The power to make or break a restaurant lies just as much with the patrons as with the chef. Just a one-point increase in star rating on the popular reviews website Yelp can increase a restaurant’s revenue by five to nine percent, according to research from the Harvard business school.
The ability—and willingness—of diners to praise and complain about restaurants instantly using mobile apps is the most important trend in the dining industry since farm-to-table. As Scott Wise, owner of the 13-location chain of Scotty’s Brewhouse brew pubs in Indiana says, “It would be nice if people would just let me know privately on the occasions when we screw up, but that’s not the world we live in now.”
Today, customer service is the new marketing. Here are the eight habits restaurants must adopt to be great at customer service and win the hearts of current and future patrons.
Habit 1: Answer Complaints Everywhere
Customer service isn’t just about the telephone and email. Today, 38 percent of all customer complaints are in social media and review sites, and restaurants get 14 percent of all complaints (second only to multi-brand retailers), as I discuss in Hug Your Haters.
Every restaurant must commit to answering diner complaints wherever they appear, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, TripAdvisor, other local review sites, discussion boards, and even new chat-based tools like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
It is critical that every complaint be answered, because replying to a customer complaint online increases that customer’s advocacy by up to 25 percent. Not answering decreases advocacy by as much as 50 percent.
Action Item: Commit to finding and answering every customer complaint.
Habit 2: Embrace Complaints
Today, customer service is a spectator sport. Each time a restaurant answers (or fails to answer) a diner on Facebook, Yelp, or any other channel, hundreds—and potentially thousands—of potential patrons will see that interaction.
The financial might of these spectators is massive, which is why smart operators like Fresh Brothers Pizza—a 15-location chain in southern California—prioritize these opportunities to interact with diners and onlookers. Owner Debbie Goldberg answers every online complaint herself, and always answers in public, never using private messages.
Action Item: Commit to answering every online customer complaint in public, keeping in mind the large group of onlookers.
Habit 3: Reply on Time
40 percent of consumers who complain in social media expect a response within one hour, according to Hug Your Haters data. One-third of all complaints in social media are never answered, but among those that are answered, it takes businesses an average of five hours to respond. That’s not fast enough to fix an issue while the diner is still on-site or nearby.
Action Item: Assign team member(s) to answer every complaint within one hour.
Habit 4: Negative Is a No-No
Restaurant owners and managers are rightfully proud of their work. Feeding people is a tough job that requires tremendous passion and commitment. This is why it is so easy for restaurants to take negative feedback personally.
Taking criticism personally can create two dangerous outcomes. First, many restaurant owners choose to not respond at all, decreasing diner advocacy and essentially assuring that patron will never return. Second, restaurant owners and managers sometimes respond with snark and accusations, creating a negative spiral that produces no victors.
In fact, restaurants should never go tit-for-tat with a customer. Never reply more than twice to any customer online, in any circumstance. Empathy and a simple, polite apology go a long way to satisfying upset diners online.
Action Item: Never respond to a complaint when emotions are high, and never reply more than twice.
Habit 5: Understand Who Complains, and Why
Women complain about restaurants 62 percent more than do men, and women complain about restaurants more than about any other type of business.
What are these complaints about? Often, online complaints focus on food quality, as might be expected. But it is just as likely for restaurant complaints to be triggered by poor employee performance. In fact, restaurants are the number-one industry for employee performance complaints online.
Action Item: Recognize that complainers are more likely to be female, and put additional emphasis on employee training.
Habit 6: Communicate With Clarity
Many diners become dissatisfied not because of an overt an obvious error or incident, but because of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Whether it’s lack of clarity around offers and discounts, not explaining specials or ingredients clearly enough, or front of house not being on the same page as back of house, insufficient information is the catalyst for much customer ire.
Every restaurant should evaluate every scenario where information is provided to patrons, including your website, Facebook page, voicemail, signage, menus, table tents, host/hostess communication, waitstaff communication, and more. Make absolutely certain every bit of information provided is as clear as possible.
Action Item: Audit all diner communication points for clarity, and make improvements accordingly.
Habit 7: Nudge Diners for Reviews
Reviews matter. 80 percent of Americans say ratings and reviews can have as much persuasive power as recommendations from friends and family members. Restaurants should encourage patrons to provide honest reviews on every possible platform, and most importantly on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.
Encourage reviews through exterior and interior signage and messages on menus. The most powerful opportunity is a simple reminder from waitstaff provided to diners when the bill is presented. Ideally, include a business card that shows direct web addresses where feedback can be left.
Action Item: Build multiple mechanisms into the restaurant experience to encourage more online feedback.
Habit 8: Treat Feedback as a Gift
95 percent of unhappy customers will never complain in a way the restaurant can find. They may say something privately to their friends, but they won’t “raise their hand.” This means that the diners who do take the time to complain are doing restaurants an enormous favor by pointing out how the business can improve.
Too many restaurants blame the patron and say things like, “If they don’t like eating here, fine; we don’t need them.” This completely disregards the fact that complainers provide an incredibly valuable and free feedback-creation service to the restaurant.
Action Item: Create a culture in the restaurant where all feedback is genuinely welcomed and used to improve.
It’s not easy to embrace negativity and customer complaints. It’s not simple to Hug Your Haters, but that’s what restaurants must do to dominate the important new opportunity of online customer service. Please enjoy this new infographic that I created, with help from the great folks at Pixel Road Designs.
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