Would you pay money so that customers could give you grief about your food or service more readily than they already do? That’s the premise of Talk to the Manager, a texting-based service that lets restaurant patrons fire off complaints— anonymously to you or your manager—even while still in the middle of their meal.
This company’s very existence tells us volumes about how restaurant operators feel about social media site Yelp. Talk to the Manager’s business plan assumes many restaurant owners are fed up with Yelp to the point where they will spend $15 per month on its service in the hopes of staving off bad customer reviews.
“Get anonymous feedback from customers by text message and respond if needed,” reads the company’s pitch on its website www.talktothemanager.com. “Resolve complaints in private so they don't end up on Yelp.”
Here’s how it works: Participating restaurants use table tents or wall signs to let customers know that Talk to the Manager’s direct texting service is available. Customers can then send anonymous text remarks, yea or nay, about their dining experience to the restaurant manager’s cell phone. The manager can respond via text if desired, the idea being that negative experiences can be dealt with on the spot. Neither the customer nor the manager can see the other’s cell phone number during their exchange.
Wouldn’t an app work better? Perhaps, but Talk to the Manager notes that only 43 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers have a smart phone. However, the company says every cell phone can send and receive text messages. Hence there’s no need for an app to make this system function.
A potential drawback is that owners and managers can set up the system so that they can receive text messages from customers when they are away from the restaurant. On the one hand, this enables operators to get a feel for how smoothly their restaurant runs while they are gone. On the other, it could result in too much information. Consider it a feature you may want to block.
The big question here is whether this service will actually result in fewer negative Yelp reviews. We’d acknowledge that it’s human nature to forgive and forget after a complaint has been sent and acknowledged. But Talk to the Manager has yet to provide hard data or even one-off testimonials to back up its claim. However, the notion of enabling both immediate awareness of food and/or customer service snafus and quick resolution of them could find a warm welcome among restaurant operators. Used judiciously, it could be a helpful management tool, desired Yelp effect or not.
But will customers actually use it judiciously, or will texting junkies drive restaurant managers nuts? The premise that complaining customers will be as thoughtful and sensible as the Talk to the Manager people imagine may not turn out to be the case. If you’re an early adopter of Talk to the Manager’s service, please use our comments section below to let us know how it’s working out for your restaurant.