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Managing the Social Consumer

Prior to the advent of social media, businesses used structured customer relationship management (CRM) systems to gather and store customer information. That information ranged from demographic and contact information to recent purchases. Social media has unearthed  a goldmine of consumer data that guests and potential guests are providing about themselves in a completely unstructured way, says Ashu Bhatia, vice president for the southeast region of RCG Global Services. In addition, today’s social consumers are all too eager to offer reviews — both positive and negative. 

“Social media is where our customers are and they’re talking about us and giving feedback,” says Connor Harrison, marketing manager, Costa Vida. “If we’re not on social media, we’re not learning about and improving our business.”

To collect, understand and act upon guest feedback, Costa Vida works with multiple vendors. Its loyalty platform — hosted by Punchh — requires that guests scan their receipt to add points to their rewards account. At the same time, they’re asked to take a survey, which when completed results in a free drink, dessert or chips and salsa appetizer. The feedback from those surveys is collected and managed by InMoment which then uses the data to create a score for each restaurant location. In the near future, that score will also take into account what is being said on social media regarding specific locations so that the score is more “truthful.”

Costa Vida also uses the Sprout Social platform to manage all of its social feeds in one place and to keep track of every conversation the restaurant has on social media with its guest. 

“If a customer is complaining for the fifth time in a row about the same issue, I can track that and see if they’re just complaining to complain or if it is a real issue,” Harrison notes.

This is especially useful for food-related complaints. If a customer tweets to Costa Vida that he hates its sweet pork burrito, Harrison can tweet back to find out if there was something genuinely wrong with the food or if the guest just doesn’t like sweet meats. If it’s the latter, he will recommend they come back in and try the savory beef enchiladas instead. When a restaurant is able to have a conversation via social with a guest, they’re viewed as a friend, not just a brand. So the suggestion to come back in carries more weight,Harrison notes.  

By interacting with guests on social media, restaurant brands see significant increases in both satisfaction with the brand and loyalty. 

According to Richard Garlick, Ph.D., gobal travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, findings from the 2016 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study reveal that when a customer posts a concern or issue on social media and is ignored, only about one-third of those guests will recommend the brand. However, if the brand responds and resolves the issue, the percentage of those guests that will recommend the hotel brand almost doubles.

Not only is responding to social media posts positive for the brand, it is increasingly becoming the way to do business. Responding to customer posts on social media is no longer a “nice to have” it is a “must have,” Garlick notes. This is especially true for brands that specifically target customers born after 1977. About half of these younger customers expect a response from a brand after a social interaction. 

“Every review platform, such as Tripadvisor or even, is an integral part of social CRM,” agrees Andreas Purtscher, general manager and partner at Zeitgeist, an urban property in downtown Vienna. “You have to be present on those sites as much as in ‘real life,’ and respond to every review. That presence will lead to a positive perception and ultimately to more revenue.”

Responsiveness: A Dish Best Served HOT

Not only do customers expect a response to their social media posts, they expect a quick response.

“Taking even an hour to answer could be perceived as if you were neglecting your guests,” Purtscher notes. “The customer no longer considers waiting an option. So your staff has to be trained accordingly, and you also need to get assistance from an automated system.”

To  help operators sort through the millions of points of feedback on social media regarding their brands, tools such as Radian6 from Salesforce, Crimson Hexagon, or Alterian can be used to “listen” to data for key words or phrases and then pull that into the CRM quickly for processing. These tools use natural language processing: software that tries to figure out the sentiment expressed in a tweet or Facebook post, Bhatia says.

Sweet Tomatoes, a restaurant chain with more than 100 locations, used one such tool to monitor social media posts for mentions of its brand. Any feedback that was deemed negative by the software was immediately sent to its service center. It was the company’s goal to call the customer back within 24 hours of the complaint appearing on social media. Often during the follow-up call, the company’s representative would provide the customer with coupons for a future visit, Bhatia noted.

Similarly, Sprout Social allows Harrison to e-mail any social media conversation to the Costa Vida helpdesk, which then ensures the restaurant location at the heart of the conversation is aware of the feedback. Harrison also uses Sprout Social to assign specific social media posts to appropriate individuals at the company for a response based on the content of the post.

Social CRM tools are also able to help hospitality brands with both revenue management and cost-cutting initiatives. For instance, a hotel in Orlando could use a Social CRM tool to monitor social feeds for chatter around upcoming events taking place in Orlando, Bhatia says. Then it can use that chatter to understand demand for rooms and set prices. 

“A lot of these feeds from social CRM systems go into pricing algorithms,” he adds. “Sometimes hoteliers can increase prices as much as 25 to 30 percent.”

When it comes to cost-cutting measures, a social CRM platform can be especially useful for lowering marketing expenses. Costa Vida experienced this firsthand when one of its followers asked the brand if he could get a free meal if he was able to get a positive tweet about Costa Vida retweeted by 100 different people. 

“The answer was obviously: ‘Of course!’” Harrison says. “I was able to get into 100 different Twitter feeds without having to do anything myself, and all I had to do was agree to give away a couple dollars in food costs.” 
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