A recent report by Barclays, based on the responses of more than 2,000 customers and 541 businesses, found that more than a quarter (29%) of 18 to 24-year-olds consider online reviews to be one of the most important factors when choosing where to go out, compared to 18% of those aged 65 and over.
Even so, only six in 10 of businesses check review sites specifically and only a fifth have a dedicated member of staff to monitor and respond to online responses, the Feedback Economy report reveals. A further two-thirds said they only deal with customer reviews ‘in the moment’ and have no long-term record.
Yet, the UK hospitality and leisure industry could boost the value of the British economy by £3.2bn over the next 10 years, just by improving the way it uses and manages online feedback, the research suggests. “Businesses that do not adequately respond to this trend are in danger of missing a vital opportunity to both grow their business and stay ahead of the competition,” the report claims.
So what can busy licensees – particularly those who may not be au fait with the online world – do to ensure they do not get left behind?
Set aside an hour a week
Dermot Kilroy, a software consultant and co-founder of The Pub Landlord Advisor, an independent website that provides tips for licensees, insists it’s important for online novices to “build the habit” by setting aside at least 60 minutes a week. This could range from learning how to set up a TripAdvisor page to posting a picture. “One hour is better than no hours a week,” he explains. “Have a goal. In the beginning, it’s a learning process but if you continuously spend an hour each week you will get quicker and quicker.”
Build a TripAdvisor page
Ensure your pub or bar is visible in search engines by creating a free TripAdvisor page. [See box] “The beauty of TripAdvisor is that it can help large and small businesses alike,” says Hayley Coleman, a spokeswoman for the review site. “For many smaller businesses with little or no marketing budget, TripAdvisor levels the playing field, giving them access to a huge, global audience of potential customers at no cost, thus enabling them to compete based solely on the quality and value of the service they provide.” She says this presence also enables pubs and bars to ‘take ownership’ of their online reputation.
Get Set Up on Tripadvisor
Once your pub or bar is registered to TripAdvisor, you can log into the management centre and sign up to receive notification emails about new feedback. Here, free marketing tools can be accessed including widgets, which let you showcase TripAdvisor ratings and latest reviews, send emails to customers encouraging them to write a review, and conduct online webinars, all of which can help you improve your rating and promote your business.
Do not ignore negative reviews
Respond to negative reviews in a professional manager and thank the reviewer for taking the time to comment. “Try not to be defensive and, where possible, take it offline, but be careful how you respond,” Becky Leach, director of People Buy People, an agency that manages social media platforms for hospitality businesses, says. “An apology goes a long way, even if it is apologising that they feel that way. Personalise it and don’t ignore it. A negative review dealt with well, can even lead to positive PR.”
Jodie Beer, general manager of Everybodys, an all-day dining venue in Guiseley, Leeds, agrees and believes people will say ‘more honestly’ what they think via social platforms than face to face. “I make sure that I spend an hour every Monday replying to all TripAdvisor reviews personally. So many people don’t reply to their online reviews because it is sometimes challenging to know what to write, especially if the review is not positive. It’s imperative that all reviews are responded to. It’s your opportunity to firstly apologise and then try to rectify, often with a return visit where you
can wow them with great service and they can see the experience they had was a one-off.”
Hire a virtual assistant
Once you’ve got into the habit of responding to online feedback and have a process in place, administration tasks can be delegated to a virtual assistant (VA), who can monitor feedback. “A pub could hire a VA who will carry out any number of admin tasks online,” Kilroy explains. “In the case of handling online feedback, the pub landlord must put some time into managing the feedback themselves. They can then write up the step-by-step instructions that will mean the VA has a chance of doing the work successfully... and it just happens in the background.”
Use a social medial agency
Beer checks the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for Everybodys every few hours, but also enlists the help of Leach, to help her keep on top of online activity. “We like to personally reply to check-ins and tweets,” she insists. “Missed contact means missed covers. Often we get booking enquiries via these sites so it helps us to grow our business daily through guest connection.” Leach, who also manages social media for other venues across the country, urges pubs to treat the likes of social media and TripAdvisor as “your shop window”.
“People can look in and see what it is like to potentially eat or drink at your venue.” Positive reviews should be shared across a venue’s social media platforms, to showcase the great job you’re doing, she adds.
Invest in a feedback system
Consider using an online feedback management system such as Feed it Back, which combines guest feedback with live EPoS information about their visit. “We take live transaction data in real time from the till system, such as Zonal’s Aztec system, and use this to ask guests relevant questions such as ‘was the steak cooked to your liking?’ or ‘was the set lunch menu good value for money?’, says Julia Platia, the organisation’s head of customer success.
“Some of our customers use an in-house tablets to drive lots of volume and capture feedback while guests are still in the venue.” The system also sends email alerts to branch managers or area managers if someone has left negative feedback, enabling an immediate response.
“Because we can tie each piece of feedback to a genuine transaction, we can easily detect if something looks like it has been completed fraudulently,” Platia adds. “Our surveys are shorter and to the point because we don’t need to ask the guest unnecessary details such as when they visited and what they ordered as we already have that information.”
Offer incentives for feedback
According to the Barclays research, 60% of respondents trust online reviews, a figure that rose to 71% for 18 to 34-year-olds, a demographic whose spending power will increase over time. Platia strongly recommends operators give a “small, guaranteed reward” in exchange for feedback.
“This may be a free dessert or a drink the next time they visit. Set tight terms and conditions on the use of this to drive repeat business in a short space of time. In our experience, the chance of winning a big prize such as an iPad is not as successful in getting guests to give feedback,” she says.
However TripAdvisor doesn't recommend offering incentives, because it feels that if guests are offered a reward they are more likely to write a review that doesn't reflect their true experience.
Don’t bury your head in the sand
According to Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the Barclays report underscores just how important social media is for businesses. “This should not be seen as a distraction or a nuisance; it should be seen as a fundamental part of running a successful venue in the 21st century. And retailers should ensure they allocate appropriate time and energy into monitoring and feeding into online reviews,” she advises. With almost 76% of businesses expecting online feedback to become more important over the next five years, it is imperative pubs and bars act now to ensure they do not get left behind.
Case study: ‘responding shows customers that you care’
The Coach & Horses in Thorpe Road, Norwich, Norfolk, was recently awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for achieving a consistently high score from reviewers.
Bob Cameron, general manager and co-owner of the pub, which has a 4.5 star rating, says: “Although we have always kept a close eye on what people say about us on TripAdvisor, we’ve only just registered as a user, which will enable us to respond personally to our reviews on the site.
“Two members of my team are responsible for all of our social media activity including review sites. I oversee it, but they check all of our pages several times each day and respond to customers, as well as planning and sending out posts.
“Responding to reviews and social media posts shows current and prospective customers that you care about them and their views. Sites such as TripAdvisor provide a rich and well-trusted source of information. Customers often pick up on minor details – for example, parking or if the pub is dog friendly – when they decide where to go for a drink or something to eat, which can be an important factor.
“Online reviews are great for collating suggestions such as ideas for food, drink and events and highlighting new opportunities.”
■ Use in-house tablets to drive large amounts of feedback
■ Ensure that your feedback system is mobile optimised and easy to use
■ Use positive feedback as a way of motivating staff
■ Share glowing comments and reward top performing staff
■ Use negative feedback to do some root-cause analysis
■ Respond promptly to reviews – positive or negative – to demonstrate that your venue cares about its customers