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?

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