Promotional program for restaurants helps eliminate review headaches.

As communication becomes increasingly digital, restaurant customers are placing less importance on word of mouth and more on online reviews. Case in point: Web hosting review site Hosting Tribunal reports that 89 percent of customers won’t take action until they read reviews, meaning that online customer feedback is an important metric for restaurant owners to notice and cultivate. But what happens when that feedback is fake?

“Reviews are a critical tool for bringing in business; some customers won’t even visit a restaurant that doesn’t have online reviews, and the amount of reviews a business has impacts its place in Google’s rankings,” says James Roedding, chief product and marketing officer at Rewards Network. “It’s hard to know if your brand is being attacked by fake reviews. But these fake reviews come from a lot of different sources and are a problem for restaurant owners.”

According to leading data, 1 in 5 reviews is flagged as fake. Roedding says these counterfeit reviews may originate from competitors looking to bolster their own concepts, customers angry at a business for personal reasons, internet trolls, and consumers who post phony reviews in hopes of receiving a consolation freebie from the brand they’ve attacked. Determining which reviews are legitimate and which are not is a time-consuming and thorny task. Sometimes, reviewers create entire new accounts simply for posting feedback, making it virtually impossible to check if many reviewers are people who have actually visited your restaurant. 

This is where Rewards Network comes in. The company partners with the world’s most powerful loyalty programs to attract full-price customers to restaurants. When a restaurant joins Rewards Network, they receive verified, honest reviews, from real customers who are members of the company’s loyalty program partners. The process of receiving reviews through Rewards Network is frictionless for operators. After a business joins the 13,000-plus restaurant network, Rewards Network encourages members to dine at its partner restaurant to receive rewards. When a customer dines and pays using a Rewards Network-linked credit or debit card, the company immediately sends the customer an email requesting a review. Only customers who have actually spent money at the business can review it through Rewards Network.

“We have a lot of different programs—some require customers to leave a review before they receive a reward, other programs will give customers incentives for reviewing a restaurant,” Elliott Ames, director of marketing strategy at Rewards Network, says. “But overall, data that we aggregated from a random selection of our Tier 1 restaurant partners shows that diners are 20 times more likely to review with Rewards Network than through all other leading review platforms combined.”

Partner restaurants receive a notification through their Rewards Network restaurant dashboard whenever a customer leaves a new review. Operators can also respond to individual reviews through the dashboard—a key step for a concept looking to build a relationship with its customer base. Additionally, Roedding recommends that owners develop a three-prong strategy for dealing with feedback. Owners should establish a method for collecting reviews, respond to positive and negative reviews, and analyze trends that emerge about performance from the overall feedback.

The verified feedback obtained by Rewards Network streamlines this process of dealing with reviews by eliminating the headache of separating the real reviews from the fake. Instead, operators can jump right into developing a game plan for reading and evaluating their bank of authenticated feedback from Rewards Network.

 “This is hospitality—people aren’t looking for a transaction so much as an experience, and they want that experience to be the best, so they check reviews,” Ames says. “Fake reviews—specifically negative ones—are just one of those things that are making the uphill battle of running a concept that much harder.”

Download this free white paper from Rewards Network to discover why verified customer reviews are a crucial brand building block for restaurants.

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