If in hospitality industry, consumer is the king, then Internet is increasingly assuming the status of a kingmaker.
The number of Internet users has been increasing by the day, and according to an IAMAI report, it is expected to reach 302 million by the end of this year. Interestingly, travel related searches make for half of the Internet use here, reveals the report.
The figure itself is sufficient to prove why restaurants need to enhance their focus on digital medium. The only way to survive amidst competition is to communicate with your user base that is fast adopting it for quick reference among the peer group.
Gone are the days when you had to take care of only those who came into your restaurant. In fact guest experience now begins the moment he lands on your page from his internet enabled device and depending on his impression, makes a decision.
But, fortunately or unfortunately, the story does not end here. That one guest becomes the propagator of information as he sits and writes a feedback to be read by many others like him.
Availability of knowledge and its easy accessibility through Internet is changing the rules of the game, making the consumer more powerful than he ever was.
In such a scenario, it becomes imperative for a restaurant to maintain a good reputation online, manage feedbacks and inspire potential audience to visit the property.
The reviews and ratings awarded to properties on restaurant discovery websites, such as TripAdvisor and Zomato, go a long way in building or sometimes even ruining one’s reputation.
Zomato, a web-based restaurant discovery and review site, claims to have as many as 30 million plus monthly visits. While explaining what drives so many users to the web service, SaurabhSengupta, Country Manager, Zomato India says, “The user base loves the service as it makes their lives simpler. It, quite simply, brings increased exposure and customers to restaurants listed and advertising on Zomato.”
Given that in hospitality industry, more than any other, guest satisfaction has a direct impact on revenue, it is no uphill task to understand how important it is for restaurants to maintain a good reputation online.
While a couple of years ago it was enough to have an informative web-page, now you really need to engage with the customer in order to drive traffic to your property.
Because the customer has become smart and the market more competitive, restaurateurs need to reach out to the discerning customers wherever they are and communicate to them on real-time basis through effective SOLOMO (Social-Local-Mobile) strategy.
In fact, restaurateurs have started realizing that online reputation management is no longer a good-to-have but an unavoidable part of the good service. While some of them appoint exclusive teams to ensure this, some rely on their public relations team.
When India Hospitality Review approached some restaurants to understand their take on online reputation management we found out following things:
Big or not Big, Active management involvement is a must
While in-house hospitality is certainly the most important deciding factor, it is also equally important that the guest receives same level of attention when he takes the initiative of writing a feedback.
Atul Lall of The Claridges tells us that the property, recognized a brand in itself, maintains an up-to-dated website and is also quite active on restaurant discovery and review sites in order to ensure that the guest can locate them. He says, that the property makes it a point to communicate and advertise anything that they come up with, be it a chef presentation, any addition in the menu etc. on their social networking sites such as Facebook page so that the customers has ready information at their disposal.”
S.M. Shervani, Owner of the capital’s first standalone Mexican Restaurant, Rodeo says, “We try to create new content for our social media pages so as to keep our customer base intrigued and engaged.”
Similarly Barbeque Nation, one of the fastest growing fine-dining restaurant chains in India, although feels that review sites are meant as a space for users only, is trying to explore the benefits of social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.
VikramVikasVerma, Marketing Head, Barbeque Nation tells us that the restaurant chain is trying to promote its official Facebook page and has been in touch with Facebook authorities to redirect the traffic from unofficial Facebook and fan pages.
Feedbacks should be taken seriously
While the degree of involvement varies, restaurants agree that attending to feedback goes a long way in building relationship with consumers.
Lall tells us, “We are all for one-to-one interaction. We don’t ignore any query or feedback because it is important to communicate that we are listening and are ready to attend to them. We make sure that the guest’s grievances and queries are addressed.”
He also advises that while responding to the feedbacks, a standard template should be avoided. He says, “A standard template only conveys that the management is not serious and the responses are impersonal.”
In order to maintain goodwill amongst the internet based community, it is important to respond to them politely. Every customer has a right to post feedback regarding their experience and whether the feedback is positive or negative, management has to respond promptly, feels Shervani.
When we spoke to YeishenGoel, an industry veteran, about this, he said, “Faster you respond, better it is. In fact, to whom the response is attributed is also very important.Lack of response does not lead anywhere. It is important to acknowledge the feedback. It will contribute immensely to the process of brand building.”
Convert negative feedback into constructive criticism
It is understandable that despite giving your best, it is impossible to satisfy one and all. And to add to it, as Goel puts it, some guest exaggerate their bad experience while giving their feedback.
And when these negative feedbacks are easily available to be consumed by anyone and everyone, it can cause a serious dent to one’s reputation.
Goel says, “While these feedbacks may be disappointing and disheartening, they can’t be left unattended. But, a quick and irresponsible reaction by the management may aggravate the problem. So restaurateurs should try to be converte negative feedback into constructive criticism. The reviewer should be thanked for taking the time out and pointing out the lacuna.”
He suggests that restaurants should publically outline the way they will resolve the issue. On asking whether the restaurants should publically deal with the problem, he says that they should incorporate a hybrid approach.
Lall echoes similar sentiment when he says that restaurants should take these negative feedbacks into consideration and deal with it maturely. It is important for restaurants to publically acknowledge the feedback.
He says, “You may not accept the fault, but do not sigh away from apologizing, if necessary, and furnish clarifications.”
Vikram informs that it is among the restaurant’s policy to look into the matter on their end if they ever receive a negative review. While the restaurant management apologizes publically and tries to fix it as much as possible, in case of a detailed discussion, restaurants also get in touch with the customer personally to resolve the issue.
Restaurants feel that a negative feedback is also an opportunity to learn and in that sense, a platform for one-to-one interaction which is now open to them, is a good way to keep a check on their own performance and improve their services.
Internet- a world of opportunities
It may seem that Internet has made the consumer powerful, making them into nothing less than Gods, and relegated the owners to the receiving end of the system. But this is not true.
It may be difficult to graduate from conventional ways of marketing and starting afresh on the digital medium, once you grow familiar with the ways of the world of Internet, it can be put to a lot of use.
Besides providing an opportunity to do some introspection, Internet also provides ample space to restaurants to communicate directly with their end consumers which can be capitalized.
Recently, Zomato allowed restaurants to targettheir audience directly by enabling specially curated information on the user’s mobile app. Based on user’s activity and location, it will be easier for restaurants to know which user can be readily converted into guest.
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But quite simply, the positive feedback that the restaurant receives can be circulated through various tools which can lead to some good and easy publicity without incurring much cost.
Goel advises, “Make your loyal customers, your brand ambassador.”
A recent TripAdvisor study says that photos, reviews and content, generated by both the management and guest were the most important factors which made a restaurant’s profile compelling.