This is a guest blog post by Mark Denning of Engage Web.
Imagine that you’re in a pretty good position with your franchise. Imagine that the countless hours, blood, sweat, and tears that you’ve sunk into it are beginning to pay off. You have a motivated, dedicated team, and they’re propelling you and your franchise to new heights. You’ve followed the sage advice of your franchisor, and invested heavily in marketing and social media, and ensured that your website is optimized for a range of devices, which is really paying off.
Now, imagine how bewildered you would be to find one day that your turnover is dropping, despite all of this. You take to Google and find that your business has become a victim to the four-letter word that any franchise owner dreads…Yelp.
Yelp is a four-letter word
Not heard of Yelp? As a franchise owner, you should avail yourself of this knowledge as soon as possible. For the uninitiated, Yelp is a website and app that is home to millions of crowd-sourced reviews about local businesses. As of 2014, the site had 135 million visitors, and hosted more than 71 million reviews.
Given the large degree of anonymity granted by the internet, you can bet your last dollar that a lot of these reviews are unpleasant, if not scathing. This can be very aggravating for the franchisee trying their best to make things a success.
Nice franchise, shame about the service
Here’s a real world example – about a year ago, this writer visited a well-known sandwich franchise close to my home. The young man who served me refused my request to substitute one ingredient in the sandwich – no big deal in itself, but he was very rude about it. I took to Yelp to write an honest review, and lo and behold, there were several reviews already posted by disgruntled customers. Needless to say, I haven’t been back.
I imagine that the franchisee would be most upset on learning about my experience. There’s no doubt that customers being put off your franchise by such reviews would be distressing, but you deserve the chance to set the record straight, or put right any wrongs that may have transpired.
At Engage Web, we’ve had plenty of experience in dealing with franchisees who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to online reputation management. Here are some pointers to get you off to the right start:
A wise franchisee plans ahead
Before addressing a negative review, you should adopt a formalized approach to dealing with them. This doesn’t mean having a generic answer that you copy and paste into each one, but more of a strategy that enables you to address specific complaints.
For example, if an employee has made a genuine mistake, the best tactic is to own up to it and apologize. It’s a great way to take the wind out of the sails of an indignant reviewer, and is the wise PR move to make. Why? Well, by apologizing, you can swiftly move on to resolving the problem, which is where you can get canny about managing your reputation…
Take it out of the public arena
As a sign off from a heartfelt apology, you should reach out to your customer and ask them to contact you privately. This takes the heat out of the issue, and shows you for the customer-conscious franchise owner that you are. For example, you may reply:
“Hi, Yelp Reviewer. I’m the owner of this franchise, and I’m sorry that your experience fell short of the standards of service we hold ourselves to. I’d like a chance to make things right. If you can privately message me, we can discuss how to do so.”
This has a two-fold effect: it not only shows your customers that you actually listen to them and engage with them, but it also acts as damage limitation. Whatever else the reviewer wants to add will hopefully be between the two of you, and out of the public eye.
Besides, if you plan to offer them a coupon or special offer, doing so in the public eye means that everyone will want one. Your franchise will be inundated with bogus complaints as people try to get something for nothing.
Keep your cool
Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper and enter into a harsh exchange. This will make your franchise seem like it doesn’t care about customer satisfaction, and people will vote with their feet by giving their business to your competition. It may mean taking some unfair complaints on the chin, but it’s for the best.
Beat them to the punch
Sadly, you will come across customers that you can’t please, no matter what you do to welcome them back to your franchise and win their respect. You may find yourself wondering about what is the best antidote to this. It’s simple – Yelp exists for positive reviews as well as negative ones, so ask your customers to leave a review if they’ve enjoyed your service!
Not everyone will be inclined to do so, so you may have to sweeten the deal by offering a coupon to a randomly picked Yelp reviewer each week or so. Be sure to advertise it across your social media channels, as it’s great additional PR!
The day-to-day running of a franchise is hard and rewarding work. It’s tempting to neglect managing your online reputation in the face of competing priorities, but by laying some groundwork now, you can stay on the right side of Yelp.
Engage Web is a UK online marketing agency specializing in the franchise industry. Mark is part of a team of journalist trained editors and a global network of writers based across the U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK.