Sep 242012
 

I travel. A lot. Airline staff greet me by name and not just because I’ve left my conference name tag on my jacket.

So when I’m in a new city and looking for a place to eat, I amble down the street to see what I can find. Invariably, there is one restaurant that is empty and the staff are waiting around for customers yet right next door is a full restaurant with a queue of hungry people.

So do I pop into the empty restaurant congratulating myself on finding a seat? No way! I join the queue. I figure the crowd has already researched where the grub is best. As I walk past the empty restaurant I wonder: what do they think about the restaurant next door? Do they assume they have a better advertising budget? Do they know why people aren’t coming to their restaurant?

Little known fact about me: my family used to live in Cairns. Not perhaps a very important fact but it explains why I have a number of FNQ friends on Facebook. Today on Facebook, a status update from Nicky where she noted her disappointment in going to a top restaurant in Palm Cove and how bad the food was: “After years of wanting to go to dinner, I finally went on the weekend and found it to be a disappointing experience.”

Within seconds she had another nine comments from other friends who had shared similar bad experiences: “Even the wine list was bad. I was at the point of writing a letter but guessed if they are putting up food like that, they probably don’t care anyway.”

My first thought was, “Wow! I have a lot of friends in Cairns”: which would be irrelevant except that, in social media terms, everybody knows everybody.

Not just in Cairns but in any group united by a location, or a purpose or a topic. So this review is spreading wildly, virally with anyone who might have gone to this Cairns restaurant. I say “might” as I suspect the reviews and comments are filling up a lot of Cairns Facebook discussions at the moment, and that ain’t good for this particular restaurant.

While a bad review is bad enough, the real problem is that the restaurant has zero idea they are being so thoroughly caned by trusted sources. By trusted sources, I don’t mean restaurant review critics, I mean your mum, your sister, your best friend and others that share your taste in restaurants. You see, Facebook doesn’t give up those discussions easily, as the conversation is not taking place on the restaurant’s Business Page, but on my friends’ personal pages. Not publicly available.

If the outpouring of negative critiques was so immediate, there must be some sign in public review sites of discontent. Because I am nosey – an asset in online community management – I decided to investigate further online.

Here is what I found when I looked up this (unnamed) restaurant online:

Facebook Pages: The Business Page of the restaurant has photos each day of cocktails. While it made me want to go and drink a pina colada, it didn’t really give a full picture of the restaurant’s brand. Facebook Pages as an “advertising channel” is not unusual – but there was no sign of discontent. Contrary to popular belief about negative criticism, most of us grew up with the “if you can’t say something positive, say nothing at all” mantra, so we don’t publicly post bile. The majority of the discussions were how to make the cocktails, not about the experience there.

QUIET...I want to eavesdrop.

Facebook Places: Use your mobile phone to “check in” and review the restaurant. The reviews were thin on the ground. Places is not being used a lot, or at least not in Queensland or not about this restaurant.

Foursquare Check-in: Similar to Places, Foursquare has 20 million users with mobile phones checking into restaurants, hairdressing salons and doctors’ surgeries. They win badges and special offers for participating. The news was not good: One fellow had written: “Pick another restaurant. Service was average, up to 30% surcharges on some items, and they wanted us to pay by cash instead of by card. Never again.” Ouch.

Google Plus Local: Google just has to copy the others, and make it bigger and better. Google collects as many check-in services as it can, aggregates the reviews and then displays them. So not just Google reviews but also Booking.com, Frommer’s, Expedia, TripAdvisor, everybody. In the case of this Queensland restaurant, the reviews are mixed. One person did get food poisoning and went to hospital and never got a call back from the restaurant but others enjoyed the service albeit found the food expensive.

It seems to me that the restaurant, if they care about their customers at all, would want to know about people’s experiences. Good, bad, indifferent, doesn’t matter. Once you know, you can choose to ignore it or fight back, or change, or apologise or sue or … but you need to know. And not just restaurants but any business being discussed – accountants, beauty salons, lawyers, financial planners, all of them.

Social media tells you exactly what your customers think, no more guessing games, no more marketing evaluations, no more feedback cards. The unloved restaurant can now know exactly why the restaurant next door is full, and theirs is empty, but only if they want to know.

Proper social media monitoring tools save time on research but don’t answer the question of what to do once you’ve found negative criticism online.

So, I’m thinking of following up with either a five step “how to” series on monitoring business reputation online or eight steps for dealing with negative criticism from customers. Which one do you need most?

This article first appeared in on Smart Company.

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