Q: What do new franchisees in the food service sector need to know about customer reviews and social media?

IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE that social media and online management are no longer optional for busi­nesses. Consumers are more inclined than ever to turn to social media to contact companies, including providing real-time reviews about their experience. Despite being new territory, navigating customer feedback shouldn’t have to be a daunting chore for franchisees. Customer reviews and social media have been viewed as a diffi­cult part of business in the past, due to the anonymous nature of the online environment. However, proper man­agement of social media and customer reviews can be a great chance for franchisees to turn negative feedback into opportunities for positive dialogue.

Along with added insight into the conversations tak­ing place online about their establishment, franchisees are able to respond to information quickly and sincerely. This gives franchisees the ability to win customers over by showing them that they truly care. Though it may feel instinctual to resist or ignore negative customer reviews, franchisees who embrace the feedback are better off than those who choose not to. A general rule of thumb franchisees should follow when responding to customer feedback, regardless of sentiment, is to pretend the guest is standing right in front of them—be open and receptive to feedback, acknowledge concerns, and most importantly, be respectful.

Franchisees should always look to the franchisor for advice on how and when to respond appropriately when faced with negative feedback. The advantage of being a part of a franchise system is that franchisors have tried-and-tested guidelines and processes in place to ensure franchisees are equipped with the resources required to respond effectively to online feedback. Franchisors can serve as a valuable resource for assistance and advice until the franchisee can operate more autonomously. At the end of the day, negative reviews can be a great public relations tool, as guests appreciate restaurants that are willing to listen to their feedback and engage with them.

It is essential for franchisees to utilize third-party brand management platforms or listening tools to mini­mize the manual work of assessing their online pres­ence. Rather than comb through individual comments one unit at a time, brand management tools like Chatme­ter consolidate ratings from different sites and provide one overall rating for general insight. Once parameters are set up in terms of what to listen to, these tools use algorithms to package all the information from various sources in a way that is usable to the franchisee. From there, franchisees can uncover common themes, com­ments and praises, as well as respond to reviews on a single dashboard. Although not fully automated, brand management tools guide franchisees into the right direc­tion to uncover issues they should be addressing as well as making note of what they are doing right.

It’s equally important that franchises don’t let positive feedback go unnoticed. Favourable customer reviews and social media engagement allows franchi­sors to gauge what current customers love about the restaurant. Even feedback with neutral sentiments, such as customer suggestions, can also inspire menu changes that reflect the changing needs and wants of the guests. However, franchisors must tread lightly to avoid chasing trends and straying from their core identity. Indulging in too much change inevitably hinders profitability, requir­ing additional training and causing stock turnover. The franchisor should understand current trends, but they should never sacrifice what their brand is known for to participate in fads.

Understanding the impact of customer reviews and social media is crucial as a food-service franchisee. In today’s ever-growing online environment, the rise of cus­tomer reviews and social media is inescapable. With the right tools, franchisees can be more cognizant of what makes their establishment successful through active lis­tening of customer reviews and customer engagement through social media. Although initial introduction may be foreign and overwhelming, customer reviews and social media provide franchisees with a wealth of infor­mation that allows them to fine tune their business and maximize financial profitability.

Tony Zidar
Senior Vice-President (SVP) of Operations
RAMMP Hospitality Brands