Talking WITH - not AT - Your Customers

Image Source: Forbes

“It’s not necessarily whether your Yelp reviews are good or bad, but it’s what you are doing with them. How are you responding to them? Are you reviewing them enough to understand what customers are truly saying about you? And then, what action are you taking on their behalf?” advises Michael Lunday, senior hospitality management trainer for Best Western’s corporate office.

To illustrate this point, Michael uses an experience in New York City. He was craving Mexican food while in the Times Square area and went to both Trip Advisor and Yelp to find a restaurant. Yelp had more reviews so Michael focused on that platform. A Mexican restaurant caught his eye but he noticed that review after review said the same thing: “Great food, terrible service.” Wanting to avoid a bad experience due to service, Michael changed his search to Italian food, found a great restaurant and gave that venue his business. Had the Mexican restaurant engaged with Yelp reviewers with personalized, apologetic responses which showed the feedback had been considered and problems had been addressed, it’s likely Michael – and several other potential guests – would have given them his money and a favorable review.

“While we’re talking about Yelp here, it doesn’t pertain just to Yelp. It’s all of the platforms that are out there. If a guest does have a negative experience, you have a responsibility, quite honestly, to respond to that,” says Tricia Fishenich who works closely with Michael for Best Western International.

Tricia knows that the vast majority (if not all) of nightclub, bar and restaurant operators would never turn their back on a guest who, in person, was telling them that they were having a great or bad time. However, she also knows that a startlingly high number of operators essentially turn their back on guests who share that same feedback via social media and review site platforms.

“If we don’t respond, we’re ultimately losing the trust of that customer,” warns Tricia.

If you wouldn’t turn your back when a guest is speaking to you in person, you shouldn’t do it when they’re speaking to via social media. Think of it this way: a guest delivering feedback in person may be overheard by a handful of other guests already inside your venue. A guest posting feedback to social media is sharing their experience with thousands upon thousands of “invisible guests.” What you’re telling these potential guests when you don’t engage with reviews is that you don’t care. Your guests are an integral part of your marketing team. As Tricia says, it’s up to you what kind of feedback they’re providing.

The Impact of Responding

You cannot afford to ignore reviews, as Michael’s example clearly showed. Responding affords you more than just the chance to defend your business (professionally). First, it builds trust, not just with the guest who left the review but with users who have read the review. Make no mistake, active users are checking to see if you’re responding (particularly to “juicy” reviews). Second, responding to review engages the guest. Finally, it builds loyalty.

Who is Your Voice?

At your venue, who is working for you who can manage your social media platforms? You may not want it to be the truth but realize that you may not be the right person to manage your social media. If you want social media management to remain in-house, make certain the person running your pages and profiles is articulate as being inarticulate (confusing, poor grammar and spelling, etc.) dilutes your message. This person also needs to be knowledgeable about the business, promotions, menu items, events, and more, and needs to be invested. After all, an effective reputation management component captures guests and holds them captive so they’ll tell others about your venue. Of course, they all need to be personable because social media should be fun and exciting. It’s critical, to, that you ensure the message you’re sending out blends well with your marketing strategy.

Using the Right Tone

You probably don’t need to be told this but the tone you take with guests online is important. The wrong tone can polarize the audience and turn away potential guests. For example, since the advent of Internet forums and comments sections, using all capital letters has been considered the same as shouting at someone. Therefore, it’s best to avoid doing so. What you should do is first thank the guest for writing the review. Then, own up to mistakes. None of us is infallible so apologize and let the guest know what you’ve done with their information in order to improve. Remain professional at all times when responding to reviews. Tricia’s best practice tips is to write your response using Microsoft Word or another word processor and then re-read it. If you have to, walk away and re-read it. Have someone else read it. A passionate response to a negative review can portray you in a negative light and is best avoided at all costs; try to leave emotion out of the response. Additionally, you should never assume resolution expectations since not all reviewers are looking for some type of compensation for a bad experience. Instead, ask, “How can I make this better for you?” It can be difficult (hence Tricia’s advice about using Word) but it’s critical to your success that you keep in mind that bad reviews are not personal. Simply put, it’s not about you, it’s about the experience. Lastly, personalize your responses. Thank guests, use their names, and touch back on their feedback to let them know you value their business and feedback.

When You Do Respond

It takes a lot of time to manage social media. It’s imperative that you have a strategy for handling the daily maintenance of your social media platforms or have a third-party in place to do it for you. Bear in mind that social media is a 24/7 service opportunity. If you’re not on social media often enough, you could be missing out on all types of opportunities: marketing, public relations, community involvement, and, of course, financial. Make certain to look at social media platforms enough to be able to respond to reviews in a timely manner in order to truly engage with guests and reviewers. To address a well-known cliché, no, the customer isn’t always right. However, your strategy should be to give them the perception that they’re correct and make that your reality. The customer isn’t always right but it’s your responsibility – both for your name and bottom line – for you to manage your reputation as though the opposite is true.


  • Yelp and Trip Advisor are used mostly for social reputational management.
  • Foursquare, Google+, Facebook and Twitter are used mostly for social engagement.
  • Be present on the platforms on which your guests are active.
  • People do business with people they like. They want to know a business has something in common with them.
  • Cross-promote your message via multiple social media platforms.
  • Not responding to reviews is social negligence.
  • Have the right person heading your social media.
  • The perceived tone can make or break your image.
  • Social media is a 24/7 customer service opportunity.
  • Avoid reputational harm! Don’t use all caps in your responses. Don’t call guests liars or curse at them.

To learn more about social media, reputational management, and engaging with guests, attend the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Early bird registration is open now!

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