Social media feedback as customer prophecy

My wife and I decided to celebrate for no particular reason at a favorite restaurant. When my wife went to the restroom, I checked-in on Foursquare to pass the time.  When I “checked in” to this location, I was surprised and delighted to see a review from one of my best friends pop up on my screen. What a coincidence.  He had been to the same restaurant within the same week. Here was his review:

“This restaurant has always been a family favorite but the service has really gone downhill. I’m convinced the management and staff don’t even care any more.”

Wow.

My friend is a very kind and patient man, so the service must have been absolutely horrible for him to leave a review like that!

My wife returned to the table and after 10 minutes we still didn’t have anybody take our drink order.  Normally, I would have been engaging in conversation and probably not even notice this delay but now my Spidey Senses seemed to be tingling and tuned to the service level.

It occurred to me that I was now EXPECTING poor service because of my friend’s review.  The review had the potential of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether we had a good waiter or not, I was now closely watching for signs of problems.

“Don’t you think the service here is slow tonight?” I asked.  “I would really like to order a beer.”

“Well, maybe,” my wife responded. “But I’ve noticed that the waiter had a lot of tables getting their food at the same time, so I think this is probably normal.”

She had not received the same influential message that I had, and so had a totally different experience with the restaurant. She was looking forward to a nice meal at a bustling restaurant. I was looking forward to slow service.

This is how the power of online customer feedback can work for or against a business at any given moment.  I had not seen my friend or spoken to him about the restaurant. Yet his power of influence was now extending beyond space and time, to me and who knows how many others? This is a new kind of “conversation,” isn’t it?  Asynchronous, permanent, searchable … and powerful!

I think this also speaks to the role of social media as a rapid catalyst for change, service, and continuous improvement.

If the restaurant had been attentive to my friend in the first place, they never would have received that negative review. It’s possible that they don’t even know the review exists. And if they don’t address any core problems they’re experiencing, the reviews will continue to pile up to the point that they won’t know what hit them.

Social media is like a Darwinian catalyst. Businesses better adapt, adopt and become the “fittest” because the societal pressures through self-publishing and reviews like this is unprecedented and unrelenting.

With the emerging ubiquity of smart phones, the Internet surrounds us. If I had seen the review before I entered the restaurant, maybe I would have avoided it altogether.

How are you and your customers handling negative reviews?  How would you correct this situation if you were the restaurant I visited?

All posts

  • Mark, I’m curious then- how do you think it would have changed for you if they HAD responded online to your friend in some capacity? What would have worked for you?

  • I was making the point that the restaurant could have avoided the review by being attentive in the first place.  So the review would not have happened in the first place.  I’m not sure — can you erase reviews on Yelp and Foursquare? I suppose you can but I’ve never tried. Otherwise, it’s out there for good, isn’t it?

  • We came just back from vacation this weekend and indeed, we do face the same problem: poor service in a restaurant. The indications are so from the very beginning, but unfortunately we did not check the customer’s critics in advance, so we feel more like your wife and kept staying.
     
    In the end we are very dissatisfied with the food and with the service and when coming back home, we looked it up in tripadvisor, finding the poor critics from others.
     
    Next time I will look up other customers opinion first …
     
    Kind regards from Germany
     
    Hansjörg

  • If I was the restaurant manager I hope I would look at this as an opportunity to win over the customer that posted the review with a public apology (on the same SM platform).  I would also make an offer of value (free food, drink etc.).  My experience has shown that an unhappy client that is “heard” and subsequently satisfied can become a raving fan.  Most clients are used to being ignored so when you listen and act accordingly you set yourself apart from the herd.  

    If the manager doesn’t take this opportunity to wow a customer it is like a baseball player missing a hanging curve-ball with the game on the line.  He will not get that pitch again.  Now if the manager isn’t “listening” then the restaurant should rethink their SM policy.  Why be in the SM space if your deaf to the feedback? More harm than good will likely result by ignoring this type of feedback.

  • You should have kept that beer company, Mark.

    Hu, Li have a piece out in Journal of Interactive Marketing supporting
    your point (they look at path-dependence in Amazon reviews). Here’s the
    paper (gated): http://ow.ly/5MvvE

  • Eventually that restaurant will really suffer, won’t it Hansjörg?  Thanks.

  • Well said Jeff!  I agree.

  • In the long run definitely yes. So far customer ratings on restaurants do not have the same popularity than in your country. But the influence is growing, especially in larger cities.
     
