In the restaurant industry customer feedback is a ‘thing’. Irrespective of whether we want to hear it or not it’s coming our way and the most likely forum is highly public. We cannot opt out of TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google or any of the other review sites (and I wouldn’t want to!), so we have to accept the situation we are in.
The reality is that even if your industry doesn’t have a widely used public review platform someone somewhere is probably developing one. Even if you think that is never coming to your industry your customers are talking about their experience with your business, so they are reviewing you the old fashioned way on a daily basis.
As someone who entered an unfamiliar industry customer feedback has been a useful mechanism to drive improvements in my business even if it can feel painful and personal at times. If you feel like your business isn’t benefitting from collecting customer feedback, could do with revisiting it’s systems or is suffering because of negative feedback then read on. If you build these steps into your processes then you will unlock some fantastic insights into what you can do better and also create a closer relationship with your customers.
The first step to using customer feedback is to gather it in the first place. Every business should have methods of gathering customer feedback across various channels and there are no excuses because the options available to you are plenty.
Methods for collating customer feedback include: emailing clients, calling clients direct, using an independent service to complete a customer survey, email surveys (i.e. Survey Monkey) and a whole lot more.
What you need to do is work out the best one or two for your business.
In the restaurant trade we naturally attract some feedback on TripAdvisor, but I would say this is insufficient on it’s own especially because of the psychology of leaving reviews in a public forum. Review sites tend to deal in the extremes, the vast majority of revie3ws are positive and the lower end of the spectrum can be less than useful when it comes to addressing legitimate concerns in your business.
We aren’t prepared to just go on the reviews we get on TripAdvisor.
At Norse our primary method for getting customer feedback is a comment card. Every table that eats with us is given a comment card (with a pen – remove barriers to leaving feedback) as the bill arrives. The front of house team also introduce the comment card and say we’d be really keen to read any feedback.
Our comment card gives a few pointers towards the kind of information we’d like to know about but it’s a free text space. For my business I don’t feel that quantitative feedback is particularly helpful. I don’t feel the need to monitor average ratings for dishes or a generic undefined level of service. What I’m hoping to gain are those little gems of information I can act upon and that give me an insight into what a makes a specific guest tick.
Filling out a comment card at the end of a meal isn’t everyone’s idea of fun so we incentivise completion it by offering entry to a monthly draw for a free meal at Norse. If you haven’t got something appropriate to offer and you’re in our area get in touch – we’d love to work with you on this and be the incentive you offer to your customers.
I am sure that this is one reason why so many people fill out their cards.
We write on our card that customers should only fill out their details if they are happy to receive correspondence from the restaurant about new menus, offers etc etc. We manage our email list through MailChimp so guests are able to unsubscribe at any time. Every time we send out an email some guests unsubscribe but the vast majority are still on our list and we average about a 50% open rate which I think is reasonable for the industry.
In just under two years we have received over 1200 completed comment cards, and I only count a guest’s first card and ones that leave their email address on the bottom.
There are undoubtedly challenges in respect to gathering feedback, but you have to do it if you want a clear picture of what customers are thinking (and saying) about your business. We haven’t been doing a great job of this in our cafe (Baltzersen’s) of late so we’ve made a couple of changes that should result in far more feedback and subsequently also more reviews on TripAdvisor. We’re going to monitor the results of these changes and report back in mid-April.
Once you have received some feedback, good or bad, I believe it’s good practice to respond to it. I have to admit that on TripAdvisor we haven’t been great at replying to all our positive feedback, we’ve started tying that loose end up over the last week and aim to keep this up.
I have personally replied to over 1200 of the comments cards that guests have left in the restaurant and I continue to do so on a daily/weekly basis.
First of all I think that it’s good manners, but more than anything else it is a pretty simple way of standing out above 99% of the other restaurants in the industry. It is very rare that, having left a comment anywhere in any industry, you receive a personal email from the owner of that business addressing the specifics of your feedback. It’s a golden opportunity to open up communication with your customers and show them that you appreciate their business.
We have been offering and responding to customer feedback for so long now at the restaurant that many of our regular guests will still fill out a card at the end of every visit. Many guests want to feel involved with a restaurant and by consistently offering their feedback they are helping to hone what we do. They are genuinely part of the wider community of the restaurant and their input is hugely valuable.
If the guest has enjoyed their meal with us I also go a step further and ask the them if they would mind reviewing us on TripAdvisor or Opentable. This is pre-qualifying reviews. If we know guests have enjoyed their meal then they are likely to leave a positive review – it delivers a more targeted approach than say an automated email that goes to every customer asking them to leave you a review.
We also offer a little freebie for guests that fill out a comment card, a small gesture just a glass of wine on the next visit to thank them for helping us to improve the restaurant.
So, the bad ones.….it is absolutely imperative that you respond to bad reviews and feedback. I haven’t always thought that but my mindset was changed when someone framed it as being about speaking to an audience of potential customers reading your responses, rather than actually replying to the person that left the review.
Unless you are perfect it is only a matter of time before someone leaves a negative review. Do. Not. Panic. This is your opportunity to admit that you and your team are human and therefore fallible. What counts is how you deal with the negative review and, if it is in a public forum, how that is interpreted by those potential customers that are reading your response in the future.
I think how to respond to negative feedback is an entire post or probably a series of posts in itself so I’m not going to go into detail here. Negative posts can be turned around but often you need a way to take the discussion offline and if you don’t have the person’s contact details that can be very difficult to do.
We have made countless changes to the restaurant as a result of feedback we have received from comment cards. It could be anything from order of service, changes to dishes, pricing, drinks list even the heating or decor.
If your customer has revealed information during the exchange that speaks to their preferences then this should be recorded on your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system*.
All members of the team should be involved in collecting these little snippets of information because they can be used to improve the customer experience not he next occasion and potentially could offer the opportunity to wow the customer. We will record preferences for certain wines, glasses, dishes enjoyed. At the least it might give you the opportunity to talk about something on the next visit, or you may be able to get hold of something that a guest has requested on a previous visit.
It is no good having independently curated reviews that speak positively about your business hidden away somewhere on the internet where your customers won’t find them. In the hospitality industry we are fortunate that people use TripAdvisor and similar services as a matter of course.
If your industry doesn’t have a similarly well known review site then you can often integrate a widget with your website that will display the latest reviews and also direct customers towards an area to leave reviews.
So that’s how I do things at my restaurant Norse in Harrogate, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and anything you’d like to add to the discussion.
If you do get in touch I will respond to you and if you wish to receive a voucher to visit the restaurant then include your postal address and I’ll send you a gift card for use in either Baltzersen’s or Norse.
*a CRM system could quite easily be a notebook, address book, excel spreadsheet or an electronic system. It doesn’t need to be complicated, just somewhere to record information on your customers for further reference.