Reviews allow you to see your existing customer’s opinions and feedback, which serves as an opportunity to respond to them, which in turn, provides an opportunity to build relationships and trust, thereby retaining existing customers and attracting new customers.
Think about it from the customer’s perspective. Customers generally turn to Google to conduct a general search like browsing for restaurants, cinema screening times, or hotels. Alternatively, they might search for specific brand, such as Next and Urban Outfitters for clothes or The Hilton for hotels. However, they are searching for what they want to know more about, they’ll likely see what existing customers have to say before they make a commitment.
The importance of customer reviews
We have previously covered the importance of Google Business Profile and how to set it up. If your business has already done this, it will show in Google Search results for your potential customers, serving as their online first impression of your business. If your business has gathered existing reviews, your online customers will see them too.
Google Review — as well as other online review platforms such as TripAdvisor and Yelp all share a star-rated system calculated on a numerical scale (from 1 to 5 stars). Customers can add text comments to their reviews, selecting how many stars they feel a business deserves.
Leaving a review is free, so any customer with an account can write a review about your business on any of these platforms. Google may show these reviews in the rich snippet in search results or Google Knowledge Panels, making those customer reviews available for everyone to see.
The quantity and diversity of these reviews send a ranking signal to Google’s search algorithm. As this algorithm is dedicated to giving searchers the most relevant results, achieving many high ratings makes your business more likely to appear in search results.
Naturally, customers want to see the experiences other customers have. They will then form their own understandings and perceive your business as good or bad, influencing their decision to go to your business.
Why should you respond to customer reviews?
A 2022 survey shows that more than 60% of customers check Google reviews online before they visit a business. Data based on a customer review survey in 2021 further shows 90% of UK customers would check online reviews before buying from a business. 94% said they would avoid businesses with a rating below 4 stars and 48% claimed they would only pay attention to reviews written in the past two weeks. The same survey reported 45% of customers are more likely to visit a business that responds to negative reviews.
This does not mean your business should only focus on negative reviews. You don’t want to leave the customers who left positive reviews to feel unappreciated.
Each positive review offers an opportunity to further enhance the relationship and create a loyal, long-term customer who will return to your business and advocate your brand.
To capture and retain customers, a business must have diverse, high-rating reviews. It’s also imperative to respond to those reviews — particularly the more relevant and negative ones.
An analysis of customer reviews and business responses
Let’s consider examples from different industries and see the great variety of their reviews from customers, including how well each business responds to them.
The first industry we examine is the supermarket industry. Here, we will look at three chains’ Leeds locations, Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons, what kind of Google reviews they have, and how each business responds to them.
Aldi has a reputation for being affordable and popular. We have investigated the Google reviews for two Aldi locations in Leeds. However, Aldi doesn’t respond to any reviews, whether they are overwhelmingly positive or negative.
In the two assessed Leeds locations for Lidl— another brand known for its affordable grocery offers —it appears they only respond to negative comments despite both having good ratings of 4.3/5 stars.
Their general response to criticism is ‘So sorry to hear this, if you wish to provide further details please email email@example.com’, with no personalisation of the customer’s name or the customer service employee’s name.
The Morrisons on Leeds Merrion Street has gathered 1,940 Google reviews, with the general consensus it is extremely busy and popular with students. Since these reviews are publicly visible, customers will likely perceive it as such.
A closer look at the reviews shows that Morrisons responds to positive comments, often personally addressing the customer. This level of personalisation is not repeated throughout its other responses though, which are arguably generic.
However, we have discovered several negative reviews where no response was given from Morrisons, even though one comment has 44 likes at the time of writing — far more than any other comment for this location.
These three supermarket chains have taken very different approaches to responding to each comment. As a breakdown:
Aldi does not respond to any comments
Lidl only responds to negative comments
Morrisons responds to both positive and negative comments. However, it did not respond to some of the more serious comments that have gathered more likes than any other reviews
We now look at the food industry, where we analyse restaurant chains’ reviews and digest how well they respond to them.
