Nathan Stuart starts every day the same way: wake up, check email, check Womply.
Every morning, after Nathan rolls out of bed, he wants to see what customers have been saying about his business online. It’s nice to see the positive feedback — his seafood restaurant in coastal Florida has 4-5 star ratings on popular review websites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor, after all. But he’s mainly looking for negative online reviews.
“We’re incredibly proud of our food. If someone doesn’t like it, I want to know about it,” says Nathan, owner-operator of Seafood Kitchen in Atlantic Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida.
For Nathan, monitoring and managing online business reviews is an opportunity to get customers back in the restaurant. This is particularly true for the rare patron whose experience is less-than-stellar. When he spots a bad online review, Nathan reaches out to the customer to see what went awry and offer a free meal.
“Almost every time, the customer takes us up on the offer to come back, and they have a great experience,” Nathan says. “It makes them feel special and not like just another number. They feel like I care about my business and my customers.”
Nathan has tapped into an important secret for local, independent businesses: offer a unique customer experience that larger competitors can’t match, and have a system in place to fix things when you fall short. The last part is key because up to 70% of complaining customers will use your business again if their concerns are resolved.
According to Nathan, these are the ingredients for success as an independent restaurateur in the age of social media:
- Offer a dining experience patrons can’t get anywhere else
- Proactively seek customer feedback
- When complaints arise, resolve instead of resenting
Ingredient 1: Offer a unique dining experience
According to research from American Express, 81% of Americans agree that smaller businesses place a greater emphasis on customer service than larger companies. That starts with a unique product, which Seafood Kitchen accomplishes with a refreshingly original menu that includes regionally inspired signature dishes such as gator tail, shrimp and frog legs, and crabmeat au gratin.
Founded in 1982, Seafood Kitchen has no trouble filling its 18-table dining room. Nathan typically has 2,000 covers per day on the weekend, comprised of loyal regulars and transient patrons visiting the Jacksonville area.
“Our motto is ‘Where the locals eat,’ which resonates with regular and vacationers alike,” Nathan says. “Locals and tourists are always looking for something different than Joe’s Crab Shack or Chili’s. All of our ingredients are fresh and locally sourced, and we make all our dishes and appetizers from scratch. That’s big when you’re competing with chains that literally take food out of a bag and serve it to patrons.”
Ingredient 2: Get customer feedback
Even the best business has a bad day, so it’s important to know when you fall short of customer expectations. Nathan incentivizes his servers with cash bonuses to proactively ask patrons to post their reviews online. (You can also use Womply to connect with patrons and proactively encourage reviews.)
Getting more reviews helps customers find your business online and increases the chances that your ratings reflect the true customer experience that you work so hard to provide. Online reviews can also be a great place for spotting subtle business problems you might be missing, as Womply customer Kimana Littleflower found with her restaurant’s famous biscuits and gravy.
Ingredient 3: Get dissatisfied customers back
Oddly, complaining customers are great targets for becoming loyal patrons. The fact that they go out of their way to share feedback online suggests at least basic engagement with your business, and they usually want a reason to give you a second chance.
To see what customers are saying, Nathan uses Womply to read and respond to all his restaurant’s online reviews from a single place. Seafood Kitchen generally gets great reviews on Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor and other popular consumer sites. But when the occasional negative review comes through, Nathan sees it as an opportunity to create a loyal customer.
“I want any customer feedback I can get, and Womply helps me see it all in one place,” Nathan says. “I know exactly who I need to get back in the restaurant, and almost without fail I’m able to turn bad experiences into good ones and keep customers coming back.”
The recipe is working for Seafood Kitchen and nationally as well, as local restaurants are starting to eat the lunch of big chains, according to a recent report in Bloomberg. This trend will only grow as small restaurants and cafes find better, more efficient ways to connect with customers and ensure they’re getting a top-shelf experience.
Be sure to check out our slideshow below to see more of the menu items at Seafood Kitchen!
Bonus x2: For more information on how online reviews affect small business sales, read our primer.