We don’t recommend a fully automated solution.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, automated review response doesn’t scale as well as a managed service because these solutions can’t address negative or nuanced reviews, leaving extra work for you.
Additionally, the responses will lack contextual relevance and branded keywords. Instead, we recommend that you partner with a third-party human-powered agency to manage your replies.
Operationally, it will be more efficient, and the superior response quality will give you a competitive edge.
Since you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you already know how important a review response strategy is for your local business. Replying to your customer reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other industry-specific sites will be a part of your marketing strategy this year. Great choice.
But if your business receives more than a couple of reviews a month, what is the best way to handle them? Responding manually is a lot of work, hard to scale internally, and just not that much fun.
Could an automated software tool be the solution? In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of automated response tools and techniques, and how those solutions compare to a managed review response solution.
Google states it will help your search rank.
Increased engagement leads to higher ratings and more review volume.
More touchpoints with current customers increase the probability of retention
Your prospects read your reviews before choosing to shop with your business. Responding using the appropriate techniques will give a good preview of the experience they can expect.
Why respond to all reviews?
When starting out, many businesses only respond to negative reviews in an attempt to resolve customer complaints. Google tends to favor reviews that have response activity, and as a result, you may find negative reviews with responses displayed at the top of your GMB. Give your page a look right now and see if this is the case.
You can fix this by responding to all reviews, positive and negative alike, which is made significantly easier using third-party products.
Perfect segue, let’s get into it.
Manually respond through GMB
Respond to your customers directly through your GMB page under the “Reviews” tab.
Third party - Monitor and respond manually with templates
A simple third-party solution will pull in your review data and allow you to respond to reviews from multiple sites in one feed. These tools generally offer the ability to access templated responses to help speed up your response time.
Third party - Automation software
Generally, this means software that pulls in your reviews and sends out automated responses based upon a set of predetermined rules. For example, the receipt of a 5-star, no comment review will trigger a prewritten response. A good solution will enable you to write a collection of responses for a specific type of review, and the software will automatically cycle through the list.
Third party - Managed service
Bespoke review management services, such as Widewail and Reputation.com, employ a team of expert writers to respond on behalf of clients. Here at Widewail, for example, we work with your team directly on negative reviews, ensuring we have the appropriate context for each situation. Each managed service will operate slightly differently.
Before we get into the pros and cons, a note about reply strategy. A quality strategy has two components: respond to every review, and respond with enough nuance and specificity that the responses address the customer’s need, feel human, and project a positive experience to your prospects.
Beyond that, selecting autoresponse software or a managed service depends upon the quality of the product you are attempting to achieve, the level of involvement you would like to have as the internal marketer, and your budget.
We’ve broken up the pros into three sections: operational, marketing, and technology capabilities.
In summary, with a hefty amount of upfront work, automated tools will enable your team to set up a response system that will cover roughly 60-75% of the work. If done properly, the responses will be written by a consultant or member of your team initially, and then the software will deploy that content for you.
Right off the bat, responding to reviews takes a lot of time. And the more effort you as a marketer put into your reputation management strategy, the more work you will have because an effective strategy creates more review activity, hence more effort.
On average, you’re looking at spending 17% of you or your marketing team’s time on managing reviews. That’s almost a full day every week.
Of course, if your business only gets a few reviews a month, using the response tool built into your GMB account is efficient.
If, on the other hand, your business is receiving over 20 reviews a month, automated tools will save you a lot of time and effort. The efficiency gains are more significant if you manage multiple rooftops, and even more so if your business gets reviews on multiple review websites.
Automated solutions are easy to scale. Once you establish response rules, an increase of volume in monthly reviews will have a limited impact on your time.
Although not free, it is always cheaper to work with a third-party software or services provider rather than hiring an internal team. Additionally, a third-party solution will eliminate potential problems associated with turnover, so they are especially valuable if you work in a high-turnover industry.
Finally, some automated products have built-in spam or slander detection features. For example, filters that report reviews that link to a competitor or unrelated content.
100% response rate. That’s a big one.
A higher response rate than your competitors will gain you a search advantage. Anecdotally, you will be perceived as caring just a bit more - hopefully enough to inspire a prospect to give your business a shot.
As mentioned above, Google defaults your review order to most relevant. Because of this, we recommend that you respond to all reviews, not just negatives. Universal responses will increase the chance that positive experiences will appear at the top of the pile.
With that said, customers read around 10 reviews on average before making a determination, so you have some wiggle room.