Five Guys, the popular American fast food chain serving high-quality burgers, has opened many restaurants across the UK.
Its Leeds Duncan Street store scores a 4.3 rating from 1,893 reviews, and it was shown to have replied to positive, neutral, and negative reviews.
It has made an effort to personalise its responses to reviews with contextual detail, showing a polite, well-rounded response.
However, one comment has no content and yet still gets a response, indicating insufficient time was spent to assess this comment, and the personalised response is inappropriate in this instance. We can observe from here the importance of personalisation and why responses should be tailored correctly.
Some other observations include allergies — a common topic of concern among customers — was raised in five comments about peanut oil, but none received any response. The business also has not given any responses on its TripAdvisor site, which scored a 3.5 stars out of 5 from 196 reviews.
We now look at Fat Hippo, a group of independent burger restaurants currently operating in a dozen cities, mainly in the North of England. They demonstrate how Google reviews and responses can make a huge difference to businesses.
The Fat Hippo restaurant in Leeds has a 4.4 rating from 550 reviews — a much smaller amount than Five Guys. However, it has replied to a majority of its reviews, which are very positive, most of them complimenting the quality of the food.
Fat Hippo’s many responses vary from generic to very personalised. For generic reviews, they appear to follow a general pattern of ‘Thanks for your fab review and we're pleased that you enjoyed your Fat Hippo fix! Hope to see you again very soon!’ showing a cheerful, passionate tone and encouraging customers to return. Some even included the reviewer’s name.
While generic, this format can be applied to many comments if they all share the same tone. It also builds on the relationship, serving as an opportunity to turn those who leave positive reviews into loyal customers.
For negative reviews, they tend to be more diverse, each complaining about a different aspect of their experience in the restaurant. Fat Hippo’s response tends to be more personalised here.
In the following screenshot example, we can see a customer complaining about their experience with their Deliveroo order. Fat Hippo has acknowledged the comment and explained that Deliveroo is their delivery partner before following a procedure of listing the email for the customer to leave a complaint.
Fat Hippo scored a lower 4 star on Tripadvisor from 79 customers, with less frequent responses. While the general consensus of food quality remains the same, this serves as an opportunity to conduct the same level of review response and customer engagement to a different review platform, further benefitting the business across multiple channels.
Let’s take a look at two global hotel chains: Hilton, a household name, and DoubleTree, a growing brand.
We will analyse both Google Reviews and Tripadvisor.
Hilton, a globally well-known brand, has a broad portfolio of hotels across the UK and the world.
When we analysed Google and TripAdvisor reviews for its Leeds locations, we noticed it does not always respond to the most recent reviews, despite some being very positive. This may suggest the business has not maintained or monitored its reviews on both platforms.
In one instance, a reviewer’s name was also spelled incorrectly. Given this was also from a 5-star review, the more detail-oriented customers may not perceive this response positively.
Not responding to positive reviews accurately could also be a missed opportunity to build relationships with the customer and turn them into loyal customers.
DoubleTree by Hilton
DoubleTree, another hotel chain, has been a fast-growing brand expanding into many locations.
Several comments have highlighted they prefer the location to Hilton. In fact, the DoubleTree Leeds hotel has scored a 4.4 on Google Reviews from 3195 reviews, compared to Hilton Leeds’ 3.9 stars from 3080 reviews.
On both Google and TripAdvisor, their responses to the customers often address the reviewers as ‘Dear Guest’ without the name, showing further opportunities to personalise the message.
Retailers & entertainment
In the last section of our analysis, we will examine two industries: retailers and entertainment.
With the retailer, we have chosen two popular chains — Next and Urban Outfitters. For the entertainment example, we have selected the Vue cinema chain. We will examine each chain’s Leeds location’s Google review.
The popular retailer Next Leeds store has a modest 3.6 star rating on Google Reviews from 351 reviews.
A lot of the reviews are also very negative, with a few examples complaining the staff are unprofessional being compiled here:
Notably, one review made it clear they are ‘never going back’, and another urged ‘please can something be done with management of employees so this doesn’t happen to anyone again’, which is something a business should have taken action on.
