As someone who loves to dine out and travels a lot, I’m often baffled by obvious examples of missed customer service at the restaurants and other small businesses I visit.
One evening, while ranting to my husband about a so-so dinner experience (which, incidentally, did not come at a so-so price) I started checking off faults we’d noticed in a single dining experience: Horrible use of social media. Lackluster greeting. Inconsistent service.
But later, as I reflected on my laundry list of complaints, I realized something uncomfortable: I have made every single one of the same mistakes as a blogger.
And, I’m guessing, so have you.
Let’s face it: as bloggers we wear a lot of hats at once, and sometimes we just don’t have time to do everything we’d like to. I’m guessing that’s what all those restaurant owners are thinking, too. But sometimes when you’re too close to something, you can’t see how it looks from the outside: how the way you greet and interact with your customer (for the blogger, that’s our readers) affects their experience and eventually, their loyalty. How small things can add up to become big things – everything, really.
Here are a two major mistakes that constantly irritate me about restaurants. If you’re in the food industry or another small business, maybe you recognize yourself in one…or both.
And if you’re a blogger, I’m guessing you do, too.
Mistake #1: Inconsistent and ineffective use of social media.
Almost every restaurant I know of has a Facebook page. But for some reason, very few use them to regularly communicate important details about their businesses with the customers who’ve taken the time to “like” said pages. Many small businesses don’t even take care of the very basics: filling out their hours, contact information and other details (and then making sure to update them when those details change.) And an even larger number of them rarely post: no tantalizing pictures of the latest dish the chef is featuring, no information about special events or deals.
Here’s the thing: if I’m trying to decide where to go to dinner, the first thing I check is a few different restaurants’ Facebook pages to see if they’re open and check for specials. If I check three pages and only one lists that evening’s specials, guess which one I’m going to choose? If I check a restaurant’s page and there hasn’t been any sign of life since June, guess what impression that gives me?
But hey there, bloggers: many of us make the same mistakes on our pages, too, don’t we? Maybe we don’t want to seem too spammy or self-promotional; perhaps we are just so busy writing that we run out of time to take the next step. But it’s important to remember that people “like” our pages or follow our Twitter accounts because they genuinely want to hear from us.
Plus, with organic Facebook engagement dramatically down, you can’t even be sure which post will be the one that strikes a chord and winds up in your audiences’ feed.
So experiment. Share what you’re up to, engage with responders, and see what works. You don’t have to have a perfect “strategy” to start: the worst thing you can do is nothing.
If nothing else, for goodness’ sake make sure you’ve got your blog’s URL spelled correctly in your profile.
Mistake #2: Forgetting about the “locals.”
I live in a tourist destination on Lake Michigan, and every summer, from June to August, we’re flooded with city-dwellers who come to our quaint little town to relax, play on the beach, shop, and eat. To keep up with demand, the restaurants (understandably) hire more staff, extend their hours – sometimes quite considerably – and suddenly their social media accounts are crack-a-lackin’. They bring in live music, offer special dishes, and generally court the tourists like a lovesick teenage boy.
Then, come Labor Day, the tourists disappear as suddenly as they materialized, and we locals are often left with limited hours, forgotten Facebook pages, and a halfhearted skeleton staff.
Of course restaurants have to scale back operations when demand is lower, but it’s hard not to feel let down when an eatery I patronize all year long seems to value a weekend visitor more than my steady and consistent business. I’ve even seen restaurants jack up their prices during the off-season! And most start closing so early that by the time we get the kids to bed, there’s no nightlife left to bother leaving the house for.
Bloggers, we do the same thing! It’s not an exact analogy, but I know I’ve been guilty of taking my “locals” – the loyal group of core readers who show up day after day and read and share everything I write – for granted. Have you?
We roll out the red carpet when a post brings in unexpected new traffic, taking the time to respond to comments and emails at length. We try to bring in new readers with SEO, giveaways, and opt-in freebies, and then make sure our site is optimized to hold a new reader’s attention, giving careful thought to “about” pages, “start here” pages, and navigation. And all that isn’t just smart, it’s necessary.
But do we pay the same attention – and show the same appreciation – to our “locals”?
I have to admit, I haven’t always done a bang-up job of this. It’s never intentional: it’s just easy, in the mad, hyper-competitive scramble for more pageviews, more likes, more shares, more readers to get used to the core group of readers always being there and forget to develop that relationship.
So how can you reach out and show appreciation to your “locals,” that steadfast – and often surprisingly silent – group of loyal readers? Sure, we all know we should respond to comments whenever possible. But what else can we do?
Here are some ideas:
- Reach out via email.
Last year I decided to get serious about email outreach in order to develop a closer relationship with my readers. From my original list of 2500, I created a smaller segment made up of the readers who had been opening and engaging with my emails all along and vowed to make a special point of reaching out to them.
And the response has been amazing. There’s something about the intimacy of email that invites readers to hit “reply” and respond, even if they’ve never left a comment in their lives. (This is especially true if you make it very clear that you want to hear from them.) Every time I send a message, readers respond with thoughtful, heartfelt, and supportive emails in return. And I’ve made a point of responding to every single reply to make sure they understand I notice, appreciate, and don’t don’t take them for granted.
I’ve also offered my list exclusive discounts and offers, and will be offering special list-only giveaways starting soon. Just another way to tell your readers “You’re special, and I appreciate you.”
- Give readers a way to interact with you outside the blog.
In addition to email, I’ve found that special, free or low-cost programs that give loyal readers the opportunity to connect with me and the community we’ve built outside of the blog have been very well-received. For example, last year I launched Beyond Baby Boot Camp, a free, 30-day program geared toward helping moms focus energy and time on their own needs and goals outside of motherhood. The program included a private Facebook community, in which I played an active role. Yes, it was an (unpaid) commitment of my time, but when I announced my first in-real-life event last winter – the not-so-coincidentally named BEYOND Retreat, which took place last month – my audience was already familiar with the Beyond concept, so getting people to sign up for the retreat wasn’t so much about “selling” as it was simply giving Beyond’s biggest fans another piece of the puzzle.
Yes, we’re all busy.
And I know that between writing and promoting content and keeping clients happy, there often doesn’t seem to be enough time to even handle the “must-do’s” on our lists.
But I try to remind myself that without an audience, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do this in the first place. And whether it’s enticing new readers with a solid social media presence or rewarding loyal readers with a little extra attention, every investment matters.