The Data Science team from Reputation.com analysed the digital trends from reviews and Google My Business (GMB) listings of 4,500+ pubs and restaurants in the UK.
The government closed businesses in the UK forcing restaurants to shut their doors from April to July. During this period, some operators adopted “click & collect” or home delivery to ensure business continuity.
How has the online guest experience been affected by the national lockdown, and what can we learn from it for the industry in New Zealand?
Google Reviews On Hold
Google paused new reviews from being posted live creating a rapid decrease in volume in March and reaching its lowest levels in June. Reviews were back online as restaurants reopened in July with similar volumes as the same period in 2019 - but still lower than pre-Covid lockdown.
Positive Reviews Sentiment
As restaurants reopened, positive reviews were posted more often than before (87 percent of positive ratings compared to 78 percent before the lockdown for the same establishments). A few weeks after, positive sentiment stabilised at around 80 percent. Facebook is generally showing more positive ratings, followed by TripAdvisor and Google My Business.
Emergence of COVID-19 Reviews
A new sentiment category appeared as consumers commented on COVID-19 measures in their favourite restaurants.
- COVID-19 related reviews first appeared in March
- They are mainly positive
- Their volume skyrocketed in July
- They averaged at 4.6 out of 5 stars rating in July
- Their ratings now stabilised at 4.3
Google My Business (GMB)
In April, GMB impressions dropped to an all-time low as people searched less for restaurants online. During lockdown, GMB views slowly increased as more people searched for food delivery options. In July, GMB views trended upwards but have yet to recover from pre-COVID volumes.
Higher GMB Conversions
People are clicking more on your GMB listing than ever before. Conversions from GMB surged after the lockdown with ‘clicks to website visit’ and ‘clicks to call’ at an all-time high. ‘Clicks to direction’ increased at a slower pace.
Increasing Reviews Volume
The overall volume of reviews has been increasing year on year, although at a lower rate in the last two years. Looking at 2020, before reviews were temporarily paused, a similar trend was noticeable with more reviews in January and February 2020 than the same period in 2019.
Positive Review Ratings
Sentiment across review sites is more positive year on year and positive sentiment rose 17% between 2016 and 2020. There are more positive reviews on Google as brands manage their reputation actively. Facebook sentiment is also more positive than other sources since the change to recommendations.
Review Sentiment by Category
The most popular themes in reviews are related to food and staff. Engagement is the most positive keyword with 93.74 percent of positive reviews. The most negative sentiment is found in the following categories: Parking/Facilities, Manager and Communication Quality.
Google is king. The large majority of new reviews are posted on Google. TripAdvisor has retained a constant volume of new reviews but is losing market share to Google. Facebook’s share has declined, especially since 2018 as they switched to ‘Recommendations’ and are still iterating their reviews management.
Business Impact of Reviews
A survey from London Research of 4,000 consumers revealed that reviews and ratings are more important than friends and family to consumers when looking for information about a company’s products or services. This new word of mouth represents a key business imperative for restaurants.
What Should Operators Do?
Guests are going to post about your COVID-19 precautions whether you ask them or not, so it's important that you ensure these are satisfactory. Consumers are providing unstructured feedback on social and review sites about your safety measures, but this data is only as valuable as the actions you take from it.
Taking actions from this feedback along with survey responses is key to ensuring customer satisfaction remains as high as possible. Claim your GMB listings! Keep your presence on Google and Facebook up to date and use features such as Google Posts to let diners know about offers.
Monitor reviews closely and respond to them. Responding to customers demonstrates publicly your commitment to service and also improves your visibility on Google. Make sure the front of the house staff is equipped with the right tools to have a pulse on their guests’ satisfaction and needs.
Request reviews. Asking for reviews increases the likelihood of your listing being refreshed with positive, timely feedback. Recent and positive reviews also influence your local ranking on Google. Requesting reviews from all your guests systematically improves sentiment by 20 percent.
Prioritise reviews on Google, especially at each location level as reviews play an increasingly important role in the local search ranking factors of Google (over 15 percent).
Learn from reviews. Watch for common themes emerging in both positive and negative reviews. Review your protocols and look for ways to reassure your customers.