Urban Outfitter, another popular retailer chain, has received a 3.9 star rating on Google Review with 351 reviews. The reviews range from positive, mixed, to negative. One compliments the business has ‘a lovely vibe’, a few comments praised the staff being helpful, and have noted it being overpriced.
There are also some very negative reviews. In the example below, the customer has explained her daughter’s negative experience with the business, which has not been given a response.
The Vue is one of the world's leading cinema operators. The Vue Leeds Light location has a 4.3 star rating on Google from 2,305 reviews, showing its popularity. However, there was no response to those reviews.
The general consensus of the customer reviews are positive, with many complimenting different areas of the business, including its Leeds city centre location.
The negative comments focus on various hygiene issues, which the business should have addressed in a response.
From the three examples covered in this section, none respond to Google reviews, whether positive or negative, even when the customers clearly said they intended to return or not.
What is the negative impact of not responding to reviews?
Many of these examples show overwhelmingly negative reviews, with clear messages of the customers intending not to return to the business. Businesses such as Morrisons, Next and Urban Outfitter have not responded at all when they could have given complaint-handling options such as providing the necessary procedures or issuing an apology.
In doing so, any opportunity to mend these customer relationships is lost. As these negative reviews are available for everyone to see, potential customers may perceive the business in an entirely negative light.
By not responding to negative reviews, a business can lose its existing and potential customers.
What is the positive impact of responding to reviews?
By responding to customers, your business can build a relationship with them, winning back initially unhappy customers. Since all reviews and responses are publicly visible, your potential customers will see how you handle the situation. Your business is more likely to be perceived by the public as transparent, engaging, and trustworthy.
We have also seen many positive examples of businesses responding to reviews in the above analysis, particularly in their levels of personalisation. Fat Hippo adopts a more warm, welcoming tone to its positive reviews and gives sophisticated responses to its negative reviews, addressing the concern raised by each negative comment.
When bad reviews go viral
In the above analysis, we covered the Morrisons negative review has gathered 44 likes at the time. This review, while not quite viral, has gained considerable attention.
Negative reviews can harm your business when they become popular, making potential customers see your business negatively even without them directly searching for your business. In some cases, they can read media outlets.
The media coverage was sourced from the initial negative reviews and was likely only escalated to become viral following the businesses’ response.
When confronted with negative reviews, your business needs to be mindful that you need not only to respond, but also be calm and objective to avoid escalating an already negative situation.
How to respond to reviews effectively
The ability to personalise the messages is a critical factor in building customer relationships.
If the customer sees the business is making an effort in your responses to the reviews, their impression may change from initially negative to positive.
By personalising a tailored message to each response, a customer is more likely to be satisfied, knowing that the business is actively listening to them.
When responding to Google reviews, you need to assess the feedback and acknowledge the issue, stay calm and objective, and thank the reviewer. Be sincere and offer a solution, keeping it concise and consistent.
You should always start your message by addressing the customer’s name. If the review is general, you may have a generalised format and personalise their names only. If the review is detailed with many points raised, acknowledge those issues individually.
Always thank them for leaving a review. If the customer intends to come back, you can resonate the message in your response. If the customer intends not to return to your business, offer a solution or resolution to mend the relationship.
The takeaways of our analysis
Google reviews left by your existing customers are publicly available. With a higher rating and range of reviews, your business is more likely to appear on top of the search results to serve as an online first impression of your business to the wider public.
Potential customers will perceive your business as positive or negative based on the reviews they read and the responses you have given to those reviews. They are generally more likely to go for a business with a higher rating of over 4 stars that responds to negative reviews.
Each review offers an opportunity to build customer relationships. For positive reviews, you can turn them into loyal customers and advocates for your business. For negative reviews, seize the opportunity to offer a resolution and turn the initially negative situation into a positive one.
Ultimately, by giving good responses to all online reviews, your business is more likely to be perceived by the public as transparent, engaging, and trustworthy, attracting existing and potential customers.