How Restaurant Marketers Use the Social Feedback Loop for Continuous Improvement, Guest Engagement [Expert Corner]


In this Expert Corner installment, Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer for Empathica, discusses how restaurant marketers can use the social feedback loop for customer insight to further a culture of continuous improvement, and what he calls "active advocacy." Edwards is a 15-year marketing veteran in employee and customer research, having earned his Ph.D. specializing in Social Research Methods.

Explain in laymen terms what the social feedback loop is and its significance.

Edwards: “Listen to your customers and adapt your restaurant experience to what they say. Do it well and they will tell their friends.” It’s the oldest trick in the business book. But these days, it’s actually something that can be quite difficult to achieve.

If we look back 40 or 50 years, the relationship between a local business and its customers was much simpler. Everyone was from the same neighborhood and relationships were quite personal and very strong.

As these businesses became more successful, they grew to a size where it was impossible to know each customer by name. In a sense, their success came at the price of personal relationships.

The social feedback loop that is created with a guest experience management program turns back the clock, allowing businesses to reconnect with customers on a personal level, but at today’s global speed and scale.

These programs can solicit vast amounts of feedback; Empathica processes 30 million surveys per year. The insights this underlying technology can derive from all that data are akin to the intuition-driven business decisions that owners previously relied upon, and are arguably more precise.

From a marketing perspective, technology also turns back the clock by leveraging social media and the newfound influence that everyday customers have, creating a powerful platform for active advocacy – a modern day spin on word-of-mouth marketing. We believe that, ultimately, active advocacy will be the new measure of brand health. More than satisfaction or even loyalty, advocacy is becoming the strongest leading indicator for growth in sales and profits.

What are three ways that operators can tap into the social feedback loop for better operations?

Edwards: The first step in tapping into social feedback is simply collecting the feedback itself. Business owners need to have access to a large sample of feedback from their existing customers. These customers expect convenience and ease of use when it comes to providing feedback. Today’s guest experience programs should take that into account by allowing multiple modes of survey collection tailored to the various types of guests that are served – from traditional methods, such as voice-driven telephone surveys, to web-based and more modern smartphone-optimized options.

The next step is making use of that feedback. Making the best use of customer feedback increasingly is less about reading reports and reacting to historical performance. Today’s programs are instead able to drive actions that spur ongoing continuous improvement. This shift to a more proactive view of operations allows businesses to not only meet customers’ expectations but also exceed them, through exceptional experiences delivered consistently at every visit.

Finally, the output from capturing the right feedback that drives the right actions is having highly satisfied customers who are willing to co-create your business by recommending you to their friends and followers through the reach of social media. Today, social media gives all customers a platform for unprecedented influence over their personal networks. This is something that the savviest brands are beginning to tap into and is also a natural extension of guest feedback programs.

How can restaurant marketers that are already working with consumer feedback and market intelligence data better position their own marketing effectiveness with some of the principles of your marketing strategies?

Edwards: For restaurant marketers that are already engaged in feedback and market research programs, taking the next step to driving active advocacy should be a simple transition.

It’s effectively adding another chain link to the process with which they are already engaged.

Most restaurants are familiar with the feedback cycle of:

Survey > Customer insights > Reactive changes 

What we promote is an expanded version of this to become:

Survey > Customer insights > Continuous improvement > Active advocacy

How will the activity of consumers and diners on social media channels become more relevant to restaurant leaders in the next five years?

Edwards: The use of social media won’t stop in the next five years. If anything, its growth will continue and, as a result, the importance of establishing a base of positive social chatter through active advocacy should become an increasingly important part of any brand’s marketing strategy as well.

It only makes sense. Customers are not going to stop talking to each other, and the trend is that they are talking to more and more people. Everyone has heard the horror stories that can occur when it comes to bad news going viral or poor experiences spreading like wildfire. Contaminated food or poor service, for example, can quickly destroy a brand’s value. Restaurateurs can get ahead of social chatter and insulate their brands from potentially negative comments by building a foundation of positive mentions and hype through those same social media communication channels.

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Dr. Gary Edwards is chief customer officer for Empathica. He earned his Ph.D. from Wilfrid Laurier University, specializing in Social Research Methods. Edwards has been with Empathica for eight years and has past leadership roles at Maritz: Thompson Lightstone, at Maritz Financial Services Research Group, and at Gallup Canada.

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Copyright: Kandessa Media. All rights reserved.

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