The explosion of online feedback we witnessed in 2012 has forever changed the way restaurants and customers interact. Even before customers pay their check, many broadcast their review in a post or tweet for the online world to see. While some are still striving to get their heads and hands around this “word of mouth on steroids,” we at newBrandAnalytics are seeing savvy restaurants using the intelligence embedded in online conversations to transform how they deliver a quality customer experience.

Based on information analyzed from 2012, we have our finger on the pulse of the key social intelligence trends we predict will unfold in 2013:

Goodbye, surveys. In 2012, organizations witnessed a 25% increase in online customer reviews. With a consistent, reliable and free source of feedback coming from the web, social intelligence has rendered solicited surveys pointless, and restaurants will start to eliminate spending on solicited surveys in 2013. In fact, many of the more progressive brands have already decided to eliminate surveys and instead focus on social feedback as their primary source for customer experience information.

Industrial espionage is legal and free. Forget old-school normative assessments and anonymous data. Smarter restaurants will use social intelligence to dig into their competitors’ performance. They will not only benchmark competitors’ social data to try to outperform on operations, but also to use as inspiration for menu creation. In 2012 we saw the hot brands using competitive data in new, previously unimagined ways, and we predict that more than one-third of restaurants adding menu items will be inspired by their competition’s online customer feedback.

So long, traditional performance evaluations. Social intelligence will drive the real-time 360° performance evaluation system of the future. Forward-thinking restaurants will see the value of using online feedback from guests and co-workers to assess performance, make hiring/firing decisions, and motivate staff. Randy Stanley, vice president of Parasole Restaurant Group said, “Sharing online feedback places psychological control on employees. They recognize and accept that everyone is a critic and that they can read about their performance online daily, good or bad. They see now that they have to be ‘on’ all of the time. Every experience counts. That’s powerful.”

Social media: not only for marketing anymore. As brands expand their myopic view of social media and position it as a strategic business function, social media will break through the walls of the marketing department. Operations, human resources, customer service, and product development teams will have their own personal views into the intelligence. Ultimately, disseminating information to more individuals ensures that investments in new locations and menu offerings have the desired results in revenue and profitability. Last year newBrandAnalytics helped several restaurants save new locations from the brink of disaster by enabling them to make swift changes in management and operations based on social intelligence, and this trend is sure to take off in 2013. As Burton Heiss, CEO of Nando’s Peri-Peri, told Fast Casual Executive Summit attendees, “We push our data to store leads, as they know what best to do with it.”

Star ratings are so yesterday. Consumers and restaurants alike will start ignoring the once-coveted star ratings as they are proving to be misleading, unreliable and not actionable. Instead, they will flock to online review analysis tools to gain the meaty insights and details they’re looking for. Consumers will seek reviews when making their dining decisions; restaurants will decipher the true meaning and uncover important themes discussed in these unstructured reviews to drive improvements. Ultimately, star ratings will be rendered useless.

Everything’s local. Restaurants will move from trusting brand level intelligence delivered by solutions like Radian6, to wanting location-specific intelligence. The conclusion — it’s no longer about the brand. As legislator Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics are local.” Well, all customer experiences are local, too. Savvy restaurants will use location-specific social reviews and alerts to quickly pinpoint trouble spots and react in a way best suited to that location.

Kristin Muhlner is CEO of newBrandAnalytics, the global leader in social market intelligence, which helps service-focused industries extract intelligence from online conversations in order to drive customer loyalty and affinity. Our innovative solutions decipher reams of unstructured online feedback, distilling them into data-driven, actionable insights. More than 2,500 corporate customers including Five Guys, P.F. Chang’s, Ruby Tuesday, Darden, Parasole and many more partner with newBrandAnalytics to drive continuous operational improvements at the brand, regional and local levels resulting in a superior customer experience. The company is headquartered in Washington, D.C. To learn more, visit newBrandAnalytics.com or follow us @nBrandAnalytics.

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