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Tips from a top marketer: what to focus on when responding to reviews



Photo from SOCi

Businesses come in many shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: the need to manage customer relationships. As director of market insights at data-driven marketing platform SOCi, Damian Rollison helps multi-location and franchise businesses harness the power of online reviews to improve their customer service. 

Franchise brands operationalize their systems because they have to—because they’re dealing with large volume and scale. But having a formalized strategy for responding to reviews and managing your online presence benefits small businesses, too. Below, Damian shares what to focus on and what to forget when it comes to review response management.

Responding to reviews

Focus on: responding to both positive and negative reviews 

I really want to encourage businesses to think of review engagement and review response as something that’s not just about the person who wrote that review—it’s about every other person who’s going to read reviews of your business. You’re forming your reputation as a business with every response that you publish.

As a result, imagine the perception that you create if you only ever respond to people who complain. That shows that you’re in triage mode or that you’re trying to mitigate a negative impression. Shouldn’t you be thanking your loyal customers in order to encourage repeat business? If you’re not doing that, that’s a conspicuous omission that consumers will notice.

Forget: paying attention only to your star rating

The 5-star rating system is a very popular tool for a reason, but it’s pretty simplistic. If you really think about it, it’s not very granular and it doesn’t give you any information about what really the experience consisted of in detail. I applaud Yelp for not allowing people to leave just star ratings with no review text because people want that text. They want to understand the nature of the experience and from a business perspective—that’s where a lot of the real value comes from.

Focus on: analyzing reviews for insights into your business

As a small business owner, you accumulate enough review content over time that provides you very specific information about what you’re doing well—and maybe not so well—that you can learn from or in order to improve the customer experience. It’s basically a free source of information. Companies spend millions of dollars conducting consumer surveys to provide basically the same feedback that you’re already getting, if you would only pay attention to it.

[For example, SoCi worked with] a restaurant chain, where we were able to point out to them that people were not happy with the food quality. In particular, trending terms in their reviews were “dried out” and “not flavorful” and all these common terms, clustering around dryness of the food. [As a result of this analysis,] we were able to help the restaurant figure out that meals were being left at the heating station for too long, and that was causing dry food to arrive.

Forget: making massive changes based on one review

You can think of [feedback] as falling into different buckets of priority. For example, [SoCi works with] restaurant chains that have asked us to alert them whenever a review mentions raw chicken. That’s something that, from a health perspective and from a PR perspective, you wanna take action on very quickly and deliberately, even if there’s only one incident. 

But with something like the dryness issue, if that only occurred once you’d probably wanna write it off to a bad experience with that one consumer. You [need] to have a critical mass of incidents that are similar before you decide that something needs to be done.

Creating formulas for review responses

Focus on: creating multiple templates that you can adapt for each review

Read a bunch of reviews and see what’s trending and develop responses for the common types of positive and negative reviews. You may want to have two or three different responses, with slightly different wording for each of these common topics. Leave certain things blank so that when you use this template, [you can make it] personal. Always remember to mention one specific detail of something that they talked about in their review.

Again, you’re responding to the specifics, not just in general. You may even wanna vary the wording slightly, from one usage of the template to the next. Let’s say 80% of the work is already done for you in choosing the correct template, but you’re filling specific details to personalize that response so that it does not feel robotic to the reader.

Forget: responding the same way every time

​​What you really don’t want to do is have a response to every review that says: “Thanks for your feedback. We take your input very seriously. We hope you will visit us again.” And then over and over and over again, it’s the same three sentences. [Treat every review as if] you’re launching into a review response for the first time.

Interviews by Emily Washcovick


These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Damian and Emily, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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