Only a third of customers trust branded messages yet 79% trust online reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends. Put simply, customers don't believe what a business says about itself and its products so they check out what other customers think. 
 
4 out of 5 of customers will check when looking for somewhere to go. This means TripAdvisor is just too big for you to ignore. It doesn't matter what your thoughts are on the platform - you wouldn't ignore your customers in the pub, don't ignore them online.
 
These customers aren't stupid either - if you mainly get 4's or 5's and in the middle is a 1* review where nothing seemed to go right, they will treat that review with a pinch of salt. They'll think even better of you if you've responded though.
 

It's not just the negative reviews

You need to be thanking people for leaving positive reviews. It's always important to make customers feel appreciated, so a simple appreciation for them taking the time to review you should be posted.

 

 

Don't fall into the trap of copying and pasting the same response to every review though - personalisation makes the difference. Nobody feels appreciated when they get an auto-response.

Make sure you're passing positive feedback on to your team at team meetings - just like customers, making your staff feel appreciated has massive upsides!

It makes a difference to your business

 
Why am I so bullish on this? Getting a response from an online review makes that customer twice as likely to recommend you. But more than that, three-quarters of the people reading the review will think more positively about your venue. So all those people who see your reviews also see how you respond to them and respect you for it.
 
As long as you respond suitably. It can be tempting (God knows I did it in the past) to go to town on the customer for daring to leave you a bad review, picking holes in their review and highlighting every tiny detail they got wrong. I'd hope you wouldn't do this in your pub, so don't do it online. Same goes for the witty comebacks and sarcastic put-downs - they can be misconstrued in text so better safe than sorry.
 

So what should you do?

 
 
There are a couple of key phrases you can use that do the job nicely:
 
"I'm sorry that you feel..."
"That's not how we saw it..."
 
If you see this as grovelling, it's not. It's understanding that what the spectators want to see from you is empathy and a desire to make things right. This is the key thing I want you to take away from this blog:
 
The end goal is to make things right. Not to be right (Tweet This)
 
I'll let you take a minute there to clear up the tea you just splurted out. 
 

You don't have to be right

 
Your potential customers want to know that if they invest in coming to your pub, they know you want them to enjoy themselves as much as they do. The majority of negative reviews are going to be because the situation wasn't resolved at the time or because they didn't feel their complaint was listened to at the time.
 
Now they've given you a final chance to listen to them. Take it and show them that you've listened to them. Do that and I'll let you in on a dirty little secret of review sites:
 
The majority of online complaints don't want you to make things right. They want you to listen to them. They want acknowledgment. If it was serious and they really wanted their money back or a free meal to make up for it, they'd contact you offline, with either a call or an email. You don't want to end up looking like this guy:
 
 

via GIPHY

Give away freebies?

 
A big line in the sand during my training days on the TA module is giving away freebies to make up for bad experiences. It's something I recommend but in a way that isn't as obvious as just saying "we'll give you a free meal for 2" in the response. The best way to do it is to use another phrase:
 
"Please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. so that we can make this right for you".
 
It's a lovely phrase because it doesn't say what you're going to give them, if indeed anything. The other reason I recommend this is because less than 5% of people will email you to take you up on the offer. Remember I said people complain online because they want to be heard, not because they want an issue resolved? This is the proof of it - I have helped 100's of businesses with their reputation management and have yet to see more than 5% of people responded to like that take up the offer. 
 
Those that do take up the offer usually give a much more positive review on TA afterwards and are more likely to come back to you in the future. A venue that really went the extra mile to make up for a bad experience is actually more memorable than ones where everything is okay each time. Also it makes for a much better story for the customer to tell their friends.
 

When they're wrong they're wrong

There are times where you do need to state the facts - when a customer has completely bent the truth in their review. When doing this, you need to make sure you're still being polite and friendly - those spectators need to know you don't fly off the handle with a bad review, but that you're 'the bigger man'

 

"Always do the research first - you need to be certain before you publically respond like this" says Ella Brookbanks, Business Manager at the Coach and Four, Wilmslow. 

 

Reviews are a spectator sport

 
 
 
stadium-597536 640
 
 
Now let's go back to the spectators in this - they now see that whatever the complaint they may have, you'll offer to make things right to them. They then have a look at your competitor who belittles people who complain online. Which do you think they're more likely to spend their money with? Don't forget times are good at the minute - the economic crash was 8 years ago. When times get hard again, this difference in response styles will make even more of a difference in trading figures. If customers can only afford to go out once a month instead of once a week, every bit of your marketing needs to show them they won't be wasting their money with you.
 
Finally, take feedback seriously. Managed houses spend a fortune on mystery shoppers which give them feedback on how the business looks to a customer. Whilst the quality of the feedback is nowhere near as good on TA, look for patterns that might show you where you can improve your business. Do you need to remind your bar staff to let people know if there's a wait over 20 minutes for their food when they order? Are your waiters & waitresses service checking properly?
 
If everything's running well, then why don't you want to engage with customers on Tripadvisor? The majority of feedback on the site is positive and by thanking customers for their kind words, letting them know that you'll share the feedback at the next team meeting, you'll start seeing more positive feedback.
 
I hope I've persuaded you to start taking TA seriously and not just ignore it. It's not going anywhere and they've set the rules for the game - all we can do is play it to the best of our abilities. If you don't, your competitors will. Any questions you've got just let me know - you can find me on most social media channels @edavieswork
 
Cheers!
Ed
 
Responding to reviews on TripAdvisor - a practical guide for hotels