    This restaurant is in a small village. It will have the chance to scale up its service some days longer than a restaurant in a large city 😉

  • gordon phillips

    I believe this will grow along with the smart phone into a significant problem/benefit for small businesses.   Having used TripAdvisor and Yelp, particularly for restaurant searches out of town and country, I’ve been very pleased as a consumer.  I’ve also been surprised with how many times a conversation has led to restaurant and hotel staff revealing their awareness of their rank and comments.  Then I realized I’ve selected them partly because they were at the top, and  the light bulb goes on.  These are businesses that rely on customer service as one point of differentiation.  They were already paying attention, but the review platforms offer a window into WOM that they’ve never really had.  I found them very sensitive to the feedback.  What a fantastic tool for those that choose to pay attention.  And yes, they should be part of the conversation as needed.
    When I write a review now, I’ve become more aware that it’s not just affecting my fellow consumers. Although sometimes I break the motherly advice  “when you don’t have anything nice to say…”, I would much rather post a glowing experience.

  • One thing that I am becoming a little frustrated with is companies/businesses not monitoring social media.  If this restaurant was on top if it, they could have fixed your friends problem quickly and turned the whole experience around.  I have tested some of the companies I frequent by posting and tweeting reviews, both good and bad.  Virtually none have responded.  I completely acknowledge that every customer cannot be responded to, and hopefully that is what’s happening.  But when I tweet that Starbucks needs to start recycling or they will lose my business, and it gets re-tweeted several times, someone should be listening.  I also wrote about a very positive experience with a local coffee shop here http://www.nateguggia.com/?p=164

  • The mind is a curious thing, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately it isn’t always possible to prevent bad responses like this. Your friend has clearly been there many times before as it is a family favorite. But what about someone who may have been there for the first time that day and is a bit quicker to pull the bad review trigger. Could have just been a busy day resulting in slower service.

    It’s important to try to take preventative measures, but unfortunately not always possible. That’s why it is equally important to try to respond and alleviate the situation.

  • Anonymous

    This simple and topical story really explains a challenge / opportunity from multiple perspectives. My agency works exclusively on B2B marketing so foursquare isn’t a primary social media for most of our clients. But just as a negative comment on an open forum for a retail restaurant sparked all the thoughts you shared, complaints and ratings on businesses are now something B2B marketers must address also.

    A disgruntled customer now has more ways than ever to voice their negative feedback so companies that care about their reputations need to pay attention. The good news is that it’s not hard to listen to your customers – especially those that are actually in the restaurant (or engaged with whatever your business is in some way), on the phone, or searching for a solution online.

    Service after the sale doesn’t just apply to the happy customers. I agree with completely with Jeff Reed’s comment about what the restaurant owner should do. How a business, any business, responds to customer with a valid complaint can convert a bad situation into a corrected business operation, a very valid case study, and a reclaimed relationship with a patron.

  • Yes, you could say that the mind is a curious thing, but I would say that it’s confounding. Negative comments on Yelp and Foursquare can create what academics call “confirmation bias” and it is very difficult to overcome. One simple definition of confirmation bias is that  people’s brains are hard-wired so that they cannot help but find evidence that supports what they already believe and ignore anything which contradicts their beliefs. So now more than ever it is important to prime customers with positive expectations. There’s a great article about this at http://www.tinyurl.com/confirm-bias (And no, the article is not mine)

  • Yes, you could say that the mind is a curious thing, but I would say that it’s confounding. Negative comments on Yelp and Foursquare can create what academics call “confirmation bias” and it is very difficult to overcome. One simple definition of confirmation bias is that  people’s brains are hard-wired so that they cannot help but find evidence that supports what they already believe and ignore anything which contradicts their beliefs. So now more than ever it is important to prime customers with positive expectations. There’s a great article about this at http://www.tinyurl.com/confirm-bias (And no, the article is not mine)

  • Now that you’ve mentioned it, my sense are tingling too! You’re absolutely right and the same happens to me often. I check in, look at the feedback and immediately look for similar negative signs be it food or service quality. 
    However this can also benefit businesses especially if they’re aware of what customers are saying about them. If quality is bad, brush up, if not for the sake of better reviews, at least to ensure you’re leaving your current customers happy.

  • Thanks Jan. I really love the comments you have been leaving on the blog!  You always have something interesting to say!

  • I like the way you tied this to B2B, which of course is highly relevant.  I agree that it is heading that way and we all need to be aware of this issue. Thanks Billy!

  • This is a very wise point Eugene. I have been thinking abotu this a lot. I used to do quite a bit of work in customer service and there was this academic study i saw once about the diminishing returns of satisfying a disgruntles customer. Some people will always be unhappy. They enjoy being unhappy. And at some point you have to let it go. But that works against us on the social web!  Those people can dominate a channel if they choose to do so.  I’m not sure those economics still apply. I’m not sure WHAT applies to be honest! Thanks. Fantastic point.

  • Brilliant comment.  Perfect addition to the conversation Gabriel. Well done!!

