Reviews were designed for businesses to gain feedback from their existing consumers, but often times, reviews emerge as a more powerful tool for business owners when potential customers have access to them. Nearly every brand or business has a platform for customers to leave ratings or reviews, from TripAdvisor to Amazon, and many people rely on input from others before trying a new product or service. There’s a vast body of research that indicates reviews help business owners gain customers—and not just any customer, but the right customer for their product. A consumer who knows what they’re looking for is more likely to take action and decide to try something if they have input from others. When it comes to the booming fitness market—where new studios are opening all the time—studio and gym owners need to be cognizant that the landscape has evolved to the point where reviews are necessary and key for the right users to discover and connect with their studio.

Below, we share some of our best practices for how to approach reviews as a business owner.

WHY ARE REVIEWS IMPORTANT?
There’s inherent risk in trying something new. While ClassPass works to make it easier and more accessible for users to explore different classes and studios, the fact is that 61% of customers seek out online reviews before making a purchase decision.* This means your prospective client base is already looking for reviews on Yelp, Google and Facebook (at ClassPass, data shows that Yelp is our fifth largest feeder site, with a recent focus group confirming that users often go to Yelp to read reviews before booking on ClassPass). This opened an opportunity at ClassPass to develop a review platform built for studio and gym owners, one that would showcase what elements of a class experience customers care about.

Many users don’t try studios they aren’t familiar with because they don’t have any context on them. With access to the right insights, a potential customer may be encouraged to travel an extra 10 minutes to a class they overlooked before. By sharing reviews with the ClassPass community, users are empowered to try new classes and studios stand out amongst the crowd. Early data points from our roll-out of reviews indicate an 18% increase in user exploration of different ClassPass studio pages, and we anticipate this will continue to grow as we expand the program.

Consumer reviews are also significantly more trusted (nearly 12 times more) than descriptions that come from entities or organizations, such as other brands, manufacturers or online critics.* So although larger studios may receive more press, reviews are an opportunity for smaller studios to shine and differentiate themselves in a saturated fitness market. Just think: no one uses Yelp to find out about McDonald’s; they use it to learn more about the neighborhood restaurant. The more reviews you have, the more likely people are to try you out. 50 or more reviews, for example, can mean a 4.6% increase in conversion rates.* Especially for studios in low-traffic areas, reviews can be incredibly useful in aiding discovery and driving users to try your studio.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MIXED REVIEWS?
Every business will, at some point, get a few mixed reviews—in fact, a couple of these in a sea of glowing ones is often convincing evidence that on the whole, their review rating can be trusted. Critical reviews are nothing to fear. Rather, they should be viewed as opportunities for you to showcase who you are as a brand and how you value your customers. Reviews serve as an extension of your selling platform, allowing you to essentially market to potential users by how you treat your clients.

Prospective customers generally understand that everyone makes missteps from time to time—and they are forgiving. Maybe the instructor was late due to a personal emergency, or the front-desk person was out sick. Consumers are used to filtering reviews through their own eyes, and tend to scan reviews for those written by people similar to them. 68% of customers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores, while 30% suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see any negative opinions on the page.* With that said, too many mixed reviews can indicate some problems, but ideally will highlight items business owners can take immediate action on. Reviews are therefore a way to pick up on trends before they become the norm. Do you receive consistent feedback about a particular instructor or class? Or was a critical review reflective of a one-off incident? Focus on actionable takeaways when going through class reviews. It’s all about how quickly, sincerely and effectively you work to resolve the issue.

HOW SHOULD I RESPOND TO MY REVIEWS?
We know how, as business owners, you pour your entire lifeblood into your business. Seeing a critical review can feel like a kick in the stomach. But don’t let one review undo the hundreds of positive experiences that users have at your studio—leverage it to your advantage. A professional response goes a long way, but you want to be smart about how you approach your reply.

While you may be tempted to respond to all your reviews, it’s important to note that ClassPass reviews are anonymous, and users won’t necessarily be prompted when you post a reply. Often times, it’s more about what other clients will see than one specific user. Don’t forget as well that one user’s mixed review may be another user’s confirmation of a great class. For example, a review that says, “I didn’t like this class, too many small movements and my legs were shaking,” may be exactly what a barre fanatic is looking for.

We recommend that you address only the reviews that mention tangible issues, to which you have a solution to offer. In doing so, you establish yourself as a business owner who is receptive to feedback and cares about customer satisfaction. Remember that nine times out a ten, people will be pacified and even impressed by excellent customer relations.  

When it comes to responding to mixed reviews, focus on these key steps:

  • Sleep on it. Waiting 24 hours to respond after seeing a review can make all the difference.
  • Resist harsh words. Put aside any hard feelings and refrain from posting a prideful, defensive or harsh response. You’ll want to acknowledge the review and apologize (even if you don’t wholly agree). Don’t “return fire” with backhanded apologies. Let a trusted co-worker or friend read through your response before you post it and take the high road whenever possible.
  • Roll with it. In the end, you can’t control the opinions of your clients. Attempt to mend any valid issues clients bring up, and keep focusing on providing the best possible experience.

Our goal with reviews, as mentioned, is to inform and match the right users with the right studios. We’ve developed a framework to help reinforce this approach. Community guidelines, which you can reference here, allow us to remove reviews that are profane, harass or are vindictive. Studio owners have the power to flag those reviews for removal and to respond to feedback.

WHAT IF A REVIEW…

Notes that class was cancelled?
Remember to cancel classes directly through your Dashboard. You can alert ClassPass users of cancelled classes by clicking the gear icon next to a class and selecting “Cancel Class” from the drop-down menu, which generates an automated email notifying them that class is cancelled. If you weren’t able to notify them in time, apologize to the user for the cancellation and advise that this was not the norm, and they will be notified of any cancellations in the future by ClassPass. Work with our team to return the class credit to the user’s account so they can book another time at your studio.

References a class the client missed?
Reviews and ratings from clients who miss class should be deleted automatically. Please flag a review noting a missed class that was not automatically removed.

Mentions a specific instructor who didn’t teach?
Keep your schedule up to date by editing directly from the pencil icon in your Dashboard or, if you’re integrated with your own scheduling platform (such as MindBody or ZingFit), update accordingly in your own system and then use Manage>Schedules in your Dashboard to refresh your ClassPass schedule. Apologize for the incident and let them know your schedules may be subject to change at last minute under extenuating circumstances, but are up to date!

Notes the client didn’t fully understand the class they reserved?
Help clients with all the information they need to make informed decisions. Work with our team to update class descriptions so all clients know what to expect before booking. Thank them for the feedback and let them know what you’re doing to fix it.

Don’t forget to celebrate great reviews!
While we don’t encourage you respond to every single review, for particularly thoughtful or outstanding ones, feel free to respond and show some love to your most dedicated ClassPass users. Often times, this goes a long way in building loyalty and community for your studio. Below, a few tips for ways to honor strong reviews:

  • Congrats on an amazing class. We really appreciate the enthusiasm!
  • It’s always great to hear such strong praise from our clients. Thanks for the love!
  • Thank you so much for coming. We love that you enjoyed your workout. See you for another class soon!

For more information on responding to reviews, check out our Help Center.

*Per econsultancy.com.