Harness Technology and Nip Negative Reviews Before They Happen

Customers can be stopped in their tracks by negative reviews, keeping your business from growing the way it should. By strategizing to avoid these harmful negative reviews, you can see direct growth and improvements in guest relations. 

Negative reviews are a detriment to restaurants since they impact not just reputation, but revenue as well. 86 percent of customers hesitate to purchase from companies with negative reviews. A single negative review can drive away 22 percent of customers and three negative reviews can drive away 59 percent of customers.

Before the digital age, if customers were unhappy with their experience, they would simply share their unpleasant experience via word of mouth. Now, with review platforms such as Google, Yelp and Facebook, to name a few, unhappy customers can share their discontent causing further damage to a business. Since 79 percent of customers put as much weight in online reviews as they would recommendations from family and friends, it’s critical to nip negative reviews in the bud. 

Most customers do not sit down at a restaurant with the intention of leaving a negative review. Many factors contribute to a negative customer experience. If a customer is unhappy and feels as though they were not heard, or if there was no action taken to rectify the situation, it could result in a negative review. However, steps can be taken to prevent these reviews and ensure that every customer has a pleasant experience. Through communication with the customer, whether that be in person or through technology, situations can be remedied—stopping negative reviews before they happen.

The key is understanding your customers and their expectations. A study conducted on an e-commerce website showed that the terms “disappointed” or “disappointment” were used 20,000 times due to misleading information about the products and services offered. Through the lens of the food industry, this could have a major impact on the number of customers that decide whether or not to dine with a business. It’s not surprising that customers voice negativity when expectations are not met. For example, if a restaurant touts itself as “the best steakhouse in New York” and then offers $7 hamburgers instead of an exceptional cut of steak, it has then set itself up to disappoint the customer.

Ways to Avoid Negative Reviews 

So how, exactly, does a restaurant guarantee customer expectations will be met and that a customer will leave the restaurant feeling satisfied with the experience? With today’s technology, avoiding negative reviews and maintaining communication with customers is easier than ever and can prevent negative reviews from happening when following these six best practices:

1. Directly communicate to customers that they will be heard

Communicating with the customer to ensure that if  “things aren’t right then we want to know” is vital and simple. Signage or even a welcome message when the guest arrives gives the customer, before any negative experience, the knowledge that they will be heard and gives them an alternative route that does not include going to Google or Yelp to leave a negative review. Here’s an example:

“Welcome to Bob’s! Your experience is our greatest priority. If something is not up to your expectations, you can text us or ask to speak to a manager. Our staff will fix the problem now, Yelp can’t do that!”

2. Uniquely engage the guest

 Customer service carries significant weight in the restaurant industry, yet it is one of the top drivers of negative reviews. Traditionally, during the dining experience a well-trained customer service representative, such as a designated server, floor manager, chef, or owner will approach tables and ask, “Is everything to your satisfaction?” A well-designed program will often have sensitized these individuals to know when to approach, i.e. they’ve been seated but haven’t been served, or several of the customers are finished. They are also trained when not to approach, such as an ongoing conversation, or the food just arrived.

However, there are two problems with this. First, the individual isn’t available all the time. Managers may be dealing with issues elsewhere, or servers may be running orders to other tables. One minute after the manager walks away the food runner might drop off hot soup without a soup spoon and it takes the server 3-4 minutes to return to check up on the table, and the soup is now cold.

Secondly, some people are averse to anything that might feel like confrontation and therefore would never share a negative response. Unfortunately, those guests are often the ones that are willing to let their fingers do the work. 

What’s the solution? Utilize technological advancements such as SMS via data collected from your WiFi hotspot. Send out an SMS 10 minutes after the guest is seated, just reminding them, “If something is not right, we will fix it! Click here.” The beauty of this technique is it resolves both of the above negative issues with the personal check-in.