To maximize your SEO benefits, we recommend a tool that enables you to plug keywords such as your business name, products, and city into your responses. This can be achieved simply through custom templates or tools such as MapLabs, which gives you the option to reference a keyword from the review in your response.
For example, you could establish a rule that recognizes when a customer mentions “takeout” in their review and works that word into the response template programmatically.
As a best practice, we recommend minimizing any sort of defensive or overly emotional response to negative reviews. Your prospects are more likely to believe the customer, so it’s better to remain calm and move conversations with unhappy reviewers offline. Autoresponders can help to eliminate overly-emotional responses by disconnecting your team from the specific situation at hand.
If you are shopping around for an automated solution, don’t settle for a tool that sends out blanket thank yous with no customization capabilities. Here is what you want.
A specific response or set of responses which will be triggered by the type of review. For example: 4-star with commentary, 5-star no commentary, etc.
As the marketer, you want to write the response content during setup. That way, the responses are “human,” just deployed by the computer.
The tool should be able to autofill the customer’s username programmatically. Ideally, the tool will check for non-traditional usernames (i.e. beachlover1234) and automatically disregard it in the response. Using reviewers’ names will make the responses seem more personal.
The misconception that an autoresponder is “all or nothing” should be put to bed. The technology enables the response experience to be relatively nuanced, depending upon how much time you put into setup.
One thing to keep in mind is that autoresponders work best for positive reviews with limited unique commentary. Generally, they cannot meet the demands of negative reviews. As a result, you will end up doing most of the negative review response work manually.
From our perspective, the alternative to an automated software solution is a managed service.
How exactly does a review response managed service work?
As an example, our managed service, Engage, is backed by a team of writers that responds to all of our clients’ reviews. Our software, which was built in-house, allows us to efficiently monitor and respond to the incoming review content in near real-time.
There are two primary shortcomings of an automated solution.
To achieve high-quality responses with automated software you will need to respond manually to a material amount of customer reviews.
Negative reviews contain a wide variety of topics and commentary, many of which are likely to surprise you. This makes it difficult to map out all potential scenarios within the autoresponder templates. Further, a broad and disconnected response will likely not solve your customer’s problem and will give prospects a poor impression.
To reiterate above, you will likely need to manually respond to all negative feedback. If you are concerned about efficient use of time within your marketing team, an automated product will increase efficiency when compared to responding 100% manually, but a managed service will take more of the work off you or your team's plate.
Managed services sidenote:
For negative reviews, the Widewail team will send you a suggested response for approval, doing most of the work, but we’ve found it is vital to have input from our clients on negative feedback. Our service and others will still require a small amount of input, but comparatively, it will be the most unobtrusive option for your team.
Autoresponders will miss contextual cues occasionally, along with opportunities to add additional personalization or tangential brand keywords.
This is important. Your business will benefit most from a response strategy that provides every customer with a tailored experience. Consumers are world-class bot detectors; they can tell if a response does not quite match the context of the review.
For example, we often see 4 or 5-star reviews that describe an overall positive experience, but end with a note about how the bathroom was not clean. A generic positive response will look a little off because the bathroom issue was not mentioned.
We also commonly see the name of the salesperson mentioned in a review. It happens all the time. When that occurs, we like to include a sentence such as, “We’re so pleased that you had a great experience working with Jenn.” This touch of personalization will set you apart from your competitors.
In local SEO, your review responses are one of the few opportunities you have to insert your own voice into the conversation on an ongoing basis. Responses are a great opportunity to insert branded keywords, products, or anecdotes describing your company’s values or beliefs. These little details are best achieved through a managed solution.
Which scales better?
Contrary to popular belief, we would argue a managed service. With an automated product, you or your team will be on the hook to handle more and more of the challenging negative reviews as volume grows. A managed service assists with every type of review, supporting your team regardless of content or quantity.
Which is easier to implement?
An automated solution will require a significant amount of setup time, primarily to craft automated response sequences. Your team will also need to learn response best practices for manual response and train new staff members of these practices as positions turnover.
Here at Widewail, onboarding/setup takes about 30 minutes, and ongoing management only takes a few minutes a week.
How do they compare when it comes to cost?
Software solutions are generally more affordable, but the price difference is not as dramatic as you may assume. These solutions are also generally packaged with other features into a product suite, raising the out-the-door price.
Regardless of which option you choose, you are making a great decision to pursue a reputation management strategy. Current customers will be happy to hear from your team, and you will enjoy the benefits of more people walking through the door.