Improve your game by eavesdropping on your customers

It is a well known fact that a very large part of the population today share all kinds of tips, experiences, gripes, frustrations, laughs, photos and links online. Using websites and smartphone apps like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google+, Urbanspoon, Foursquare, Forkly, Path, Instagram, Pinterest, Foodspotting… where was I? There are just too many to count.

What it amounts to is a massive torrent of information endlessly scrolling past on our screens.

According to a study from last year well over 80% of web users who share content online do so on social networks and blogs. This is often public information available through search engines. When it comes to sharing with friends and colleagues via email (in other words, more private) the number is even higher, a whopping 93%!

A lot of that shared information is pure, unsolicited, honest opinion. Some of that information will be about your restaurant, and your competitors!

Should you worry about this? I’d say no, quite the contrary. You should encourage it!

As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. There is no way you can stop people from sharing opinions and photos of your food and restaurant with their friends, so you might as well spend some time figuring out how to turn it into a marketing opportunity.

Specifically, there are two areas of opportunity (at least…):

  1. Marketing, the trusted (sometimes feared…) word of mouth kind. Through the very act of sharing; be it an emailed link to your menu, a check in on Foursquare, or a photo of a dish in your restaurant posted on Facebook; your brand is distributed to your customers’ friends and beyond.
  2. Listening, learning what your customers say so you can improve your business.

The marketing opportunity is fairly straight forward. What you need to do to encourage sharing is mainly related to your website. A few important areas to support, that you can discuss with your web developer:

  1. Be active on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and add their so called sharing buttons to your site.
  2. Make sure a link leading straight to your menu is easily shared on any social network, or in an email.
  3. Supply visitors to your website with beautiful photos, that they can share. Here is the important part: don’t hide the photos in an interactive gallery, or some sort of movie. In order to be able to share them, each photo needs to be available on a separate page. Keep it simple.
  4. Start a blog where you post mouth watering recipes once every other week of dishes you serve in your restaurant. Always add a tasty looking photo and share a link to this yourself on Facebook and Twitter.

Consider offering free WiFi in your restaurant to make it as easy as possible for people to share photos and comments on social networks while they are dining. This is a very common practice today.

It goes without saying that you need to make sure your customers have a great experience! Wow them, surprise them, make them feel taken care of. That’s the kind of moments people want to remember, and want to share with their friends online.

When it comes to listening, there are a number of potential benefits. Think of your online customers as a loosely defined focus group, or not so “mystery” diners.

Monitoring their conversations can help you understand which dishes that work, which don’t, if you have service issues recurring on certain days or shifts, if your restrooms are letting you down… You won’t believe the things people share. See it all as intel for improving your game.

Use Google Alerts and tools like HootSuite.com where you can set up automated searches for brand names and keywords to:

  1. Surprise people in real time! Did the couple at table 4 just share a photo fo a dish online saying it looks stunning? Go over and say thanks. Perhaps even comp their coffee in appreciation. Surprise and delight.
  2. Improve your restaurant’s food and service. Pick up on what people complain about to understand where you fall down. Or where you get it right and do more of that!
  3. Improve your online and real world reputation. When someone complains, contact them and help them out. Try to turn the bad experience to a great customer service moment.
  4. Build relationships with loyal customers. This is again part of encouraging your customers to share, to try and reach a larger audience. You probably already know the regulars at your restaurant, but do you know if they are active online? Passionate people tend to have large and active online followings. By reaching out you may get your name and links to your site and blog spread far and wide.
  5. Check up on the competition. Don’t just see what people say about you, you can of course also see what they say about other brands you like, compete with, or aspire to be like. What good / bad things are said about them? Is there something there that may be an opportunity for you?
  6. Keep track of what’s going on in your local neighborhood. Use social media to keep a pulse on what is going on around you. Are their events you can join to get your name out there, any interesting bars, retailers, or other venues that are running campaigns bringing people to your area?

While you still can (and perhaps should, to get more data around specific questions) run surveys and comment cards via email or in your restaurant, the unique nature of social media is that people voice their opinions of their own accord. Straight from the horse’s mouth, which means that it will have an honest quality to it, and potentially influence the decisions of those who listen.

Are you monitoring what is said about you online? Which tools do you use for this? What benefits are you gaining from it? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below, or talk to us on Twitter: @Freebookings

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Comment by Magnus Hultberg on March 21, 2012 at 10:06am

Thanks! :) That service sounds really interesting. What I have found for most independents and smaller brands is that it is difficult sometimes to find relevant comments, either due to a generic brand name making it impossible to search out things about themselves, or due to a low volume.

The volume issue can be mitigated by being more active, and doing things like events, but with a very generic word as your name it gets nigh on impossible to search out comments... 

Comment by Emerald Reilly on March 21, 2012 at 10:02am

Hi Magnus, you hit the nail on the head with this one. One the best aspects of social media is the ability to use SMMS tools to listen and gather conversations about your brand. I couldn't agree with you more in regards to thinking of your online community as a focus group. Gathering and interpreting the online conversations about your brand can be even more indicative of your guest's wants, preferences and needs since they are unsolicited and unbiased comments. I run a division of FohBoh that provides reports for restaurant chains, foodservice manufacturers and marketers called FOHBuzz Analytics where I gather hundreds of thousands of "sound bites" and interpret the information to move data to insights to ideas. It's amazing the amount of information we can gather from social conversations! Thanks for the post. 

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