In the first case, receiving a text is not a “hard” interruption of someone standing at the table, where the guest feels obligated to stop what they are doing to make eye contact and engage the staff. Instead, customers can attend to the text on their own time. As for the non-confrontational guest or introvert, the text is perfect as the guest, if they find it necessary, will share freely without the anxiety of engaging another human.

At this point the options are limitless, but all stem around damage control that will allow resolution while the guest is readily available, such as, “I’m Steve, the general manager. We can fix this. Can I have my manager come to your table or would you rather I call you tomorrow?”

3. Provide follow-up

Guests choose establishments because they enjoy the food, people, and environment, so their patronage must be recognized and valued. A follow-up text after the guest has left your establishment is a great way to show that sentiment and, for reviews, can also be a game changer.

Twenty minutes after the guest leaves the establishment send an automated text, ideally highly personalized based on the guest's behaviors, for example, “We love seeing you on the weekend, but we noticed this is your first visit on a Wednesday in 6 weeks. How did we do? (link to a survey).”

Note the awareness of the normal behavior of weekends and the unique behavior of the weekday activity. This reminds the guest they are an individual and not just another table. The advantage of this message is that it’s personal, therefore the request “How did we do?” is personal and should get a personal response. The guest has the opportunity to provide feedback and is less likely to leave a negative review for a restaurant that values them so highly. 

4. Be Easy to Contact

Be easy to contact and be available on the medium the guest prefers to use. This is accomplished through an integrated approach. From the above text messaging model, the guest now has a permanent way to contact your facility without Google searches.

Additionally, when a customer conducts a Google search, Google is going to ask, “Do you know this place?” The next step is the request for a Google review. But with text messaging you are available, and with the right solution, the number the guest would be receiving texts from can also be linked directly into your phone system. This has transitioned interactions from cumbersome texting to the guest being able to speak with a real person.

There are also options beyond text and voice contact. A great enhancement is to use your digital displays. Rather than an option that reads “let us know,” include a personalized message with direct contact information. A message like: “My name is Steve and I always want to know if we can improve. Text feedback to xxx.xxx.xxxx to message me.”

There are also missteps to avoid in the solicitation of information to dodge a negative public review. Don’t push guests to any platform that would be counterproductive, such as social media. In social media space, encourage the guests to utilize private review channels. For example, something as simple as “Review Hotline XXX.XXX.XXXX or text REVIEW to XXX.XXX.XXX” might appear in various, prominent locations in the channel, or as a part of any post. Via social media, SMS, and digital display, share how to contact someone about their experience. Incorporating a QR code can assist with ease of communication.

5. Add More Lines of Communication

Being active with customers via social media and SMS is vital to successful interaction. Channels of communication such as SMS are highly underutilized by businesses as only 39 percent  of businesses message with customers. Since the majority of customers read a message within the first five minutes of receiving it, adding lines of communication through SMS is beneficial. Additionally, opting to neglect these lines of communication can be harmful to a business as 59 percent of customersbecome frustrated when they cannot communicate with a business via SMS. 

6. Encourage Customers to Leave Reviews

While you don’t want a customer to leave a negative review, reviews are still vital for any business. Since the majority of customers check reviews before purchasing an item or choosing a place to have dinner, encouraging customers to leave a review when they’ve had a positive experience is imperative. Not only do positive reviews improve brand reputation, but encouraging reviews will solidify existing relationships with customers. Inviting customers to express their opinions shows them that you care about what they have to say and tells them you want them to have a good experience. This can be done in an easy and non-invasive way that will appeal to even the shyest of introverts. Any time a customer is inside a restaurant, send out an SMS asking them about their experience. 

Through communication with customers, there are a plethora of ways to avoid negative reviews. Setting up channels that accommodate every guest allows businesses to cultivate a customer’s experience. Social media, SMS, and digital communication are vital to a business to create customer relationships that not only last a long time but allow negative reviews to be minimized. By showing customers you care for them in these ways, the result at the end of the day is a success.