At a time when competition for customers is heightened, understanding what they want and gauging their satisfaction create a critical advantage. Meaningful feedback can allow operators to recapture disappointed customers, identify areas for staff training /recognition, and reveal recurring problems as well as opportunities to evolve.
In the race for rich customer feedback, technology is changing not only how it is obtained, but also how effectively it can be acted upon. Scores of restaurateurs have moved beyond comment cards to Web-based surveys, which provide more immediate opportunities to process data and identify issues. Other technologies are changing the landscape of consumer feedback, and understanding the powerful tools these technologies provide can benefit even those restaurateurs for whom they currently seem out of reach:
Real-time results. The less time between customer feedback and operator response, the more powerful the opportunity to act, including recovering dissatisfied customers. Technology providers such as Mindshare Technologies (automated customer feedback and reporting solutions) and TableTop Media (wireless interactive tabletop touchscreeens with menu/payment/entertainment/survey capabilities) are moving their clients beyond the mode of passively waiting for feedback. For example, Mindshare continuously processes data obtained from automated phone surveys and Web-based questionnaires; customers are prompted at time of payment and/or on tabletents to call or take an online survey – and many do on the spot, from their cell phones. Beyond just measuring if customers are happy, says Rich Hanks, president, Mindshare Technologies, minimizing the time between the dining experience and obtaining feedback gives operators the chance to take action and address issues immediately. “If I’m a restaurant manager, I need to know now if food tastes good or if the servers are performing, as opposed to finding out days or weeks later.” TableTop Media’s tableside “Ziosks” also prompt customers to provide feedback while still at the table – when their credit card payments are being processed and again after the transactions are complete. “Obtaining feedback from customers during their experience makes the data much richer,” says Jack Baum, ceo TableTop Media. (Note: Jack reports that response rates from TableTop Media’s Ziosk surveys are so high – over 90% for the survey at time of payment, and around 30% for the post-payment survey option – that questions can rotate frequently, even during a service period, and still be statistically sound.)
Alerting management to problems. Closing the critical gap between information and action is accelerated by systems that are also programmed to trigger immediate notification of appropriate people based on what customers are saying – both positive and negative. “The TableTop Media system can page the manager when there’s a low score, which gives him or her the ability to recover guests while they are still at the table,” says Jack. Mindshare’s system can also monitor accountability. “Supervisors can track whether a manager responded to an alert, so gms are held responsible for getting back to customers,” says John Sperry, ceo, Mindshare Technologies.
Data aggregation and analysis. To get the maximum benefit, it’s essential to have the ability to analyze feedback in a meaningful way. In addition to their Web-based and automated phone surveys, Mindshare’s technology helps clients aggregate information from other feedback channels they may be using including emails, social media and blogs, comment cards, mystery shoppers, and transaction information. “Our goal is to enable clients to integrate all that information when reporting,” says John. That’s a lot of data, but as he points out, “There’s a difference between data and actionable information,” which inputting reporting into a single system can help.
Rich also addresses the critical difference between aggregating and analyzing sales and/or CRM data (gathered from tracking customers’ histories, their likes and dislikes, etc.) and working with feedback that comes directly from customers about their most recent experiences. Mindshare delivers recordings of calls in the form of MP3 files, which can be played for purposes of staff training and recognition. “Nothing is more powerful than hearing the actual voice of the customer, literally the emotion in someone’s voice. It’s a huge part of what we do.” And, he says, there’s no denying that an event took place. Jack touches on a similar nuance. “We have found that feedback obtained directly from a customer using the Ziosk at the end of their experience is more honest than an interaction with a manager.”
Fast and targeted flow of information. Technology-driven feedback systems have another powerful advantage, and that’s getting information to the right people quickly – via email or Web-based reports. Customized reports can be sent to all levels and individuals within an organization. “Our goal is to deliver information not just to corporate headquarters, but also the operator,” says Rich. “If you target everything at a high level, you can make strategic decisions, but you don’t have anything immediately actionable. Reports aimed at the store level can be used there and also easily rolled up the pipeline to upper management.”
Other feedback channels are available. OpenTable.com now has a diner-feedback tool that reportedly records more than 200,000 responses monthly. OpenTable sends diners an email request for feedback within a day or so of having dined. They are asked to rate the restaurant in a number of categories and define what’s special about it, which is posted on OpenTable – after being filtered for inappropriate content. (There are also options to send a private note to the restaurant and provide contact information.) “Dining feedback forms are delivered in their entirety everyday to the restaurants,” explains Scott Jampol, senior dir. of consumer marketing, OpenTable. Scott says that some restaurants input the ratings into a spreadsheet and “crunch the numbers;” OpenTable will also provide some metrics showing patterns in overall ratings over periods of 30 and 60 days. “Restaurants that leverage the feedback they get from OpenTable diners tell us they have been able to improve operations on an ongoing basis as a result.”
Technology has also enabled a relatively new channel for feedback: social media. The challenge with social media is to extract actionable information. “It’s not intended as feedback to a company per se,” says Rich. “It is unstructured – difficult to quantify, report, and act on.” Manually tracking mentions on blogs, forums, and social media sites is time consuming, but there are a growing number of technology tools which attempt to manage the process, such as whostalkin.com, socialmention.com, and tweetbeep.com. (For a list, see More Resources.)
While it’s good to be aware of what’s being said about your company, Rich adds that simply gathering social media comments will leave you with very little actionable information. “You don’t necessarily know where and when an issue happened, which employee(s) performed poorly, etc.” He suggests connecting with those who’ve made comments you’d like to pursue, and giving them a means to provide you with potentially quantifiable information via a link to a Web-based mini-survey. You will still need to dedicate at least part of an employee’s time to filtering and responding to comments and to managing your social media presence, but it will add to your critical understanding of what customers want.
October 12, 2009