How Customer Reviews Provide Lifeblood For Restaurant Operations

How Customer Reviews Provide Lifeblood To Restaurant Operations

Details gleaned online — including menus and reviews — carry a lot of weight when consumers are deciding where to dine. The days of stopping by brick-and-mortar establishments to check out menus and sample food are long gone, replaced by scanning social media accounts, hashtags, user reviews and digital images before selecting where to spend hard-earned money.

The digital push is beneficial for both sides of the equation. Customers can find out where their peers are happily returning after good experiences, for example, while eateries can invest time in digital platforms that provide prospective diners with information to secure their patronage. An escalating dependence on technology has made search results and review services like Yelp primary guides for valuable user feedback — with 90 percent of consumers reporting in January that they researched reviews before selecting restaurants. That focus has only grown amid the takeout- and delivery-only operational shifts due to COVID-19-related social-distancing efforts.

As reported by PYMNTS, the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing to the forefront services that offer quick, seamless online ordering tools. It has also showcased the importance of both online reviews and a robust social media presence.

Peer assessments were becoming staples for consumers even before the recent digital shift to maximizing public health and safety. But more than 55 percent of consumers now consider online reviews influential in selecting restaurants. Effective reputation management can thus mean the difference between scores of orders, deliveries and reservations and slow Fridays with blank waitlists. The following Deep Dive explores the influence digital reviews have on restaurants’ standings with customers, the impacts of negative feedback and how operators can use the world’s digital focus to their advantage.

The Value In Quick Responses 

Customer feedback is more than a short description with a star-based rating. Reviews are like social fingerprints, demonstrating that consumers deemed their experiences worthy of feedback — both good and bad. Careful attention to reviews could give management a firmer handle on how to tweak their restaurants’ marketing or address problem areas.

Management teams often fall short in addressing this feedback — avoiding the process or forgetting to undertake it — but their replies are gaining importance for current and would-be customers. In a survey, 94 percent of consumers said bad reviews convinced them to avoid businesses, for example, and 53 percent said they expect businesses to respond to negative reviews within a week.

Restaurants have opportunities to distinguish themselves here: 45 percent of consumers report being more inclined to visit those that respond to negative reviews, meaning quick feedback could be the difference between acquiring new customers and losing the chance forever.

Timely responses are easier for some companies than others, however. Approximately 62 percent struggle with the process and do not offer any feedback on customer-service emails. According to one survey, those that do respond typically do not do so in a timely manner. Companies take an average of 12 hours and 10 minutes to respond to customer service emails, leaving customers who had positive experiences without prompt acknowledgment of their kind words and those with negative experiences waiting more than a business day for resolutions to their concerns.

Hospitality is all about service, and customers want instant access to strong feedback systems that let them know their input will make products and services better. Any shortcomings can ruffle users and cost organizations trust, revenue and time. Some sources said 13 percent of dissatisfied customers will share those experiences with more than 20 people. But those reviews have infinitely more reach on message boards and through digital word-of-mouth. Customer retention efforts are thus paramount in ensuring restaurants can keep their doors open and their kitchens cooking.

Addressing Negative Reviews

It costs nearly five times more to earn new customers than to retain current ones, according to recent research, and just a 5 percent improvement in retention can result in a 25 percent to 95 percent upgrade in profits. This makes the processes of keeping customers satisfied and bringing dissatisfied customers back into the fold crucial to restaurants’ growth. The addition of a half-star in rating may impact revenue by 5 percent to 9 percent. Negative reviews represent suboptimal brand encounters, but fortunately, their impact does not appear to be permanent.

Recent research has found that recovery efforts can reverse customers’ attitudes toward service providers, meaning it is possible to pinpoint disgruntled users, address their issues and turn them into loyalists. Responding to comments promptly and with action items starts a dialogue, encouraging dissatisfied patrons to reach out to a specific person for further help with a concern. Expressing gratitude for their willingness to share their experiences and condolences for falling short of their expectations goes far in diffusing hostility, too, as does taking responsibility for the negative situation.

Goodwill offerings can also shift undesirable brand opinions: Monetary compensation is the most common strategy in hospitality, with restaurants offering complimentary meals or discounts to encourage customers to give them another chance following unsatisfactory experiences. Others provide coupons, free products or services and discounted parking — but more than a one-time gesture is needed to drive repeat business or customer satisfaction. Proving to customers that actions have been taken to resolve their issues takes precedence.

Restaurants are providing hospitality services, and customers need to feel they are cared for at the end of the day. Each patron must be provided the best service, giving them every reason to leave five-star reviews throughout the digital realm, yet eateries sometimes fall short or forget to respond to the positive and negative comments their customers leave. Customer feedback is invaluable, however, and hearing and addressing concerns can help create a loyal following for years to come.