For years, restaurants have used customer surveys, mystery shopping, printed comment cards, inbound emails, and the like to gauge how well they are meeting their customers’ expectations.

Using these traditional tools to see how customers have felt about the experience can provide some historical insight. 

Since the feedback is dated, however, this “rear view mirror” hindsight can only go so far in helping restaurateurs predict and plan for the future.

Feedback volume from these traditional sources also continues to decline, with response rates from these channels falling from 50 percent in 2007 to 28 percent last year. 

This is because today’s customers have unprecedented platforms to share their thoughts on the guest experience—anytime and anywhere.

Facebook boasts some 900 million active users worldwide; 140 million active Twitter users send 340 million Tweets everyday; Yelp has surpassed 66 million monthly unique users; and the number of check-ins recorded by the more than 200 million Foursquare users has topped 2 billion.

In light of this constant whirlwind of technological advances, restaurants need to take a more proactive approach to find out what their customers think.

Most restaurants that monitor social media feedback look at it through a marketing and public relations lens, using it to reach out to customers. Today they also need to turn that around and use it to collect data.

Combining historical data with online conversations gives restaurateurs an under-the-hood look at not only what their customers are saying about their dining experience but also why they are saying it and how it impacts their business strategy.  

A recent example from Crave America Restaurants brings this process to life.  Sweet Heat, one of the signature cocktails of Crave, is supposed to be spicy. Made with Bacardi Dragon Berry, mango, jalapeno, St. Germain, and white cranberry, it's meant to pack a punch.

But, by mining and analyzing guest feedback online, Crave uncovered a pattern of comments and complaints from customers who found the drink too spicy.  One mention could well be an isolated error, but when the company tracked mentions at multiple restaurant locations, management started thinking they had a problem with the recipe or ingredients. 

The issue, they learned, was that the potency of the jalapenos varied considerably from one batch to the next, so following a standard recipe for the drink was a mistake. Crave quickly addressed the issue by letting the bartenders use their discretion to season the drink to taste.

Parasole Restaurant Group’sGood Earth restaurant also used real-time online customer feedback to drive operational improvements.

Management had noticed that customer service was slipping but was unable to truly understand why and what steps would be most effective to turn things around.

As Sarah Nerison, social media marketing manager at Parasoleexplains, “We knew we had issues with customer service, but we really weren’t sure what the root causes of the issues were. And with an increasing number of competitors moving into our market, it was even more important to make sure we are delivering an exceptional experience to our customers.”

Tapping into the data and information that were created specifically for Good Earth, management could see over time customer feedback themes that bubbled to the top in feedback online. These performance reports not only validated the low customer service ratings, but also crystallized the trouble spots that needed improvement.

Equipped with new insight, Good Earth’s managers shared the findings with the staff, made the necessary modifications, and continuously recognized and rewarded employees for their improved customer relations. Within a few months of implementing changes, customer service ratings (based on online customer feedback) improved by 78 percent.

Gleaning customer intelligence from online conversations helps restaurants evolve from a “rear-view mirror” reactive mindset to a forward-thinking social media thought leader. 

By listening to and understanding the deeper meaning inherent in open-ended commentary online, restaurants can effectively pinpoint the real operational issues. These are the issues that impact the local customer experience and make the real-time changes necessary to deliver a superior experience and drive continuous loyalty. 

Ashish Gambhir is the co-founder of newBrandAnalytics.Based in Washington, D.C., newBrandAnalytics is the leader in social business intelligence solutions for the restaurant, hospitality, retail, travel, and leisure industries.  Its flagship offering, Social Guest Satisfaction, is used by thousands of restaurants, hotels, and retailers and is proven to improve guest experience. The company was recently named the Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic 100 Company of the Year.






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