The following is a guest post by Monica Ho, CMO of SOCi Inc.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent conflict has had significant global geopolitical and business impacts for everyone. Millions of residents have fled the region. Major restaurant chains including Burger King, Dunkin, McDonald's and Starbucks have ceased or reduced operations in Russia.
In the United States, the impact was almost immediate as consumers rushed to support Ukrainian businesses and stores removed products like Russian vodka from shelves. At one point, Google Trends data indicated a 580% increase in searches for "Ukraine restaurants near me."
When crisis or adversity strikes, it can significantly and negatively impact your restaurant's reputation, even if you aren't directly involved in the events of the moment. Take the Russian Tea Room in New York City. Though originally opened by Russian expatriates, it is owned by a New York-based corporation and has been American-owned for decades. But, that didn't prevent the famous landmark from being swept up in a wave of anti-Russian sentiment.
Being able to handle that adversity and manage your restaurant's online reputation is critical, as bad reviews and customer misinterpretations can tank business. If your restaurant is impacted due to its name or presumed affiliation with an ongoing crisis, you need to act quickly. When you want patrons to know you aren't involved or want to show support for a specific side, you can post online or add clarifying context and details directly into the overview on your Google Business Profile or other local search pages. There are even ways to proactively answer topical questions for customers. By going into the Q&A section of your Google Business Profile, you can post a question like, "Does your business support the war on Ukraine?" After posting, you can log in to your profile and answer this question on behalf of your business. Now that Q&A is live and is available for all to see.
No matter what's going on in the world, you need to have a strategy to manage your restaurant's online presence. Here are some tips for handling reviews.
Build a review response strategy
According to the 2021 Localized Marketing Benchmark Report, restaurant locations receive an average of seven new reviews each month on Google alone. That does not include the plethora of other review sites available to consumers, such as Yelp and Facebook. Considering there are so many platforms where consumers might be evaluating your restaurant, the top priority in your strategy should be awareness — know when and where a review has taken place. The second priority should be response. An appropriate response should be timely, and the messaging should be personalized to the situation rather than canned and cookie-cutter.
You don't need to respond to every individual review, but it's essential to evaluate the details of each review. If the user left a star rating with no accompanying context, it's okay to skip a response. But a text review should always be acknowledged, preferably within 24 hours. If it's a negative review, prioritize a response within a few hours.
Respond in kind to positive reviews
While it might seem like customers only share criticism about negative experiences, it's important to take notice when they share their satisfaction with a positive experience. If you only respond to the negative reviews, it gives current and prospective customers an impression that you're only interested in feedback when it harms your business. When you get a positive review, follow these four steps to respond:
- Thank the reviewer for their business
- Use their name in your response
- Personalize your response by mentioning the subject of the review
- Invite them to return to your restaurant in the future
Use caution with negative and inflammatory reviews
Consider, again, the conflict in Ukraine: as Russia tried to control the online narrative around the Ukrainian invasion, determined citizens found ways around government censorship. As a result, Google had to deal with an onslaught of reviews from citizens on Russian restaurant pages detailing the actual happenings in Ukraine.
The origins of the coordinated efforts were not malicious, but had a negative impact on the restaurant pages that were used for communication. Users left graphic and offensive keywords like "soldiers," "invasion," and "rocket" in their reviews, which remained on restaurants' Google Maps profiles even after Google removed the reviews. Without context, someone searching for a local cafe could see those terms and be turned off by the idea of patronizing that business.
Responding to negative reviews requires three important considerations:
- Attention to detail
- A constructive attitude
People who leave negative feedback are not usually out to tarnish your reputation — their response stems from a desire to highlight ways to improve the customer experience. It's critical to remain calm and professional when faced with negative customer feedback or an onslaught of bad reviews. Don't automatically assume reviewers are attacking you personally or acting in bad faith, and don't get defensive. Your response to criticism will be on the internet for other customers and competitors to see, so you need to put your best foot forward every time.
Reputation is power
Reputation management is a critical part of success, and it goes both ways. It's not only important to consider negative reviews as areas for improvement, but positive reviews can offer opportunities to strengthen a winning business. However, matters can get tricky when unexpected events occur out of your control and hit close to home. In a digital-first world, customers won't always give praise or criticism to your face; it could show up on Google or Yelp.
Implementing a comprehensive reputation management program will help keep your business on track and allow you to be agile when managing your brand in front of current customers, prospective customers and your competition.