Insights: Yelp Success with Stacee Soter

In the last year, Stacee Soter has taken P.F. Chang’s Yelp rating from 3 stars to 4 stars and helped the local company begin to overcome the chain restaurant stereotype during the latest foodie trend.

“Stacee is the type of operator that just “Gets it” and I knew that from our first conversation. Stacee’s key to success is her active participation in the consumer conversation happening on Yelp. Stacee is an incredible asset to our community and someone that every business owner should meet.” said Michael Tragash, Reno Yelp Community Manager.

I knew I had to meet her.

When I sat down with Stacee, I found that her tactics weren’t canned tips that every other blog has already covered. Here are the top 10 takeaways from our meeting:

1. Don’t Just Hear, Listen

Stacee learned through reviews, online forums, and community conversations that P.F. Chang’s was perceived locally and nationally as a chain restaurant that primarily uses frozen food. Although untrue, it was an important lesson and motivated her to take the first step in educating her audience.

It’s impossible to change perceptions if you do not know what they are. The best way to do this is to listen. Listen to the reviews, listen in real-time, as customers are experiencing the business, and even ask customers how they view your business.

2. Develop a Strong Message

P.F. Chang’s is, in fact, a scratch kitchen, so Stacee had some work to do. She decided to focus on the local foodie community to help communicate the message through word of mouth.

“I joined the Reno Foodies Facebook Group and started listening for mentions of P.F. Chang’s and our type of cuisine,” said Stacee. “When relevant topics come up I interact with the members to try to educate them about P.F. Chang’s.”

She also partnered with Michael Tragash to host a Yelp Elite Event designed to showcase P.F. Chang’s scratch kitchen and incredible, long time local team called “Yelp’s Behind the Wok”. This event gave Reno Yelp Elites a chance to tour the kitchen, taste the food, and see how it was all made.

Stacee began to notice reviews reflecting her efforts. She was able to start the process of correcting the false impression.

Once you understand the misconceptions of your business, you can begin educating your customers. Try to focus on 1-3 messages at a time so that you don’t overwhelm your customers. You will know you are heading in the right direction when you start to see your message gaining traction.

3. Show and Tell

Stacee began offering kitchen tours to anyone who wanted to come see how her chef’s prepared the food.

“I knew that in order to change the perception of some consumers, I had to be willing to pull back the curtain,” said Stacee.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know there is nothing more terrifying than showing off the kitchen, but it proved a success and she continues this practice today.

Transparency from businesses is something customers respond well to. Take the opportunity to even reach out to critics or skeptics online and invite them to see the way your organization actually operates.

4. Prioritize

Time is valuable and social media and review sites can be a never-ending rabbit hole. To make the most of her time, Stacee chose to focus her attention on only a few review sites and forums – Yelp, Facebook and Reno Foodies. Through analyzing the frequency and volume of reviews posted she found that the majority of her consumers used Yelp over Google+ or Trip Advisor.

If you catch yourself agonizing over all of the different review platforms, take a step back and research where you are receiving the most engagement. Focus on two to three platforms at a time, and only manage the others as needed – this will help keep your sanity. If you’re not sure where to start, this blog post can help you determine which review sites are best for your business.

5. Create a Goal

Stacee set out with the goal of increasing her star rating on Yelp. She knew success would mean a better understanding of P.F. Chang’s core values, which would likely impact the restaurant’s financial success long term.

When you create a goal for your Yelp page it is critical to review the content, not just look at the star rating. I recommend the SMART guidelines when setting a goal. Make your goal specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Here are a couple examples:

  • Increase your overall rating by __ star(s) over the next year (or other specific time period).
  • Receive __ new reviews a month.
  • Reply to __ reviews a month.
  • Talk to employees about Yelp __ times a month.
  • Increase your web traffic from review sites by __% over 6 months.

6. Read AND Respond

“I respond to every review that P.F. Chang’s receives publically,” said Stacee. “I take the time to call out a specific detail or note about the customer’s experience so they know I read the review and truly appreciate their feedback.”

Negative reviews are generally harder to respond to, it’s hard not to take it personally. She tries to see it from their perspective. Whatever experience a customer had, even if she disagrees with it, was their truth. It was their understanding of the situation and now it’s her job to try to make it right.

“I begin my response by acknowledging the experience they had, then offer an explanation for the situation, if possible, and try to be objective,” she said.

Yelp Review Response

Finally, she provides three ways for the customer to reach her to discuss the experience in more detail – direct message through Yelp, the number to the restaurant, and her email. She wants to learn from the reviews to make the business stronger.

Negative reviews happen to everyone. The fact that a customer gave you a negative review should not be earth shattering and businesses need to be prepared to respond to the review gracefully. Luckily, good reviews also happen, and they happen frequently. (Did you know that 68% of reviews on Yelp are 4 stars or higher?) Yelp has a great article about responding to negative reviews here.

7. Use the Feedback

After analyzing her data Stacee realized she needed to make some internal changes. P.F. Chang’s in Reno no longer hires servers from the outside. They hire runners, bussers, and hostesses and give performance-based promotions into serving positions. This was a specific business decision that Stacee made in order to put an emphasis on customer service.

If you are noticing consistent topics in your reviews that reflect weak spots in your business – change it! Yelp is like having free customer service surveys at your disposal. Use that data to help you make smart decisions for your business.

8. Create Employee Buy-In

Stacee talks to her staff about Yelp – a lot. Every staff meeting has some mention of a review and an update about where they are with stars.

“After talking about Yelp so much my employees just knew it was important to me,” said Stacee.

If you are a business owner who doesn’t include your staff members or employees on Yelp related discussions, how can they know it’s important to you and the business.

9. It’s Part of the Job

Stacee does not give her staff rewards when they are mentioned in a positive review.

“I want a culture where positive reviews are the norm,” said Stacee. “Customer service isn’t doing someone a favor – it’s an expected part of the job.”

Many business owners give their employees $10 every time their name is mentioned or hold a contest for who can get the most positive reviews. While this may work for review generation in the short term, it does not build a company culture where reviews are an expected part of the job long term.

10. Don’t Bag On Yelp

This was the “golden nugget” of my interview with Stacee. It seemed so simple, and yet in all of my research on other Yelp related blogs, I hadn’t seen this tip.

Stacee never speaks ill of Yelp or other review sites.

Yelp is an extremely helpful platform to her business and if she is willing to accept, process and appreciate feedback her business will be stronger and her long-term review results will be positive.

I hear so many business owners say “I want great reviews and I want my staff to care about getting them” in one breath and in the next “Yelp just wants you to pay for reviews anyway.” This disdain for reviews and the platform doesn’t do any good. Help others in your company understand the value and importance of your initiative by showing what they stand to gain from the completed goal. Once they can relate to the goal, creating buy-in and eventually action becomes easier.

 _______

Stacee has managed to change perceptions about her business, encourage her staff to respect and celebrate reviews, and ultimately improve their ratings.

Thank you, Stacee, for all of your insights and letting me interview you. If anyone needs an amazing meal (cooked from scratch!) be sure to check out P.F. Chang’s in Reno.

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