In most industries, 100 percent perfect service is never expected. Consumers experience subpar customer service and mishaps from the finest of places, as is evident on from thousands of reviews online.
After food reviewer Peter Calder left a less than complimentary review about Dominion Road restaurant Cazador, K Road establishment Coco’s Cantina thought it fit to outright ban reviewers from their own restaurant, the ban presumably acting as a verbal trespass notice. Coco’s Cantina are staunch advocates for the hospitality industry which is positive, although they appear to treat bad reviews as a joke. They go as far to publish these reviews on their homepage, which describe the experience at Coco’s as a ‘bad night all round’, and having ‘nice staff’ but ‘overpriced mediocre food’.
Defensive responses like these are missing the point. Diners don’t want to hang out in a place where they feel judged, or concerned that if they complain about the service, that they won’t be taken seriously. There is a social function to reviewing food, because they tell would-be diners if a place is worth eating at. Reviews are also a proactive way for consumers to voice their subjective thoughts, and for businesses to accept feedback and respond accordingly.
Before lashing out, food retailers must remember that one bad review is not necessarily the downfall of a business. Instead, how a business acts in response, or their lack of action, could be their downfall. If a business takes time to respond to customer reviews in a proactive manner, other diners will be encouraged to step foot in the door. It’s the same with other customer-focused industries, although feedback is expressed differently, For example, in the clothing retail industry, feedback is shown in the form of returned goods. Either these retailers act in accordance with consumer laws to decide whether to accept returned stock and issue a refund, or they open themselves up to complaints and threats of action. For food retailers, the path to redemption is a little less clear.
Taking on feedback and moving on was something that Auckland cafe Goodness Gracious did not do with grace. Local foodie Albert Cho has a 17,000 strong following on Instagram under the moniker @eatlitfood, and he called the cafe’s offerings ‘average’ in a post in September. Goodness Gracious took offence, saying that Albert should have raised his concerns with the cafe in person, rather than posting about it later on social media. The situation escalated from there, much to the amusement of Instagram users. Unfortunately, the reality is that food retailers must expect this type of response from a dissatisfied customer. As well as the rise in food reviewers and bloggers on social media, there are food review websites such as Zomato which have been around for a long time. Online food reviews are part of the industry, and food retailers can’t and shouldn’t attempt to avoid this reality.
Another example of a retailer’s PR mishap is food box company Celebration Box. Due to negative feedback from customers around quality, presentation and customer service, Celebration Box took to deleting comments on social media, and disabled the review function on their Facebook Page.
Regardless of the veracity of negative comments, if a business cannot deal with such complaints in a respectful manner, the situation will blow up, and social media users will express their disgust. Although Celebration Box explained they were struggling to keep up with orders and were taking steps to hire more staff and move into a bigger facility, they had already employed insincere tactics such as deleting negative comments and blocking social media users. Ultimately, their response did not come across as genuine.
So, how can retailers do better to create genuine customer connections and trust? They need to prove their integrity by showing how they are working on solutions. For example, Celebration Box could have immediately reduced their order limits while they were working on scaling, and focused on posting photos of their hard working team as well as the masses of boxes they were preparing under difficult circumstances. Instead, Celebration Box chose to post glossy photos of influencers enjoying their product, which seemed out of touch with what was brewing behind the scenes.
A great example of a business owner’s response to self-inflicted customer chaos is Australian retailer Showpo. Founder Jane Liu released a YouTube video discussing a rough patch in business where they were unable to keep up with demand, causing an unmanageable load of customer service tickets and hordes of angry customers. In the video, Jane explains how her hard working team dealt with the situation, and how they managed to turn disgruntled customers into ones expressing their gratitude. The video was a definite PR-saver for the Showpo brand.
Ultimately, retailers need to remember that customers don’t expect (and probably won’t receive) incredible service 100 percent of the time. Retailers need to have faith that customers will come back after an average experience if a genuine attempt is made to rectify the situation. And if there’s one takeaway for retailers, it’s that online reviews and social media critics won’t and can’t be silenced. No matter how trivial a complaint may seem, it’s better to focus on creating customer connections and play the long term game. Then, the good reviews will ultimately outweigh the bad.