How Social Media Transparency
Can Improve Customer Service for Restaurants

Dr. Gary Edwards


Restaurant patrons are turning to their social networks for recommendations more than ever before. Empathica’s 2013 QSR (Quick Service Restaurants) Benchmark Study revealed that 38 percent of QSR customers have read a restaurant review online in the past 30 days. Unsurprisingly, the data also reveals that on average, the more satisfied a customer is with a brand, the more likely they are to recommend it to their friends and family on social platforms.

Since recommendations are one of the most widely noted reasons for customers visiting a new restaurant, a brand’s online reputation is clearly a major factor in a customer’s decision to visit a certain location. This is becoming more important as consumers become more adept to looking up reviews on their mobile devices.


In today’s consumer-driven marketplace the Internet can be one of the best – and potentially most damaging – places for a restaurant to validate its business. From social interactions to more formal reviews, the most important thing about how customers are responding online is not just what they’re writing, but how brand owners are responding. Consumers demand transparency and the world is watching, so brands must proceed carefully, honestly and frequently.

From Twitter to Pinterest to Yelp to the numerous other channels popping up every month, customers are looking to the Internet to share experiences and give brands feedback – but are the brands listening? And more importantly – are they addressing customer concerns?

You’re going to get bad reviews – it’s how you deal with them that matters

It’s often noted that those who are driven to social channels to share their experience often have polar experiences: Either they had a “WOW” experience with a brand or are looking to share a terrible “How could they do THAT!?” experience. While both will be recognized by the next batch of consumers looking for information about a particular restaurant, consumers will unfortunately read more into the bad review.

So the obvious question is: Why not just delete bad reviews?

First of all, if a consumer is already upset with the brand, deleting the negative review will not only make the brand look untrustworthy or that it has something to hide, but it may also spark an even nastier comment from a wronged customer – and it will definitely ensure they never return to that location. Worse still, there are innumerable unfortunate examples of brands trying to quash negative social media comments, only to see the act of deletion become a viral, public phenomenon that far eclipses the original issue under dispute.

By taking the time to figure out what happened and rectify the situation, you have the opportunity to positively impact multiple future visits. Obviously, brands want to take resolution “offline” whenever possible (hint: the customer isn’t always right), but it is important in today’s cultural climate to approach these moments unafraid to admit a mistake and try to resolve it. Just remember, the world is watching.

Improve overall reputation with high quantity – and quality – reviews

While more brands are focusing on growth of customer relationships and insights through reviews, one of the largest barriers to success in this area is poor quality, quantity, accuracy and relevancy of reviews on the Internet.

The informed consumer needs to be made aware that the 10-20 reviews on Yelp gathered over a 10-year period provide a score that not only has no statistical validity, but, more importantly to the layperson, also has no relevance. Reviews need to have substantive meaning. What value attends to knowing what one person three years ago thought of their meal, while tens of thousands of customers have been served since then? Reviews need to pass some form of reliability and validity tests standard within public opinion polling.

Brands should be attempting to ensure that the reviews provided online have a large enough and a representative enough sample base of recent customers. This ensures that the ratings and comments have real relevance to the consumer making a decision today on where they wish to dine. New technologies, such as OpenTell, allow brands to provide the transparency and relevance that customers are demanding. Brands such as Hertz and Dave & Buster’s are bravely charting this new territory.

Customers are going to turn to reviews to make their decision of where to eat. When some of these reviews turn up negative, a brand can improve its image by engaging with customers and by ensuring many high quality reviews make it on those social platforms.

Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer at Empathica, is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science and retail insights. Gary is involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. He has served a key leadership role during program development, implementation, and follow-up with clients for the past eight years at Empathica. For over 15 years prior, Gary led worldwide and domestic research projects in customer and employee research.