Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Business and Operations Marketing
Marketing insights: November 2015

Everyone’s a critic


Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a restaurateur more than the spectre of a restaurant critic. They traditionally arrive unannounced – often alone – and sit quietly as they eat, scribbling into a note pad.

The next day, if all goes well, there will be a glowing review of your restaurant in the newspaper or a local magazine. A good review can make you and a bad one can break you, but times have changed. That lone reviewer has multiplied and amplified because now every single patron has taken up the charge. The power they wield makes that lone restaurant critic seem insignificant.

Social media has allowed regular people to critique their hospitality experiences for the entire world to see, and TripAdvisor, created in 2000, is among the most powerful of the online hospitality review websites. TripAdvisor now employs 900 people and boasts 250 million consumer reviews. The website’s yearly TripBarometer study suggest online reviews influence where 88 per cent of people book. It’s a powerful tool for businesses and it’s a free tool, but to make the most of it you must invest your time and be comfortable with a bit of vulnerability.

If you haven’t yet visited TripAdvisor’s management centre at https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Owners to set up your business profile, you should do that first. The management centre will allow you to describe your business using photos and text, manage your reviews by responding to feedback and analyze your performance compared to that of competitors. Focus on three areas as you engage customers in a brand discussion on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Zagat, Urbanspoon and other review websites: quantity, quality and recentness. TripAdvisor’s popularity index algorithms measure these three things, so nurturing them is very important.

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It’s a good thing to encourage guests to write reviews but businesses are not allowed to offer incentives for reviews according to TripAdvisor’s policy. The more reviews you get, the more you will rise in the rankings. Positive reviews rise higher in the rankings too and your reviews will offer wonderful clues as to where you can improve. You will get negative reviews and that’s nothing to run screaming into the night over – engage the customer and thank them for their feedback. Respond that you’d like to chat with them further offline and post your contact information for them to reach out privately. By responding, you’re showing you care about your guests. That gives prospective customers reassurance that you’ll care about their experience too. A PhoCusWright survey indicated 80 per cent of respondents say that seeing a business address reviews makes them believe the business cares. The study also reports that “62 per cent of TripAdvisor users agree that seeing hotel management response to reviews makes them more likely to book the hotel versus a comparable hotel that didn’t respond to travellers.” When it comes to choosing a restaurant, 50 per cent of people check TripAdvisor before booking and 20 per cent read at least 11 reviews before they choose which restaurant to visit. If you aren’t on TripAdvisor, here’s another statistic to consider: “31 per cent of respondents avoid eating at restaurants that do not have any reviews.”

The more recent your reviews, the higher you will rank: it suggests your business is relevant and viable. The volume of reviews the site receives every day is staggering: 160 new submissions per minute. With all due respect to the marketers in the crowd, a customer review is hardly ever about the signage, slick magazine ads or the catchy slogans. It’s almost always about the people and the experience. Your team is your most important brand asset and the more you can engage them in the process, the better it will work. Make TripAdvisor feedback something to celebrate by posting lovely reviews in employee areas. Print off positive reviews and write a small thank-you note at the top – pop it in a team member’s pay stub or mail folder. Appreciation is a great motivator. Encourage your team to either wear nametags or introduce themselves by name so feedback can be connected to them specifically. Sharing negative reviews is a great way to direct staff coaching and to monitor small issues before they become widespread and chronic. Respond to the positive reviews too as this is a way to reinforce the positive brand experience for all to see.

Having this level of service transparency can be nerve-wracking, but it allows the world to see how much you care. As Jeff Bezos of Amazon once famously said, “Your brand is your reputation. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

With web 2.0 tools, you’ve been invited into that room, and for better or for worse, you now get to hear what they’re saying about us. While sometimes it may feel a wee bit uncomfortable, you’ll probably also hear some very nice things.

Either way, you’ll no longer need to guess.


Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies.


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