If you’re a restauranter, you know the game is high volume and low margin. To be successful in business with this type of model, you need to make sure you have repeat customers. One of the easiest ways to get your customers to come back is to provide them with an exceptional customer experience.
Don’t just take my word for it: a 2017 Deloitte report showed that a positive experience will encourage 60% of guests to be more frequent customers at a restaurant. Happy customers like going back to establishments that make them happy. Pretty obvious right?
Although it’s probably even more obvious, providing a great customer experience also helps increase revenue. A Salesforce survey revealed that 67% of customers will pay more for a great experience. Customers are willing to pay a premium for a great time.
The benefits of a better experience are hard to ignore and if you care about your bottom line, you should definitely care about providing a great customer experience.
Here are the four main places (outside of food) where restaurants can make changes to improve the way they provide a dining experience to customers:
Have An Empowered Staff
The foundation for a great customer experience at your restaurant(s) is employing an empowered staff that is highly engaged and committed to delivering that experience. This operational mindset makes every single staff member feel valued and even more invested in delivering a great customer experience.
So how exactly do you empower your staff to give better customer experiences? You need to make sure they are well trained and educated on your restaurant’s values and expectations and most importantly, they need to feel like they are a part of the team.
One method of engagement is empowering employees to have a sense of ownership in the business. By passing over some of the control into their hands, staff will become invested in the overall success of the operation and feel they are a valuable part in making it work. What’s more, in letting go of some of the reigns in managing the often-hectic operations of a restaurant, operators can also free up some of their own time.
It’s important to train your employees on how to deal with potential guest issues with empathy. One of the best ways to leave a positive impression is to have a strong rebound after dropping the ball, which means fixing a mistake right away and taking ownership of said mistake. This ensures that a customer leaves validated, knowing that their issue was important to your brand.
Personalize The Experience
Any restaurant can have great food, but one of the major factors that separates great restaurants from the rest is the personalized experience for each customer.
A 2016 OpenTable survey revealed that 95% of diners would return to a restaurant “if the staff catered specifically to their personal preferences.” In addition, 70% want to see a similar personalized dining experience at a casual restaurant. Personalized experiences AREN’T just for fine dining establishments.
Small steps like greeting a guest by their first name (“Hello Martha! What would you like?”) put guests at ease and make them feel cared for and accommodated. Train your team on “service with a smile” hospitality concepts, and to project warmth and friendliness in their communications. Have your staff utilize their non-verbal attributes such as eye contact and friendly body language; though simple, these non-verbal cues can make or break an encounter with a guest.
Streamline The Wait Times
The worst part of going out, for any customer, is a long wait time. Modern technology and the rise of mobile ordering have given customers an unprecedented number of options in when, where, and how they enjoy their food.
If your customers choose to come into your brick & mortar establishment, they don't want to have to wait around all day. Do your best to keep wait times as low as possible so you can guarantee the accuracy and quality of the meal as well as a time frame that’s manageable for your employees. Train your employees to work in a timely manner and make sure your establishment is well-staffed during busy times.
According to the data we collected with our customers, long wait times are one of the top 2 causes of a dissatisfied customer experience. Don’t let long wait times be the reason your customers don’t come back.
Collect & Respond to Customer Feedback
One of the most important things you can do to make sure you’re providing a great customer experience is to measure your customer experience. The easiest way to measure your customer experience is to collect customer feedback.
You can collect customer feedback through a variety of channels such as surveys, email, comment cards, reviews, and so on. The reality is, you will collect social media reviews passively without having to do much (check out our Yelp Mafia blog post), however I think it’s super important to collect direct customer feedback as well.
I may be a little biased but I believe Benchmark Intelligence is the easiest and most effective way to collect direct customer feedback. We help restaurants collect customer feedback through short (on average, 60 seconds) text message surveys. Our surveys have proven to reduce online negative reviews by 50% because sending a text is easier than downloading Yelp. Also, since the feedback is collected via text messaging, you can RESPOND to customers in real-time using our application. Letting customers know their voice has been heard, especially after receiving negative feedback, is very important for retaining that customer.
Ok, now that I’m done with that plug, the reality is, collecting customer feedback is super important. But the job doesn’t stop at collecting the feedback, the MOST IMPORTANT part of the whole process is utilizing the data to make operational changes to ensure you don’t keep having the same customer experience issues. Data is your best friend when it comes to providing an exceptional customer experience.
