Dan Simons is a DC area restaurant & hospitality industry consultant and former employee of TGIFridays, The Cheescake Factory and eatZi's Market & Bakery. Dan is quoted last week in the New York Times, on the phenomenon of citizen reviews of restaurants. The customer is not only right these days, he is empowered to criticize effectively:

“Social media for business now is life or death...You could open a business and do everything right, but if you’re unaware of these social media you will perish. Social media can take a business and put a bullet in it.”

It seems that we can't go backwards. As it happens, it's not all downside, even in the case of negative reviews. Social media murmurs can translate to useful business intelligence. You're getting feedback, like it or not. And in many cases, everyone can hear it. The NYTimes article gives some ideas on what can be done.

What's a strategy that'll work for you?

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Non-Operator
Comment by Paul Paz on August 11, 2009 at 11:06am
@Subba..

You are correct about business owners being empowered to us SM to manage their reputations. The challenge is that the restaurant industry operators have been relatively show in adapting to these new online options. That is starting to speed up as those operators who have taken th elead hav edemonstrated the power of technology and SM (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc) as inexpensive direct engagement with loyal customers, future prospects, and event their employees.

I'm not so convinced that to be effective online that you have to monitor and respond to every online comment. With a little research one cn find the top three SM sites that hold the greatest number of postings about your company. I'd suggest at sart with those three and build an online rapport with that communty..

Paul
Comment by John Dumbrille on August 11, 2009 at 10:15am
Great discussion; I dont think there's fundamental disagreement here.

Having an outlet that the customer can feel is his or hers to use is a good idea, and having it right there, in the restaurant, is ideal.

Which brings up an issue.

Trust and control, in this environment, can be inversely proportional. Whose application is it?

People want to interact with other people that have a similar experience. And those people could be found in a million crevices. Many of these crevices can be scraped by technorati or twitter automated search tools. Others require more digging.

In the end, just like restaurants, people pick a web place that they are comfy with – a home away from home, among several – to unwind in. It might be on a blog, or a yahoo group, or text messaging, or a phonecall, or twitter (in passing: 'What a lousy meal - 50 bucks down the tubes!') or a restaurant review site. And it may be on another proprietary tool that they trust or that they can sustain benefit from. If it appears as a black box that the restaurant does its data mining out of, I need some counterweight, like a coupon, something, from the experience. And that can help me feel better. But in the end, some people will still may go home, fire up their PC, and spam the restaurant's good name.
Comment by John Dumbrille on August 11, 2009 at 8:25am
SM = social media... ( not S &M)

The problem with media platforms is that they are many, and ubiquitous. We can't own THE platform, any more than NBC or FoxNews can. And it's probably just as well.

But we can ride the wave.

I'm also in the software industry, and I can appreciate your product and its intent, Subba; it may do well. But we shouldn't forget that people can now self organize, and come to a common understanding, independent of what you or I own. And the results of real experience are becoming visible to everyone. We have to own up to that.

Non-Operator
Comment by Paul Paz on August 10, 2009 at 7:07pm
@Subba...

You are correct about nipping the problem in the bud by making the correction(s) before the customers leave your business.

Unfortunately, most customers won't complain during the business transaction at a eating and drinking establishment. They just won’t come back and become a negative word-of-mouth (WOM) vehicle.

I have often heard from staff, managers, and owners, "Why didn't they (the customer) just say some thing? We could have fixed everything right then!"

The thing to remember is in the dining environment the customers are there to have a nice, fun, pleasant, enjoyable time. The last thing they want is to bring upon themselves and their guests is negative attention to their moment, table, or group.

Being forced to complain is a very negative experience that is so distasteful for the consumer that more times than not the deal with the problem in silence.

We have to look at the www to provide businesses with feedback (good or bad) on how are customers appreciate, hate, disagree, or are unhappy with us as companies doing business in a community.

It would be easier if our customers would just speak up before they leave, but as they have demonstrated very clearly, in the past... they won't. But that doesn't stop them from voicing their opinions on the www.

That's where SM becomes a real asset to a business. A business can take a first hand look at opinion trends of their customer from SM platforms to take a closer look at their operations in search of resolutions that satisfy their client base.

It's also a medium to monitor rumors and out right lies about your company.

Paul
Comment by John Dumbrille on August 10, 2009 at 7:06pm
Hi Paul - Its interesting. I think engagement is the key here. We can't all be wired in at every moment, but there are ways and means of keeping track of what is a rich vein of data.

Subba I agree - being aware of where customers are, in the flesh, is usually a very reliable key, if it can be interpreted well and consistently. However...

I for one don't always wear my heart on my sleeve and share my feelings with a quality control person in the restaurant. Not all people are forthcoming, and restaurants don't always get to know: the qa person's not there when the guest gets up; "hows the meal" can be intrusive and can be shut down by the guest with a polite and unreliable "good thanks" ; the tent card on the table is ignored, seen as self serving. We don't always know.

Non-Operator
Comment by Paul Paz on August 10, 2009 at 6:49pm
Hello....

John... couldn't agree with you more!

Your company is already being talk about on the www on SM outlets. Better join the conversation and be prepared to put your best foot forward in the SM world.

On a more positive note, FOBOH member Libby Tucker, had a great comment on SM in a conversation we had. She said, "Companies already have a loyal customer base that is active in SM and they would love to hear from their favorite business. There's an audience of hundreds, thousands, maybe millions just waitng for you (your comany/brand) to say something!"

Paul

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