How to Save Time and Money by Analyzing Your Reviews

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In this conversation with Jeff Toister, author of The Service Culture Handbook, you’ll learn how evaluating your reviews can save you time, and improve your business

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By Emily Washcovick

Online reviews can be an important source of feedback to help improve your business. They’re a signal to what’s going well and what needs to improve.

Jeff Toister, author of The Service Culture Handbook, has some surprising advice for small business owners who feel they’re too busy to read through all their reviews. “It’s going to save you time, and it’s going to improve your business.”

This can be very manageable if you’re using the right process. “You really don’t have to spend more than 30 minutes per week doing this,” explained Toister.

Analyzing your reviews can help you improve customer service, increase sales, and pinpoint problems that are costing you customers. Reviews can sometimes reveal unexpected insights.

Toister shared an example of a small restaurant chain with five locations that requested customer service training for its staff. The management team was concerned about a recent trend of negative online reviews and hoped the training would turn things around.

Yet an analysis revealed it was food quality, not poor service, that drove most complaints. The restaurant had recently changed its menu and introduced lower-cost ingredients to cut costs. Customers weren’t happy with the changes, though many reviewers were careful to point out they still received great service.

Carefully analyzing the restaurant chain’s online reviews zeroed in on the real issue and prevented it from organizing a costly and time-consuming training program.

Toister shared the process he used for quickly analyzing the restaurant chain’s Yelp reviews. You can apply the same process to your own business.

Start by going to the Yelp Page for your business and sort your reviews to show the newest first. “A review from a year ago might not be relevant today,” said Toister. “I want to make sure I’m looking at the newest reviews first so I can focus my attention on those.”

The next step is to create what’s called a check sheet. Get a piece of paper and draw five columns, one for each type of possible rating. Label the columns one through five stars.

Read through each review and notice the star rating. Try to identify specific themes that the customer wrote about and record those in the column that corresponds to the review’s star rating.

For example, let’s say a customer gave a restaurant a 3-star review and wrote, “The service was really good, but my meal was undercooked and way too salty.” The two themes are a positive sentiment for service and a negative sentiment for food.

Write the words “service” and “food” under the 3-star column since it’s a 3-star review. Next to service, put a “+” sign to indicate it was positive and next to food put a “-” sign to indicate that it was negative.

Repeat this process for each review you received in the past 90 days. Add new themes as you go. When reviews mention similar themes with the same sentiment, put a checkmark next to that item.

Another 3-star review might say, “We had to wait 45 minutes to get seated, but our server was really friendly.” Under the 3-star column, you would add “wait time” with a “-” sign next to it to indicate negative sentiment and a checkmark next to “service +” to indicate another mention of good service.

By the time you’ve finished, you will have a grid that shows what customers talk about when they give you each star rating.

The next step is looking for themes. “What we want to do here is understand what’s driving positive and negative sentiment,” said Toister. The check sheet will help you identify what causes customers to give each type of rating.

Once you’ve identified some issues, it’s time to go beyond the review and investigate. “We want to get a sense of what’s really happening,” said Toister.

There could be many reasons why those restaurant customers complained about poor food quality. It might be a new chef who hadn’t mastered the recipes, new ingredients that didn’t taste as good, or menu changes that customers didn’t like.

The final step in the process is taking action. “It’s one thing to know what the themes are,” said Toister. “But if you don’t do anything with it then you aren’t able to improve your business.”

Small business owners can spot insights to improve their business by spending just 30 minutes per week analyzing online reviews.

Sort reviews by newest first. Focus on the most recent trends.

Create a check sheet. Identify what customers say most often about your business.

Search for themes. Look for both positive and negative trends.

Investigate issues. Dig into the root cause of things that dissatisfy customers.

Take action. Leverage these insights to improve your business.



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