Did you know that 75% of consumers purchase a product because they saw it on social media?
I’m not talking about ads from brand pages either. I’m talking about products or services that consumers saw their friends, family, or influencers share on their social media. Yes, some of these posts may have been sponsored posts where the content creator was incentivized to share the product or service, but the main point remains the same: consumers buy from people on social media, not brands.
Now the million dollar question: how do you get your customers, ideally your happy customers, to share your brand on social media with their friends and family?
Well for starters, if you’re a restaurateur and reading this, you’re in luck. Food, along with fashion, is one of the most shared products on social media. People love taking pictures of food and even more people love drooling over said photos.
Now keep in mind, we’re talking about getting your happy customers to share your establishment on their Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter page. This isn’t how to get more reviews on brand pages (although the principles are pretty much the same).
Getting customers to talk about your brand on their page is much more powerful than getting a review because you are now able to tap into that customer’s list of friends and family and hopefully turn them into new happy customers. Here are the TWO main ways you can really get your customers to talk about your restaurant on social media.
Presentation is everything, from the way the food looks to the way your actual establishment looks. When something looks cool, unique, or different, people want to take pictures or share it on their social media accounts. This doesn’t mean the food has to necessarily look fancy - it just has to look tasty. For example, if you are a small establishment that specializes in grilled cheese, you should make sure each sandwich made is golden toasted and dripping with cheese. In other words, your food needs to be photogenic.
I can tell you from personal experience, not only as a professional in the industry but as a proud foodie: whenever I take a photo of my meal on Instagram, I get a number of direct messages asking me where the food is from. Many times, those friends of mine become new customers to that establishment. When you have beautiful looking food, people want to share photos of it.
But the presentation doesn’t stop just at the food. If you can make the inside of your restaurant cool and photo-friendly, people will want to take photos. “Influencers” are always looking for an excuse to take a photo - give them one. One great example is a restaurant I go to in Fresno, CA called Bocca Taqueria. They make amazing Mexican food that isn’t super fancy or expensive, but the space looks very nice inside and they made an interesting wall where people love taking Instagram photos in front of.
There is nothing wrong with giving your happy customers a little extra push to share your restaurant on social media. I still believe you should focus heavily on presentation, but sometimes customers need a discount or something for free before they post your brand on the precious real estate they call their social media.
You can do this a number of ways including offering them an incentive if they check in on Facebook or Instagram. However, getting restaurants to incentivize their happy customers to share their positive experience on social media is something we specialize in over here at Benchmark Intelligence with our Happy Customer feature.
When a customer takes a short Benchmark Intelligence text message survey, our system will ask the customers if they’d like to share their experience on Facebook for an incentive (example: free fries). That customer will then be prompted to share a Facebook post about their great experience along with sharing a branded splash page link (example) that includes an incentive (example: $1 off a large sandwich). When their friends and family see the customer’s post about their positive experience, they will click the link and check out the splash page where they can screenshot the coupon to use later.
The idea is that we turn our clients’ happy customers into brand ambassadors. The average Facebook user has close to 350 friends. Every time you get a happy customer to share their experience on Facebook, that’s 350 potential new impressions for your brand. And if you’re able to offer them an incentive like you can with Benchmark Intelligence, there is a good chance many of them will come try your establishment.
In conclusion, if you can get your happy customers to talk about your restaurant online, it’s one of the best and cheapest growth strategies you can implement, even if you have to give them a little free/discounted food. Remember, consumers are much more likely to buy from a friend posting about a restaurant than an ad from your brand page.
Work on the presentation of your food and restaurant to increase the organic sharing of your restaurant and don’t be afraid to incentivize your customers to share their positive experience.
If you’d like to see how we do it here at Benchmark Intelligence, be sure to book a demo. You don’t necessarily need to use software like ours to incentivize your customers to talk about your restaurant on social media, but we sure do make it a heck of a lot easier and more effective.
If you follow Benchmark's blog, you will know how important feedback is for businesses. Check out our article here to learn more! But one question always comes up.
What is the best way to collect that feedback?
The default answer for most people is to put an email on their website's help section like email@example.com and hope that solves the problem. Or they set up some long feedback form on a website that looks complicated and scares off customers.
