Bad Review or Bad Customer? How to Tell Whether It's You or Them

publication date: Jul 19, 2017
author/source: Paul Goetz


We all want to put our best foot forward online, especially on social media and review sites. While personal recommendations are most influential in consumer purchasing decisions, 84 percent of people trust online reviews just as much. In fact, Mashable found 90 percent of Yelp users look for businesses with positive reviews, and a five-star review can double a restaurant's occupancy rates.

No one wants a bad review showing up on Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, or any other online site, but it happens. It's important for the health of your brand to take negative reviews into consideration. Not all negative criticism is constructive, however; you'll need to distinguish between an isolated incident with a bad customer and a systemic failure in your processes.

Dissecting a Negative Review

When visiting a restaurant, people leave bad reviews for two reasons: the food and missed expectations. Jimmy John's is known for fresh food delivered to the door fast, and if the delivery driver is late or the food doesn't taste good, it's very likely the customer will leave the brand a bad review. To figure out the root cause, ask yourself two questions:

1. Was the food the problem? Dan Jurafsky, a professor at Stanford University, and a team of researchers analyzed nearly 1 million restaurant reviews on Yelp and found that people don't typically rush to these review sites to bash every bad meal. Instead, customers tend to share experiences that made them feel ignored, rejected, or otherwise unimportant. Of course, there's always the chance it was the food quality: A poorly cooked, presented, or even missing item can draw ire.

Using menu intelligence to quantify customer tastes and understand how well each item fares lets you understand which menu items bring customers in and which keep them out. If a dish is the constant target of criticism, it only makes sense to remove it to make your customers happy.

2. Did you meet expectations? As illustrated above, Jimmy John's has a specific reputation - every restaurant does, whether local, regional, or national. If you eat at a five-star restaurant that's lauded by critics and friends, it needs to live up to expectations. Customers who feel their experience was less than advertised are likely to leave bad reviews.

Let these customers know you agree and will strive to make things better. There are restaurant-specific tools that show guest contact and ticket information so you can see what they ordered and whether they're regulars. Then, you can reach out to them to learn more about how to improve their experience. Unfortunately, some people simply can't be pleased.

Weeding Out Bad Customers

Social media is filled with trolls, and it can be difficult to know whether a review is left by one of these people with bad intentions. You obviously don't want to butt heads with a troll, but you can facilitate him identifying himself to others reading the reviews. It's a three-step process that extends far beyond the web platform you're responding on.

1. Greet every customer. Introducing yourself as the manager or owner to the customer is the first step to defusing any negative situation. People want to feel important and welcome, and your introduction and response will satiate this. They're not just speaking to an automated system or entry-level customer service rep - they're speaking to the highest office in the company because their opinion matters.

Acknowledging a customer's complaint and offering resolution options shows you care about his or her experience and repeat business. A customer often complains because he cares, and finding out you do as well puts you on equal footing and allows for open communication.

2. Respond and react immediately. While it's nice to listen and provide an attentive response, actions speak louder than words. Don't just apologize - also thank the customer for bringing the matter to your attention, and provide a discount or extra on his next meal to incentivize another visit. You should also share the guest's feedback with your staff members and train them to respond appropriately as well.

A well-trained staff can resolve most bad experiences or complaints on the spot. Quality-check food before sending it out to the table, and if customers aren't satisfied with anything, thank them for their feedback and fix it.

3. Maximize in-store interactions and communication. Communicating with reviewers after their visit is only half the battle. Responding to online reviews without changing your process keeps you in a reactive mode when you should be proactive. It's always better to find out about issues, and the only way to do that is by walking the floor for table touches when the main entrée arrives.

Floor staff and any customer-facing positions should be friendly, outgoing, and able to openly communicate with all types of people. Your servers should check back with customers regularly, and everyone's focus should be on helping the customer satisfy his desires.

When you have these processes down and are running a tight ship, you'll know when complaints are legitimate. You'll still draw the occasional bad review from a disgruntled employee or customer, but the overall rating should still be mostly positive. Maintaining this level of service is a key component of reputation management.

If you've done everything you can and the customer still doesn't want to come back, don't fret. Just thank him for his business, apologize, and wish him well. Social media is a public forum, and you'll continue to gain customers who are impressed by how well you handled the customer. It turns a bad experience into a great opportunity.

You can't please everyone, but you can certainly try.

Paul GoetzPaul Goetz is the chief revenue officer at Upserve, one of the largest and fastest-growing companies in the restaurant technology space. Upserve's restaurant management system offers a complete suite of solutions purpose-built for restaurants. It uses real-time guidance to empower local restaurants to unlock their full potential. Upserve's system also includes Breadcrumb POS by Upserve, the industry's strongest cloud-based restaurant management point of sale.