With the Web at their fingertips, today's customers are better equipped to find the information they're looking for, whether at home or on the go. A study by Dimensional Research demonstrates this impact with 88 percent of customers saying online reviews-whether positive or negative-affect their buying decisions.
However, while online reviews are nowadays widely available, the question is whether they're accurate and genuine. This was a concern for fondue restaurant franchise The Melting Pot. As Mike Lester, the company's president, explains, reviews on a number of sites were outdated, rendering them largely irrelevant. On one major review aggregator, Lester explains, the latest review for one of the company's 140 locations was a year old.
The main problem with dated reviews lay with providing customers with the wrong information. For example, apart from regular tweaks, the chain makes major changes to its menu twice per year, and Lester says it was important that the latest reviews reflected these amendments, giving customers a clear idea of what to expect when they visited one of the brand's restaurants. "We were committed to give customers the most recent and accurate information," Lester notes, adding that the wrong information could lead to disappointment if customers didn't find what they expected, for example a particular dish which was no longer available.
The Melting Pot's business leaders decided to take steps to ensure those wanting information about the brand had access to reliable and timely reviews. "We wanted to refresh all reviews," Lester notes. He says the organization embraces external review aggregator sites but also recognizes that not all reviews are real. To address this problem, The Melting Pot wanted to provide a place where it could invite actual customers to leave reviews and eliminate the problem of fakes. "We want all reviews to be from actual customers and therefore trusted," Lester explains.
Last year The Melting Pot started testing MindShare's OpenTell technology across several of its locations. Since the organization was already using MindShare for customer service surveys, it extended the collaboration by asking diners whether their comments and ratings given after dining at one of the restaurants either on comment cards or over the phone could be posted online. Although Lester notes that the tests weren't scientifically tracked, the company found that the majority of diners were willing to have their comments posted online and last November the OpenTell service was extended across all locations.
The result has been The Melting Pot's ability to provide reviews that come from actual diners. Lester explains that the telephone numbers used for surveys and reviews uploaded on OpenTell aren't publicly available but shared with diners on receipts and business cards, helping ensure that the reviews are coming from actual diners. This, Lester notes, allows customers to make informed decisions about whether to visit a restaurant and also know what to expect when they walk through the doors. "It's important that we're transparent and customers understand the type of experience they will get when they visit a restaurant," Lester explains.
Further, customer reviews are being used for employee training purposes, especially when it comes to new managers who need to learn more about the experience that customers expect. Lester notes that new managers are able to hear directly from real guests through comments extracted from telephone surveys. The company is also leveraging customer insights to make improvements to its restaurant. "Customers aren't solely sharing information with each other, but also with the organization," he explains. For example, customer insight has allowed The Melting Pot to identify special items which were extremely popular and consider including them as permanent menu choices.
Finally, Lester explains that robust SEO practices mean that the company's own review sites are easy to find, allowing customers to get accurate information easily.