This is the age of the customer.
“The consumer has more power today to give feedback in a number of ways, from social media, websites, and call centers to actually coming to a restaurant and having an experience,” says Lonnie Mayne, president of InMoment. “They have a very loud voice.”
To capture consumers’ voices and present their thoughts, criticisms, and reviews on a dining experience, the industry has seen an influx of platforms to meld the consumer voice into one actionable package for operators.
One of the companies in the field creating results is InMoment. InMoment, which was formerly known as Mindshare Technologies but rebranded in June, listens to customer opinions and presents them in a simple and neat way for restaurants. It uses what it calls the experience hub to learn about guests’ experiences, capture and centralize the data, and offer the information to restaurant clients so they can improve their businesses.
For restaurants, InMoment often captures the guest experience through consumer surveys that include both open-ended and structured questions. The information that the Experience Hub spits out can help brands understand whether their identity matches with consumers’ perception of them, how new dishes are perceived, and how the menu can be adjusted to show a better value. It can even be used to train new staff.
Full-service restaurant clients of InMoment include The Melting Pot and Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s. The Melting Pot has worked with InMoment for six years. More recently, the brand used the information it received from InMoment to raise its perception of value with guests when it launched a new menu in January 2013.
Mike Lester, president of The Melting Pot, says he’s been told he uses InMoment in an effective and useful way. The restaurant began working with InMoment (then MindShare) in 2008, when the Melting Pot decided to move away from its mystery diner program and instead implement InMoment to survey guests about the meal, the experience, the service, and the brand in general.
“Right away, we learned some very important things about our guests that dispelled some long-held beliefs that we had within our organization,” Lester recalls. “The Melting Pot is more of an experience, and we felt, as operators, that our guests enjoyed a lengthier, more paced-out experience. And by and large that’s true, but what guests told us was, there were certain elements of the experience they wished could be a little more efficient.”
The immediate feedback opened Lester’s eyes, he says. “If we didn’t realize this right away, what are some other things that we need to learn about our guests?”
That’s when the Melting Pot began asking InMoment about other aspects of the dining experience it was curious about, to drill down into guest feedback and create actionable insights.
The Melting Pot presents its survey to guests in a couple of manners: with a code at the bottom of the receipt that the server circles, and with business cards that servers hand to each diner at the end of the meal. Each server writes his name on it, so if there is a table of four dining in, there would be one of those business cards for every single guest at the table. “We don’t really want to hear from just one representative of that experience; we want to hear from all four people, if they’re so inclined to it,” Lester explains.
Guests can complete the survey using a mobile device, a computer, or even by phone. On the rare occasions guests provide a review by phone, Lester says the voice messages become part of the company’s training, as managers teach employees how to respond to a complaint or query as if it occurred in-person.
“I tell you, there’s no substitute,” Lester says. “I don’t know of any other online review site that allows you to hear an actual customer describe the experience they had, and it’s really neat to hear them talk about that in their own words.”
Crafting the Right Menu
The new menu was the result of a yearlong test in eight Melting Pot locations. To conduct these tests, the fondue restaurant worked with InMoment to create a slightly different survey than the normal national one.
Besides the core questions, guests were queried on specifics about the menu: what they liked, what they didn’t, what was working for them, what needed improvement.
“On the new menu, there were several key areas where we saw significant gains, ‘perception of value’ being the most obvious and dynamic one,” Lester says. “After hovering around the same level of ‘perception of value’ for the last two or three years, we ended up with this new menu shooting up 6 percentage points, which is a sizable gain. Overnight, we introduced that.”
Mayne says that without the right surveys in place, or any feedback portal, it’s difficult for a brand to judge whether its perception of itself matches how consumers regard it.
Lester says he always felt The Melting Pot provided great value to its guests, “but there was something in the way that we were communicating our experience to our guests that somehow, they didn’t get the same sense of [value],” he explains. “Well, this new menu and the way we structured it was different. It resonated with the guest, and we were able to immediately see that what we had was working.”
InMoment also has OpenTell, its version of a review website such as Yelp! OpenTell houses only verified customer reviews, meaning those from people who have actually eaten at the restaurant. It distinguishes by locations, so if a brand such as The Melting Pot has more than one unit and uses OpenTell, each OpenTell reflects the guest feedback for a particular location.
Lester says OpenTell helps people who look up a particular Melting Pot location understand current specials and relevant information.
Besides learning that guests wanted more efficiency at certain steps of their meal and understanding how the menu positioned it as a higher-value restaurant, the Melting Pot has used InMoment to drill deeper into several initiatives: It tested out a kids’ menu, but learned it did not resonate with guests; it trains servers and managers with real-life voice feedback; and it regularly experiments with new dishes. If they don’t meet a minimum criterion, they don’t go on the nationwide menu. This helps the brand plan specials and limited-time offers up to a year in advance.
“A lot of things we tested six months ago for late spring/early summer are going to roll out in the same period in 2015,” Lester explains. “We have an opportunity to make sure everything resonates with our guests and everything works well, so that when it hits national distribution, we know we’re not going to make any mistakes.”