Ser­vice with a tweet

Restau­rants turn to Twit­ter to fix cus­tomer com­plaints.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By SER­ENA DAI

WHEN Tony Bosco saw mostly neg­a­tive re­views about the res­tau­rant Wow Bao, he Tweeted: “Go­ing to ‘busi­ness’ din­ner @Wow Bao. Can any1 tell me if it’s go­ing to suck as much re­views sug­gest.”

And al­most im­me­di­ately he got a re­sponse from an un­ex­pected source – BaoMouth, the of­fi­cial Twit­ter feed of Wow Bao, an up­scale fast food place in Chicago. The res­tau­rant of­fered him a coupon to find out for him­self, on the house.

Wow Bao sent Bosco two US$15 gift cards via an iPhone app, and Bosco went the next night, post­ing pic­tures of the food on Twit­ter.

“I would say it made it a lit­tle more ex­cit­ing – that im­me­di­ate in­ter­ac­tion,” said Bosco, 34.

Con­ver­sa­tions about food that once only hap­pened be­tween friends are now pub­lic thanks to the In­ter­net. And the mi­croblog­ging site Twit­ter has only sped up the con­ver­sa­tion. Whether it’s re­views be­fore the meal or the ser­vice after­ward, opin­ions are voiced freely – and restau­rants are tak­ing no­tice.

Many eater­ies in the United States have been tweet­ing about spe­cials or other events for a while. But re­cently restau­rants have started Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tions with cus­tomers. Chains like Chipo­tle and Pei Wei even have full-time so­cial me­dia em­ploy­ees.

Pre­vi­ously cor­po­rate-sound­ing res­tau­rant Twit­ter feeds now are filled with streams of replies di­rectly to din­ers, in some cases per­form­ing nearly in­stan­ta­neous cus­tomer ser­vice.

Geoff Alexan­der, man­ag­ing part­ner of Wow Bao, ex­plained his com­pany’s Twit­ter com­mit­ment like this: If some­body has 1,000 fol­low­ers and writes a neg­a­tive Tweet about Wow Bao, then 1,000 peo­ple could think the res­tau­rant is bad. But if Wow Bao pub­licly re­sponds to that Tweet, 1,000 peo­ple may see the is­sue is be­ing han­dled.

“We cre­ated this en­tity to talk to peo­ple,” Alexan­der said. “BaoMouth can do what­ever it takes to en­hance the guest’s ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Chipo­tle, based in Den­ver, Colorado, also has re­sponded to cus­tomer prob­lems through Twit­ter, even though the chain has about 1,000 lo­ca­tions across 50 Amer­i­can cities. Their en­tire feed, ChipotleTweets, is a list of an­swers to con­sumer ques­tions and re­sponses to prob­lems.

Den­nis Ys­las tweeted in a Chipo­tle in Fort Worth, Texas, about a lack of corn tor­tillas. Less than two min­utes later, the com­pany replied to Ys­las, a 47-year-old ac­tor. The cor­po­rate of­fice called the lo­cal man­ager about the tor­tilla sit­u­a­tion even be­fore Ys­las had left the res­tau­rant, Ys­las said.

“I was kind of frus­trated that they didn’t have them,” said Ys­las. “But Chipo­tle was to­tally, to­tally ready to cover me.”

Chris Arnold, one of the sev­eral peo­ple who Tweet for Chipo­tle, said the vol­ume of Tweets is the great­est chal­lenge for such a big chain. Not only do they have an em­ployee ded­i­cated to so­cial me­dia, a slew of cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives also Tweet and use Face­book part-time.

“It’s time and re­sources very well spent,” Arnold said. “You can ei­ther pre­tend that (the con­ver­sa­tion) isn’t hap­pen­ing or de­cide not to be part of it. To us, it just re­ally makes sense to use those as tools.”

Gra­ham El­liot, a judge on Fox’s re­al­ity tele­vi­sion com­pe­ti­tion MasterChef and owner of the Gra­ham El­liot res­tau­rant in Chicago, is known to – in his words – “pub­licly hu­mil­i­ate” cus­tomers who com­plain about the res­tau­rant on­line.

But if he thinks the com­plaint is gen­uine, El­liot said, he will send a pri­vate mes­sage or call to in­vite the cus­tomer to try the res­tau­rant again.

“It’s great to have this wall torn down,” El­liot said. “Most of the time, peo­ple just want to be heard.”

El­liot writes all of the Gra­hamEl­liot tweets him­self. Like other restau­rants, El­liot wants his Twit­ter voice to be in line with the brand, which in his case means “an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ap­proach to cook­ing,” he said.

So he fre­quently tweets his opin­ions about topics other than his res­tau­rant or cook­ing, from cur­rent events to fan­tasy foot­ball picks. El­liot even uses Twit­ter to let his fol­low­ers make de­ci­sions about the mu­sic the res­tau­rant plays.

“It’s the democrati­sa­tion of fine din­ing,” he said. – AP

Per­sonal touch: Chef Gra­ham El­liot of Gra­ham El­liot res­tau­rant check­ing his Twit­ter ac­count on his iPad at his res­tau­rant in Chicago, the United States. El­liot fre­quently tweets his opin­ions about topics other than his res­tau­rant or cook­ing, from cur­rent events to fan­tasy foot­ball picks. He even uses Twit­ter to let his fol­low­ers make de­ci­sions about the mu­sic the res­tau­rant plays.

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