But we have a better solution! Below are three reasons why text message feedback through Benchmark Intelligence is a better option than email or forms!
Texting is faster and easier than emails or forms
When a customer has an issue at your business, they want to address it immediately. But most people don't feel comfortable saying something face to face. So they go to your feedback solution. If you are using email or feedback form on a website, one of two things happens.
Either by the time they get home and are able to fill out the form, they have forgotten their issue or don't care enough to give you the feedback anymore. This isn't good, because their problem wasn't resolved, which means it will still affect other customers and this one might not come back to your business again.
Or they can't find your solution easily, and instead they go to a public forum such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, etc. Posting their issue here will scare off other customers from ever even trying your business!
Texting solves both of these issues. Texting is something that can be done fast and easily, and since it is on everyone's phone, most people give feedback with Benchmark within 5 minutes of being at your business!
You can have a conversation
One of the biggest advantages of text message feedback is having an open line of communication with the customer.
When your customers fill out a form, their information goes into a database with every other response, usually never to be responded to. Even if you get alerted and you email them back, email has a much lower open rate than text messages. People pay attention to their phone!
With this open line of communication, you can work directly with problem customers to solve their issues and turn them into loyal customers!
Here is what the statistics have to tell us about texting.
Numbers don't lie. Texting is much more prominent in our lives than emails, and that doesn't show any signs of changing.
What's the bottom line?
Texting is better and easier for your customers than emails or online forms. Every other aspect of your business is designed to make your customer's lives as easy as possible.
Why not your feedback system as well?
At Benchmark Intelligence, we've learned a few things about collecting feedback from your customers. From our CEO's beginnings in the online survey industry, to providing text message feedback software for hundreds of restaurants across the United States, we've seen the common mistakes businesses make when creating a survey.
Here are 3 tips to making a great survey!
1. Keep It Short
If you've ever been to a fast food restaurant, you might have noticed a link to a survey at the bottom, in exchange for a free food item. If you've ever filled one of those surveys out, you'll know why they have to offer free food to get you to do it.
They are so long! People don't want to spend a long time filling out pages and pages of questions. They want to get straight to the point. And when you have these long surveys, customer typically just click through randomly, hoping to get through it faster. Meaning the feedback you get isn't even accurate!
With our text message feedback software, we've found between 3 to 10 questions to be the sweet spot. Business that use us have a a 90% completion rate, and it's because their customers don't get fatigued half way through the survey.
They also don't have to incentivize customers to fill the surveys out, which not only saves money but it also means the feedback is unbiased as it can be!
2. Focus On The Right Things
Have you ever tried telling a story, but your friends keep interrupting with mundane questions? You're trying to explain your feelings, but all they want are more details. It's very annoying.
Too many surveys ask the wrong questions. What did the customer buy? What store did they visit? How many times have they visited before?
Customers don't want to answer your questions. They want to talk about their experiences, and how it pertains to them! Your questions should be based around the customer leading the conversation, and what was important to them. You'll not only get a lot more feedback, you're also more likely to end the process with a happy customer!
For many Benchmark users, customers report that just have a place to easily give their feedback stopped them from posting a negative review online. So not only did you get valuable feedback, but you stopped a negative review that might have driven another potential customer away from your business!
3. Have A Conversation
So you've created your survey. You've gotten it to your customer, and the customer has actually filled it out! What's the next step? Is that the end of it? Hopefully not.
Too many businesses treat the survey as the final step in the customer satisfaction experience. The customer's responses go into some database somewhere to be reviewed later so that changes can possibly be made even later than that!
The problem is if you've got customers with problems, you need to deal with them now if you want them to stay customers. If a customer goes too long without their issue being addressed, they are likely to just stop coming back and take their business elsewhere. In the worse case, they could even go online and trash your business, hurting your relationship with potential new customers!
With our feedback solution, customers who want to be followed up with can be texted directly to their phone. You can have a conversation with them, work on their issues, and turn them from a problem customer into a loyal one!
It's evening in New York. The owners of a small, family owned pizzeria are washing dishes and wiping down tables, preparing to go home for the night. A man walks in. He is friendly enough. He tells them that they have a nice restaurant, and it would be a shame if something happened to it. He says he can protect them... for a price.
Extortion. Fraud. Racketeering.
It sounds like the plot to a cheesy mafia movie, but it is exactly what Yelp is being accused of in the upcoming documentary Billion Dollar Bully.