  • Right on Nate.  I would say I have experienced VERY few places watching the social web — either local or national. We ahve a local coffree shop doing a great job and it has absolutely earned them business. But quite a missed opportunity for most!

  • Thetre are probably stats available on this somewhere but my sense is that people are more conditioned to leave a negative review rather than a positive one.  Personally, some place has to really bowl me over to get a positive review.  Do you guys agree?  Anybody see any numbers on this?

  • Yes, I miss the beer company. Had good perks.

    Quite interesting and unexpected link Peter.  I would have predicted that later reviews would be influenced by the momentum of earlier reviews. Thanks for this great addition Peter. I appreciate that a lot!

  • I love the way you are observing all of this and applying it to your own region.  : )

  • Whatever happens in the internet, stays in the internet!  Like you said though, it’s there for everyone to see.

  • I really liked billymitchell’s comment and suggestion. You just cannot please all of the people all of the time. But, when there is an issue, you do need to address it (if it’s worth addressing).  Now, the other thing that has been mentioned is that often negative points are more frequently posted than positive ones.  So, I’m hoping users will realize that just because there was one bad experience, that doesn’t mean there is really a problem but if you see consistent bad reviews (assuming they are about things you personally care about), likely stay away.

    A  classic example of personal preference is if you see regular reviews saying something like “The service is awful and the servers are rude but I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten”, I guess it depends on what you want from the experience.  And, as a business owner, how would you address this?

    My concern is that we are oversimplifying this issue.  This will never be a black/white discussion as we are dealing with people, not machines and people are never black/white.

  • I like the new information I got from you. Very interesting post!

  • You would think the restaurant would of gotten ISO9001 certified by now!

    Funny that I blogged about the lack of Check Ins via Facebook, Gowalla and Foursquare in general (though I am sure there is exceptions to the rule) and you pretty much confirmed my Hypothesis:

    “When my wife went to the restroom, I checked-in on Foursquare to pass the time.”

    Funny thing is it worked inside. I almost never get it to work inside.

    That all said your post is dead on Mark. Businesses that forget the customer experience is important risk having that fact shared with everyone…really quickly!

  • I never thought about that but reading this post, I realise that I do look for reviews when I check into a place most of the time. The reviews probably had an impact but I never saw it that way. However, it is amazing that a number of business establishments here int he UK that continue to ignore Foursquare. 

  • I never thought about that but reading this post, I realise that I do look for reviews when I check into a place most of the time. The reviews probably had an impact but I never saw it that way. However, it is amazing that a number of business establishments here int he UK that continue to ignore Foursquare. 

  • Krysia

    I agree that as social media users we are definitely influencers.  Having a following on Twitter and having a unknown amount of viewers on any remark we make on Foursquare has its responsibilities.     

    Maybe the restaurant was short staffed on the given day of the comment.  Maybe the waiter was having a bad day.  We need to be careful with our words because they do shape opinions, we are an perceived as an authority, regardless of the legitimacy.   

  • Thanks for sharing this post. I agree that social media has become a catalyst for change whether that is in service, product or even governments. I guess I just wonder about usage across the population and if we are reaching a point where social media reach is now much more common or if the impact of social media is still a fairly narrow segment of the population.  Currently,  I think Twitter usage represents about 8 or 9% of the population and although I’m not sure about Foursquare I wonder about the impact of social media once it’s used across a broader spectrum of the population.  Do you think we’re at a tipping point where reviews found in Foursquare can influence a greater % of diners at a specific restaurant?

    So, the big question is did you enjoy your meal?

  • You bring up some great points here, most notably the propensity toward negative comments. I’m guilty of that too.  At the same time, that’s not fair to a business is it? Thanks, Steve!

  • Don’t get me started on Foursquare.  I really think they have missed an opporunity. Maybe it’s time to upgrade your phone : ) 

  • It seems that almost all of the businesses here ignore it. A long way to go!

  • Thanks for the comment Krysia. I certainly agree.

  • I did enjoy my meal … thanks for asking!  : ) 

    I think the adoption of Foursquare is still very small and stalled. But there are other services like Urban Spoon and Yelp so the cumulative affect of reviews can be much greater than just the one app. Probably need to have some consolidation in this business! 

  • Nistha Shrestha

    I’m not sure. We get mostly positive reviews on Tripadvisor, the few negative reviews are only from really disgruntled customers. Funnily enough, we have a guest feedback form that every guest fills in, and the negative reviews on Tripadvisor don’t correspond to any of the feedback forms. Since we use the feedback forms to customise our service, it is a bit disingenuous of the guest to go straight to online media without bringing it up with us first (they talk about issues that could have been easily fixed just by talking to a manager). However, it leaves the impression that we just didn’t bother with the guest.

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