by: Simon Dance
The latest offering from Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares aired on Channel 4 last night, followed the somewhat disastrous adventures of ex-boxer Mike and his wife Caron Ciminera as they struggled to run the Fish & Anchor, a restaurant in Lampeter, West Wales. Whilst the couple's arguing appeared to better the food they were originally sending out (a mix of jarred sauces and home cook book trophy dishes) they did let slip on a fantastically poor bit of black hat optimisation, which I hope made all white hat SEOs laugh out loud. If there was one lesson to take away from the show, it would be - Don't fake reviews! In order to gauged the feeling of the local community for the failing restaurant come sports bar, Ramsay conducted a search on Google for the Fish & Anchor, to which he was presented with a range of reviews, two of which were rather suspiciously from a character calling himself Michael or Mike Burns. On the Wales portal of the BBC website Burns had posted "Well i don't get excited about food too often, and having dined in Rick Stein's, and Gordon Ramsay's,I think i have found a better restaurant in West Wales". On the SugarVine website he also posted "what a fantastic restaurant for couples, and families. it seems to have everything, the food has to be the best i have eaten (home or abroad) this place will go far". Other online reviews echoed what has already been said, but with the dire state of the restaurant, its food, its reputation and its perception from both the local community and Ramsay itself, would it not be right to question who was telling the truth? The restaurateur confessed to posting the reviews, his rational pointing to stimulating custom, however with any reactive strategy it requires a degree of foresight - and I am not sure he really thought through the wider ramification of posting these "inaccurate" reviews. Firstly, a warning must be expressed. For example, if someone finds your restaurant or hotel via a positive (fake) review and they have a bad experience, there is a chance that they will post a true review to assist fellow users and generally have a rant. The initial seeding of this true review has the potential to lead to an onslaught of further reviews from other visitors who might not have otherwise posted. Don't forget the saying "people don't lead... they follow". But how can you manage your reviews and ultimately what your customers are saying about you? Well first and foremost, address the problem(s)! You wouldn't put a sticking plaster on a gun shot wound, so why think that a positive review about the quality of your food or the softest of your sheets is going to counteract the adversities of your customer service? The customer is king, a point stressed by Ramsay, and one that should ring true for any business, after all, without them, where would we be? By rectifying or at least making plans to manage any failings within your business, regardless of its size, will be the first step in managing your online reputation, but this is an area I will not going into comprehensive detail for this post. Instead, I will offer some simply pointers as to how to harness online reviews for good. Sites like Trip Advisor, which boasts over 10,000,000 user generated reviews of various hotels, holidays and restaurants is gaining increasing weighting as an resource for honest and unbiased review and via its system of community recommendation it really has the power to drive custom, and in many instances, divert customer - the key factor being positive, and consistent reviews. But if you do run a successful hotel or restaurant and wish to harness these social spaces, but wish to do so in a more ethical way than that demonstrated in Kitchen Nightmares than why not encourage your diners of hotel guests to post a review after their stay. When the customer is paying their bill or even booking their hotel room why not take their email address, or even ask them to submit their business card in return for entry into a monthly prize draw for a free meal in the restaurant? In addition to building up a client database by collecting this data - for use in promotional mailings including notifying customers of events, promotional and the launch of a new menu - you can also harness it to stimulate online reviews by dropping your customers a short email after their stay / meal, which might look something like the following example... "Good afternoon Simon, and thank you very much for your booking at the Leapfrogg Restaurant, we hope you had an enjoyable meal. We pride ourselves on the quality of our food and our attentive staff however we're always striving to enhance and improve what we do, and as such we would appreciate you taking two minutes of your time to write a review for us at Trip Advisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com), a free travel guide and research website that allows users to post review and ratings. Your comments are important to us, and will be used to improve the Leapfrogg restaurant. Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to welcoming you again to the Leapfrogg restaurant in the near future. Sincerely, A Restaurateur Leapfrogg restaurant Brighton Tel: 01273 669 450" Of course, many of your requests will be ignored, but providing you are personal in your emails (a point we at Leapfrogg have mentioned previously in this blog) then you are more likely to get a response, and even if you only have a 5% success rate, this is still 5% of valuable customer feedback. A point to which I will conclude this article is one which has stuck with me from London's SMX, and one that I will most certainly be repeating from here on out is that "Yesterday's news no longer wraps today's fish and chips". Online news and online content, including user generated reviews do not simply get binned like a newspaper at the end of the day, but they remain live, and can even appear within the search results for a brand keyword search... so isn't it worth paying attention to what your customers are saying?