There’s more to online reviews than just a star rating. Studying customer comments can help you determine what you’re doing right and, more importantly, what areas you should focus on for improvement.
Imagine Dominique Jones, owner of a small salon in a medium-sized town. Her clients are happy and her employees are friendly, so she doesn’t really worry about the online world. The salon has enough business that she doesn’t even advertise. When one nail tech leaves and she hires someone new, Dominique doesn’t worry much even when things get a little quiet. If she took the time to check out her online reviews, though, she might realize that clients aren’t happy with the new technician — she’s too focused on upselling and isn’t making the effort to remember them. By staying offline, Dominique is missing out on valuable information that customers are providing about her business — for free.
Review sites are powerful marketing tools and they’re here to stay. As of this year, more than 77 million reviews are available for clients to read before deciding where to spend their dollars. Nine percent of all Yelp reviews cover the beauty and fitness category, according to company research. Use these forums to your advantage by peeking inside the mind of the consumer to see what matters most to her. It may not be what you expect.
All reviews that follow are real, taken from Yelp, with contact information removed.
Review 1: A three-star rating might not seem great, but most customer experiences are just that — fine, nothing special.
> This three-paragraph review contains four references to speed and timing. Are you getting clients in and out of your salon as quickly as they’d like?
> Cleanliness was mentioned second, before decor or service quality. Take a fresh look at the initial impression your salon makes. It should be spotlessly clean.
> The reviewer mentions the manicurist by name. Are your staff members faceless or are they memorable after even a single interaction?
> Pricing is a factor, but not a deal-breaker. Menus should be designed to offer services at a variety of price points.
Review 2: A long review isn’t necessarily better or worse, it just reflects a personality difference among reviewers.
> Parking and signage are as important as being able to deliver a quality manicure. Does your website give new clients enough information to navigate easily to your front door? Are parking options discussed when an initial appointment is made by phone?
> A client’s initial impression begins with the exterior of the salon, so strip mall or no, you’ve got to begin your branding efforts there.
> The first thing to catch the reviewer’s eye was the shoulder and neck massages. Whether you’re massaging hands or feet, give it your best. Clients often cite the massage portion of the service as a primary reason they keep coming back.
> Learn to read your customer. This reviewer didn’t want to be upsold and didn’t want to have her polish choice questioned. Practice dialog that makes your customer service come across as natural and professional, but be prepared to abandon the script if the client isn’t responsive.
> Why didn’t that Groupon user come back? In some cases they’re price shoppers, but in this instance it was the quality of the service that turned the client off. Are service issues a recurring theme in your reviews?
Review 3: A short review gives you less to work with, but you can still get a few clues.
> This reviewer was “blown away” by having her choice of the latest nail options. Are you keeping current on the latest trends or simply doing what you’ve always done?
> Again, cleanliness is top of mind in new clients. Remain vigilant about your cleaning routine — and check the bathroom several times a day.
> There’s nothing better than a review with an explicit and unqualified recommendation. It’s natural to sing the praises of those things we love the most. If word-of-mouth isn’t growing your business, then you need to reassess your business model.
Review 4: This positive review is all about service — making clients feel pampered and special.
> A welcoming staff and a relaxing atmosphere are the keys to a great experience for this reviewer. Both features require little or no money to put into place, yet make a huge difference in whether customers will want to return.
> A little flexibility goes a long way — in this case it’s permission to bring alcohol that seals the deal. Clients don’t fail to notice when you go above and beyond.
> A secluded room was just the thing for this bunch. Do you have a special spot for groups, or a way to provide privacy to individuals who prefer not to socialize?
> It sounds like this client would have been willing to pay more. Are you undervaluing your offerings?
> This reviewer missed having background music — a great nugget of constructive criticism and a reminder to appeal to all the senses.
Review 5: Personal attention and phenomenal customer service are the hallmarks of a successful salon.
> Some of us are better than others at remembering our clients’ personal biographies, but for many clients this little touch means a lot. Consider adopting a system to note birthdays, family details, and past services.
> Exceptional skills are always worthy of a shout-out. This reviewer singles out the new nail artist for praise.
> Freebies like a free paraffin treatment with every pedicure go far to ensure customer loyalty.
Review 6: This extreme example demonstrates a clear need for ongoing training and systems that promote consistency.
> Temperature was an issue for this client. Do you have the ability to warm up cold hands or furnish a heated neck wrap? Can you cool clients with an ice cold drink in the summer months?
> As the reviewer notes, just because you open your doors doesn’t mean you’re ready for business. Do you get in early enough to complete your pre-opening routine?
> Being touched by someone who is clearly unhappy to be at work is an unpleasant experience. We all have bad days, but we need to learn how not to inflict our moods on others.
> No one cares about price and convenience if customer service basics are overlooked. Salon clients are paying for an experience, not just a few slaps of polish.
Take the Higher Ground
It can be frustrating to read negative reviews of your business when you know someone isn’t telling the whole story — like how she was thirty minutes late, kept changing her mind, and yelled at you. But as a business owner, you have to take the more mature position. If you choose to respond, make sure you write back to all reviewers rather than just the nasty ones. A simple message like, “I’m sorry you were unhappy,” doesn’t mean you accept blame and will make you look caring and professional. You may want to reach out to any reviewers with legitimate complaints and offer to make things right.
Eliana Osborn is a freelance writer living on the U.S.-Mexico border with her family.