Wilson Group is the parent company to an expanding tableau of restaurants including The Chambers and Ollie’s Italian, both based in the heart of Cairns, Australia. The Chambers, combining a café and boutique function spaces within its venue, opened three years ago while Ollie’s was established in late 2019.
Both venues shut down in the first half of 2020 due to COVID. According to Wilson Group’s Operations Manager Leith Wilson, re-opening Ollies was like ‘restarting a new business all over again.’ During the lockdown, Wilson Group were forced to downsize due to a lack of international tourism and running a takeaway business for both joints through The Chambers.
The dining experience really changed.Leith Wilson, Operations Manager, Wilson Group
When the business reopened, Leith Wilson observed, customers’ expectations shot through the roof, forcing the team to adapt to a different dining experience. Patrons were now looking for something ‘spectacular’ after months of dining at home. Training up non-skilled workers while also tackling the problem of getting new patrons through the door were some of the challenges Wilson Group were facing.
The challenge of asking for restaurant customer feedback
One strategy the Wilson Group considered was to increase their ratings and reviews. Due to the loss of international tourists, it was important to “drive domestic travellers and locals to us” said Leith Wilson.
To increase their ranking, they needed a clever method to encourage positive online feedback. Getting reviews in hospitality is notoriously difficult, and review sites such as Google reviews can be overwhelmed with bad reviews.
At first, Wilson Group tried a few survey tools and methods. They asked for feedback in person but customers did not convert. This was likely because responses weren’t instantaneous and customers were unlikely to give honest feedback face-to-face.
We always strive to improve. We want to bring the customer into the journey.Leith Wilson, Operations Manager, Wilson Group
Wilson Group also tried sending out restaurant surveys through third-party booking platforms such as The Fork. Although this eased the process, they still didn’t convert. According to Leith Wilson, this is when personalisation would be an advantage. Third-party emails can feel generic and are easy to ignore or delete in a cluttered inbox.
Emails, for Leith Wilson, come off as a professional tool, which is why she believed the personal experience of SMS would be far more effective. Having previously worked in PR and marketing for casual fast-food chains, Leith Wilson had experienced the open rate and results of SMS marketing. People have their phones on them 24/7 these days. Whether confirming a booking, clicking a link or texting 1-5; replying to an SMS is easy and generates much higher survey response rates.
RELATED: Get our 5 top templates for SMS surveys, and start using them now!
Restaurant’s feedback SMS format, messages and process
Leith Wilson engaged in long research and consultation with existing patrons, family and communities. There was concern around how to ensure their text surveys did not come off invasive or annoying. She also looked at existing SMS literature and guides around how restaurants could engage with patrons after dining to encourage reviews and return visits.
Working with MessageMedia, Wilson was able to build a review filtering process. This methodology encouraged patrons to promote positive reviews, while utilising poor feedback to improve their customer service using the following SMS templates.
- Restaurant uses automation to send SMS surveys after a patron dines.
- Patrons are encouraged to reply by simply sending a number.
- Depending on the number, different replies are sent. For example, if the reply is 4-5, customers are encouraged to leave a review with a direct link.
- If patrons leave a 3 or less, the team follows up with a personal phone call to assess the issue. An incentive (such as a discount) to come again is offered to uplift customer satisfaction.
It’s just about managing the guest feedback, or the negative feedback and turning it into a positive where we can. SMS helped us do that.Leith Wilson, Operations Manager, Wilson Group
Not only did this help improve their service to meet new consumer expectations; 50% of the patrons who attended again left a positive review after their second time.
What were the results driven by our SMS feedback tool
It’s important to the Wilson Group that customers are given a voice. In Cairns, restaurant patronage cannot be transactional like it is in bigger cities, especially without the aid of tourists. With travel still heavily restricted, locals are now their ‘bread and butter’.
We’ve really got to focus on our locals and ensure that we’re getting regulars back.Leith Wilson, Operating Manager, Wilson Group
When they first opened, Ollie’s ranked 3.9 stars on Google. Today, their ranking has shifted to 4.3 stars based purely on reviews generated by sending texts requesting feedback. Once only averaging two reviews per month, now they generate between 12-15 5-star reviews for Ollies while Chambers gets 6-8 per month. Leith Wilson says she is very happy as they’ve quadrupled their goal and started to pull in more return patrons as a result.
Additionally, 30% of the people leaving reviews now come back on a weekly basis while 60-70% of patrons now return once a month. This new process around feedback has driven an increasing amount of return visits and secured steady patronage for the Wilson Group while delivering a 33% ROI for Ollie’s.
We’re really happy with the result because it was important for us to see that consistency.Leith Wilson, Operations Manager, Wilson Group
More importantly, MessageMedia’s online hub allowed the Wilson Group team to track return visitors and their feedback. If their first visit was great, but their second wasn’t; the team can easily send surveys to follow up but also gauge how successful their customer experience improvements are. It’s essential, says Leith Wilson, that “everyone’s getting the same experience every time” and that the process is as easy and seamless as possible.
MessageMedia’s SMS marketing tool was the method and platform where we saw the most conversions.Leith Wilson, Operations Manager, Wilson Group
Though incentivisation is often encouraged within any feedback process, Leith Wilson also found that ROI was still strong even if a discount wasn’t offered. This, in addition to the high conversion rate and the low cost of SMS, proved how cost-effective and results-driven text messaging can be as a feedback tool.
Leith Wilson believes that SMS worked for customers because feedback needs to be instantaneous. Restaurant issues can now be fixed on the spot based on their in-depth follow-up calls.
How will SMS messaging be used in the future
Currently, the Wilson Group is also using text messaging for booking confirmations as well as part of their marketing campaigns for upcoming events such as Mother’s Day. For a recent one-off event, a vegan pop-up dinner, they sold out all bookings within 48 hours based on one SMS marketing campaign.
In the future, Leith Wilson hopes to use SMS end-to-end, from the moment a customer books with the restaurant, to the moment they leave and feedback is requested.