Bad Social Media Review?

Do you regularly look at your reviews on Yelp and Google? If not, you should be.

The ones that gush positivity (“awesome place!” “great food!”) will make you feel good and energize you for the long day ahead. But then there are reviews like this one, delivered via Yelp to a restaurant with an entertainment area this past summer:

“Good location, but freaking expensive. Also, if you order food or drinks away from your table, please look at your receipt. Most likely they have added a tip into your tab. Perhaps more than you would have tipped these under-par servers in the first place. They don't deserve 20 percent. Slow, inattentive, unfriendly, borderline rude.”

That’s not going to make any manager feel good about the service they’re providing.

OK, so maybe it was an off-night. That’s happening more and more in the hospitality industry because, let’s face it, recruiting, hiring and retaining staff is a huge challenge in the current employment environment.

But your customers don’t care about your hiring problems. Rather than ask to see a manager and express their concerns, customers are increasingly turning to social media review sites  (which is admittedly easier than complaining in person). And the next day there’s a scathing Yelp review criticizing  customer service, the quality of food or both.

What should be your reaction – fight or flight? When it comes to bad reviews, neither is the right response.

“Flight” means ignoring that review and avoiding the conflict. In essence, you’re telling yourself, “That’s just a bad customer.” Even so, you shouldn’t handle them by ignoring them.

“Fight” means making excuses (“we were understaffed,” “the bartender didn’t show up”). To quote Bar Rescue creator and best-selling author Jon Taffer: “The common denominator of failure is excuses.”  In the case of a bad review, perception is reality. Your customer perceived a bad experience and that’s the reality you need to deal with, no excuses allowed.

In the case of the review I mentioned earlier, as managers it’s up to us to train staff to provide consistently courteous and prompt service. As soon as a customer feels ignored, we’re going to have a hard time getting them back.

So how should we approach that angry customer? The simplest way is to handle that conflict head on. I have found that people who aren’t willing to deal directly with a conflict don’t last long in the hospitality business.

We must fight to keep every customer from fleeing to our competitors. That means we must strategically respond to every negative Yelp/social media review – not just for the person who had the bad experience, but for anyone else who happens to read that review. If they see a thoughtful, well-written response, they will think of you in positive terms.

Respond to that bad review by saying thank you: “Thank you for taking time to write your review. I’m so glad you brought this to my attention. We want to provide great service and I apologize that we didn’t meet your expectations. Please direct message me your phone number. I would love to talk to you further.” Or give them your phone number.

This is not easy to do. You must swallow your pride and ignore your instinct to avoid conflict. You could even invite that customer to try you again. When they come in, comp them something (an appetizer, a round of drinks). Then check on them personally from time to time to make sure they’re having a better experience than they had last time.

Once you have turned the situation around through guest appreciation, it’s possible that you will not only have made a customer for life, but also turned them into a brand ambassador. How wonderful would it be for that same customer to write a second review saying they’ve changed their opinion of your establishment?

Here’s where I would start: Go back through two years of reviews and respond to each one personally, inviting them to give you another opportunity to exceed their expectations. Face the conflict head on and you will be salvaging not only a lost customer but your reputation as well.