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How to Optimize Customer Experience

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Use this process to provide stellar guest interactions.
By Tejas Mehta April 2017 Vendor Bylines

Providing a stellar customer experience is the best way to build loyalty amongst customers and encourage those customers to spread the word about your restaurant through the Internet and word of mouth, thereby, getting you more new customers.

Managing your customer experience can mean the difference between success and failure for a lot of businesses. In fact, not managing the customer experience was a major cause for the downfall of the conventional taxi industry. The industry was too confident in its monopoly of the on-demand transportation industry and ignored customer experience, which allowed the likes of Uber to sweep in and gain a large market share in a short interval. On the other hand, a solid customer experience is one of the most common ways to disrupt an established industry and is the primary reason for the success of the Amazons, Ubers, and Apples of the world. Steve Jobs had once said, "You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around."

We have formulated a comprehensive strategy that would allow restaurants to optimize customer experience. This strategy starts by collecting feedback from customers, and converting it into a structured format. The next step is to formulate the right questions about customer experience and use appropriate data visualizations to answer those questions. This should be followed up by identifying and prioritizing the pressing issues that need to be resolved and then working with the specific departments to fix those issues.

1. Generate Feedback From Customers

The first step is to understand what customers are saying about your restaurant. There are a multitude of digital tools available that make it super easy to collect feedback from customers, including in-store kiosks and email tools. A lot of these tools also automatically ask your happy customers to drop a review for you online, spreading the word about you across the Internet.

You can collect feedback through long feedback forms asking specific questions or through short free-text forms asking users' general thoughts. While long feedback forms can be more informative, customers do not like to fill in long forms, and the response rate will be significantly lower. Using natural language processing (NLP) technology, feedback collected through free-text forms can also now be converted into a structured format similar to the response to long feedback forms.

2. Collect Feedback and Reviews from Across the Internet

There probably is a lot of feedback about your restaurant in the form of reviews online. This data can also be very useful in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your restaurant. While it could very well be a herculean task to collect all of these reviews manually depending upon the size of your restaurant, automated software can do this for you in no time.

3. Convert Feedback to a Structured, Standardized Format

The next step would be to convert all of this unstructured feedback data into a structured, standardized format. Unstructured data in itself is not very useful, as it does not allow identification of trends and pressing issues. If there are a couple of people who complain about a particular aspect of the customer experience, it is likely that either it was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing or a person-specific problem. However, if there are a lot of people who complain about the same issue, it is likely to be a real, high-impact problem that should be resolved ASAP. Converting the free-text data into a structured format is an important step towards being able to identify the pressing issues. Newly developed NLP technology combined with machine-learning technology can now be used to this end.

4. Formulate Questions and Visualize Data Appropriately

Formulating the right questions is a critical step in understanding the customer experience. For instance, restaurants might want to ask about what are their best performing and worst performing food items? What are the most common food taste problems? The best way to answer these questions is through the right data visualizations. For instance, while there would be a lot of ways to visualize locations data, a scatter plot showing the number of reviews versus rating for thousands of locations can help quickly identify outliers. The visualization charts would be different depending upon the number of attributes of interest. For example, if there is only one attribute of interest, such as number of reviews, a bar chart or line chart would work well. If there are two attributes, like number of reviews and sentiment, a dot plot or bubble chart would work well. For certain dimensionalities, heat maps can be very useful in visualization of a large amount of data.

5. Identify and Resolve Pressing Issues

Through data visualizations, pressing issues should be identified and prioritized based upon frequency and impact of the problem. Identifying key strengths can be very useful in determining marketing and business strategy. For instance, if there is a certain aspect of the restaurant that is loved by customers, increasing the exposure of that aspect in advertisements can help create a stronger impression.

The pressing issues should be resolved with the respective departments and locations. Real customer feedback and reviews can motivate employees to improve their service and other aspects of the restaurant.

Iterative cycles of this strategy will allow restaurants to optimize their customer experience. Customer experience and reputation management platforms automate a large part of this strategy for restaurants, thereby saving them a lot of time and resources. According to Gartner, 89 percent of companies expect to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, as opposed to 36 percent four years ago. Considering the importance of customer experience and the low-cost solutions now available to manage it, restaurants' focus on customer experience can only be expected to go up.

Tejas Mehta
Tejas Mehta is the founder of Reputicity—a Silicon Valley based startup building an Online Reputation Management Platform for restaurants. He has significant experience solving difficult business problems through strategic thinking and building innovative products through highly scalable, powerful software solutions.