As consumers navigate through the pandemic, they are turning to online reviews even more so than pre-COVID.
In fact, in a recent survey by Lehi, Utah-based Podium, 88% of Americans confirmed that online reviews helped them discover a new local business, and 71% believe reviews matter more today than ever before.
In addition, when looking at reviews, customers are placing greater weight on businesses’ social distancing policies and safety protocols.
“I think the checklist of things that matters to consumers has grown,” says Nico Dato, executive vice president of marketing at Podium, a communications and payment platform for businesses.
Before the pandemic, the top three characteristics for online reviews consumers chose were: quality of service or products (80%); good prices (75%) and good customer service (75%).
Those all dropped significantly during the pandemic: quality to 56%; prices to 54%; and customer service to 52% as more people prioritized how companies are handling COVID-19, according to Podium’s data.
All those characteristics prior to COVID are still important, “but what you’re starting to see is people caring about other things,” says Dato, pointing to considerations such as whether the business is safe to work with and whether staffers wear masks.
Sites like Yelp have an area where a business can update its health and safety measures, which the Park Avenue Grill in Amityville has utilized to keep customers informed.
“It’s always good to put what you’re doing out there so people can decide for themselves if they like what they see,” says Erin Bevilacqua Gonzalez, co-owner of the Park Avenue Grill.
She monitors reviews “more so now than ever before,” noting there’s heightened sensitivity among consumers in the wake of COVID.
She responds to both positive and negative reviews.
“I need to learn and find out what people like and most importantly what they don’t like so I can change it,” Gonzalez says.
In fact, based on a customer’s feedback on Yelp, the eatery spent $20,000 to renovate the dining room in mid-June to eliminate booths and replace them with tables to allow for more spacing between customers.
That customer has since returned, she said.
Bottom line is people want to be heard, says Andrew Catalano, chief digital officer at Austin Williams, a Hauppauge-based ad and digital marketing agency.
“I think it’s acknowledgment,” he says.
He encourages businesses to also respond to positive reviews with a thank you.
“People appreciate it,” he says.
As a best practice, Scott Darrohn, a managing partner at fishbat, a digital marketing firm in Patchogue, suggests companies do a Google search of their own business and see what comes up on the first search page.
“Over 90% of people never leave the first page,” he says.
Make sure to check the major review sites like Yelp, Google and Facebook, he says.
Make sure all the information on your business sites are correct and updated.
The top recurring complaint Darrohn sees is wrong information like when someone shows up at a store because the Google listing says it’s open and the business didn’t update hours and it’s actually closed.
“Making sure information is accurate on these sites will ensure you don’t generate more negative reviews,” he says.
Also don’t let negative reviews linger and check review sites at least daily, Catalano says.
Marianne Deszcz, owner of Hounds Town Port Jefferson, a dog day care and boarding facility, checks review sites her business is on daily and responds promptly.
“I want people to understand that I’m here and I am reading it,” she says.
That’s why she responds to both positive and negative reviews.
“People are looking at reviews more critically now,” Deszcz says.
If someone leaves a negative review, acknowledge it on the review site and ask them to contact you offline to discuss it, Darrohn says. If they’re pleased with the way you rectified the situation, ask if they can acknowledge that the complaint was addressed on the review site they originally posted on, he says.
“People know companies make mistakes,” Darrohn says. “It’s not so much the mistake happened, but that a company was proactive in fixing the mistake.”
Sign up to get COVID-19 text alerts.
Nearly three in 10 (28%) consumers in the Podium survey said they had looked up online reviews for a business while standing or parked out front when deciding whether or not to enter.