Follow these tips to establish a 5-star online review process.

Online reviews are an important part of any business today. However, compared to other industries, restaurants lead the way when it comes to how online reviews affect customer decision making. In fact, 60 percent of people read reviews before choosing a restaurant or café, compared to 40 percent for hotels and B&Bs, and 33 percent for healthcare professionals.

Not only are online reviews important when it comes to developing and maintaining a positive reputation, but they’ve also been shown to directly impact your bottom line. A study by Harvard Business School found that an increase of just one-star rating on Yelp could lead to a 9 percent revenue increase for a restaurant.

So as a restaurant owner, how do you go about getting more online reviews, especially the good kind? And what do you do when you inevitably receive some not so positive feedback? Here are some thoughts and tips to help you establish a 5-star online review process.

The Challenge with Feedback

There are two main barriers when it comes to getting online reviews and feedback. The first is self-imposed; restaurants simply don’t do a great job of asking for it in the first place. A server inquiring how your meal was isn’t a scalable or shareable process. And think about it, how many times have you found yourself giving less than honest feedback in this situation?

Secondly, in general, people simply don’t like giving feedback. We live extremely busy and often chaotic lives. The last thing we want to do is take the extra time to provide feedback. And that’s exactly why traditional feedback survey response rates hover around a dismal 2 percent.

This brings us to another important point. While we could all do a better job of asking for feedback and online reviews, there should be an equal balance of push and pull. If you’re constantly asking your patrons to give you something, they’re less likely to have a good experience and therefore less likely to give positive feedback or write a stellar online review.

How to Prompt More Online Reviews

While you should certainly ask patrons for feedback it can often become a numbers game where a small percentage of those you ask for a review from actually end up giving one. Nevertheless you should absolutely leave reminders within your restaurant and equip your staff to capitalize on happy patrons. The more methods you have in place to push or prompt feedback the better.

When it comes to the pull, or enticing folks to share reviews without explicitly asking for them, social media is your best friend. Yelp and Facebook are the two most trusted review sites when it comes to American consumers. With 40.47 million and 85.57 million in monthly traffic, respectively, that’s no surprise.

Make sure you keep your Facebook and other social media presences active and updated to capitalize on this opportunity. When people see you in their feed, they’re more likely to take a few seconds to share the wonderful experience they had at your restaurant, as long as they’re prompted.

Another way to prompt your customers to give reviews is by providing exemplary service. When you delight someone or provide a memorable customer experience they are far more likely to want to take the time to write an online review. Today’s digitally savvy customers know that reviews are essentially a form of online currency and aren’t going to just hand it out to anyone. One way to earn them is through great service.

The Power of Text Messages

One of the most effective, yet underutilized ways of collecting feedback these days is text messaging. With over 8.5 billion sent each day and a 98 percent percent open rate, text is simply one of the best ways to engage customers. In fact, 64 percent of consumers think that businesses should use SMSmore.

Restaurants already use text messages for things like making reservations and notifying customers when their table is ready. Why not bring the dining experience full circle and send patrons a text asking them how their experience was with a link to somewhere they can leave a review?

The bottom line is that texts are a preferred method of communication for many people today. They are easy, less intrusive and have been proven to outperform other forms of communication, including phone and email. If you do decide to harness text, as with any customer communication, don’t abuse your privileges. That’ll lead to reviews alright—just not the type you want.

How to Handle Negative Reviews

Negative reviews can be scary. Research has found that between one and three bad online reviews can be enough to deter the majority (67 percent) of shoppers from purchasing a product or service. While we can never fully prevent them, here are some tips when it comes to minimizing the impact of a bad review:

Always take the high road

Responding positively to negative reviews not only shows a more favorable side of you, but depending on the forum, it also shows everyone who comes across your response that you are professional and care about customer concerns.

Take the issue offline

While your first response to a negative review can be done in a public forum, it often makes sense to use this interaction to take the issue offline. Doing this can help you avoid the potential for a negative back-and-forth with the unhappy customer in a public forum.

When you do resolve the issue through another channel like phone or email, remember to leave a brief comment in the public forum where the negative review was posted to show that the issue was dealt with. Additionally, on many social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, you can utilize private messenger to engage with the customer. It pays to go the extra mile and speak to them personally.

Learn from them

While resolving negative reviewsis important, learning from them is equally important. Surface negative reviews during meetings with your staff and ask them for their thoughts on what happened and how similar events can be avoided in the future.

Online reviews not only give you a clear picture for how patrons feel about your restaurant, but in today’s social world they can also be a tremendous driver of new customers. Make sure you have the right methods in place to collect and handle reviews so you can let them go to work for you.

Expert Takes, Feature