Once the full impact of the initial Coronavirus lockdown began to register, consumer behavior changed dramatically across the board. After an initial wave of panic grocery shopping, discretionary spending fell and consumers began searching for products and services to meet their needs closer to home. We saw this trend reflected in the keywords local consumers used in search as well as in the reviews they left for the businesses with whom they chose to do business.
Local reviews are a top feedback channel for customers anytime but are a particularly important source of insight and bilateral communication in times of crisis. How can you pivot your local reviews management strategy to best meet the needs of your business—and the customers you serve?
Be aware that reviews platforms like GMB may be in flux.
On March 20th, people began to notice that Google had paused the ability for consumers to leave new reviews. Shortly thereafter, businesses lost the ability to respond to published reviews. No one was left unscathed by the lockdown; Google explained that its team had to prioritize critical services as they transitioned to a remote work environment. At that time, we didn’t know how long the moratorium on new reviews publishing would last.
How can your team adapt and make sure customers still have that feedback channel open?
Generally, we do not advise that people stop asking for reviews. We recommended that brands consider switching their reviews solicitation strategy so that consumers are directed to your first-party review platform or another third-party site where you can monitor, respond, and continue to build your local reviews profile.
In times of crisis, review platforms will be evolving, as well. Keep your ear to the ground, so to speak, to ensure that you know how your specific industry is affected—particularly by changes to the GMB platform. In mid-April, for example, Google reviews began publishing again for some categories in the US but it took until mid-June for reviews for hospitals and doctors to come back.
Why prioritize local reviews management in times of crisis?
If you need to find places to pull back in the budget during a crisis, this is not a place to do it. You need to listen and hear from consumers more than ever when their lives are being so seriously impacted.
You may need to assign more people to triage and respond to reviews, depending on the volume of new reviews. During this particular crisis, the brands we work with whose locations remained open throughout the pandemic experienced an influx of reviews as customers had new experiences in-store. That is to be expected, as consumers are eager to share their stories—good and bad.
If you are forced to close temporarily, expect an influx of reviews as you reopen.
You may need to change the types of reviews you escalate.
People are trying new products, using delivery and curbside pickup, and experiencing new service methods for the first time. Evaluate your prepared responses and strategy to find opportunities to share more relevant information so you can ensure that for customers who read those reviews, expectations are more in line with the current state of your business.
How do you respond to complaints around social distancing?
Another consideration as far as your prepared and preapproved review responses are concerned is that you may need to update them to reflect new employee requirements to wear gloves and masks, especially if you’re in the food industry. Wait times may be longer. Customers may object to social distancing practices or may complain about other customers adhering to policies.
Adjust your alerts for specific keyword mentions in new reviews.
Automated monitoring and a big picture view are key in identifying issues quickly and mitigating damage. There is a benefit to having an experienced reviews partner you can call, who can research the various issues around the challenges that are surfacing for your local reviews management team and help you understand the best ways to pivot.
Remember too that negative reviews aren’t necessarily bad for business. Each one is an opportunity to fix that customer’s problem, share key information with review readers, and show prospective customers that you care enough to engage and connect with even those who complained about your business.
A robust, proactive local reviews strategy helps each of your locations appear higher and more often in local search results and convert more searchers to in-store customers (or curbside pickup, as the case may be). It keeps two-way communication open between your locations and their customers and supports your brand’s reputation as a whole. Additionally, according to a recent report, Google reviews are one of the top two most important ranking factors in generating local-specific search results.
Want to learn more about putting your best foot forward in local search?
- Check out 5 Key Local Reviews Opportunities for Enterprise Brands
- Join us for an upcoming local marketing expert webinar
- Take advantage of a free Local Presence Audit
Krystal Taing is a Google My Business Gold Product Expert with extensive knowledge and expertise in local marketing and local search.