Directed by Kaylie Milliken and produced by Prost Productions, the documentary was inspired when her doctor complained about negative reviews from a patient who did not exist. They have since raised over $90,000 on Kickstarter.
According to interviews with business owners who were approached by Yelp, if they didn't agree to buy advertising with the company, then positive reviews for their business would disappear from their profile, and negative one would go to the top (eater.com).
Another tactic supposedly used is falsely flagging restaurants for buying positive reviews by offering free meals or money. As this is against Yelp's terms of service, they have the ability to punish them.
With alleged practices like these, the metaphor of a digital Cosa Nostra seems to fit. In fact, many restauranteurs approached for the interview declined to be on camera, fearing retaliation from Yelp.
Kaylie has stated that she is not out to dissuade people from using Yelp, only examine their business practices. But while she is not seeking to hurt Yelp, it appears she has. Their stock went down 4% when the Kickstarter campaign was going on (businessinsider.com)
In Yelp's defense, the Federal Trade Commission investigated the company, and closed its investigation after not finding sufficient evidence.
Yelp has declined interview request by the documentary, but when the movie started to get traction, they launched a smear campaign against Kaylie, alleging that she is ignoring facts and is herself guilty of trying to create fake positive reviews for her husband's law firm (CNBC).
Yet it seems like their attempts to discredit the documentary has only generated more interest in what it has to say.
The documentary has completed filming and had some limited screenings, but has yet to be released to the general public. We will have to wait until it is out to make any final decisions. But what is clear is that Yelp has become a very divisive topic, both for restaurant owners and users.
South Park has done an episode on Yelp, having the character Cartman using Yelp to bully restaurant owners into humiliating themselves and giving him free food. Family Guy as well has taken shots at the company, calling Yelp a "weapon for dumb people".
Whatever the truth of the documentary's claims, Yelp is facing a public relations issue. Whether they make a peace, or go to the mattresses, we will have to wait and see.
Have you been to The Shed at Dulwich? Probably not. Back in November of 2017, it was the number one ranked restaurant in London on TripAdvisor, beating out over 18,000 other establishments. If you tried calling in a reservation, you would be told that it was booked solid for months! But that's not even the craziest thing about London's hottest little eatery.
It doesn't exist.
That's right. The entire restaurant was nothing more than a hoax. A test to see if TripAdvisor could catch them, and the validity of online reviews in general.
The idea first came to Vice reporter Oobah Butler when he was being paid to write fake reviews for restaurants, despite having never eaten at any of them. It got him thinking of how many other reviews could be fake, and could even the restaurants themselves be fake? He was going to find out.
He decided to turn the shed where he was living into The Shed, a restaurant that would, according to his website, serve "moods" instead of meals. The food looked appealing (though the behind the scenes photos did not). He even bought a burner phone to act as the restaurant's landline. All that was left, was to get some reviews.
TripAdvisor has anti-scammer technology that flagged reviews that are all coming from the same computer. So he, like many other people who buy reviews, enlisted real people (in this case his friends and family) to write great reviews for his nonexistent restaurant.
After a few weeks of doing this and rising in the rankings, he started to get calls for reservations. People actually wanted to come in for dinner! When he tells them they are fully booked, they try using their jobs and connections to get a seat!
According to Butler, "the appointments, lack of address and general exclusivity of this place is so alluring that people can’t see sense. They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling."
This strategy continues to work, until eventually in November of 2017, The Shed at Dulwich becomes the number one ranked restaurant in one of world's largest cities, on one of the world's most trusted review sites, despite having never served a single customer!
It's scary to think how much we can be manipulated by fake reviews. In the case of The Shed, the positive reviews skyrocketed them straight to the top. But what about negative reviews?
In my article on customer feedback, I talked about how bad reviews can affect a business's revenue. Butler's story shows us just how far you can take fake reviews. What is there to stop someone from using this method to hurt your business?
Sites like TripAdvisor say they use "state-of-the-art technology to identify suspicious review patterns". Yet The Shed calls into question how much faith we can put in these companies to ensure that their sites reflect the truth.
The Shed's profile on TripAdvisor has since been taken down, but you can see an archived version here. As you read through some of the comments raving about the great food they've never eater, and the wonder experience they didn't have, think about your business, and how much of your success you want to leave in the hands of sites like these.