In the News

P.F. Chang’s Adds Social Media to its Menu

November 9, 2012
Source: CIO Journal

P.F. Chang’s CEO Richard Federico says the restaurant chain is scouring social media for valuable customer feedback, and using that insight to fine tune its operations.

The restaurant chain, which has more than 200 locations across the United States, is using a tool called NBA Insight from NewBrandAnalytics to gauge how customer feeling changes over time at the national, regional and restaurant level as executives work to improve service quality, CEO Richard Federico told CIO Journal. The tool, which came into full use a year ago, has already helped Federico spot trends like customer dissatisfaction with hostess service and cold food. It also is used to chart customer feedback as the company addresses problems. It monitors Facebook , Twitter, Yelp, Travel Advisor and others social sites. The software then sorts the feedback by comparing its contents to 20 million keywords loaded into a database.

When Federico began using the technology, customer service was an issue in some areas.“It was not as high as we would have liked,” said Federico, who has been with the company since 1996. “NewBrandAnalytics brought in a wealth of real-time information we could use to create a proactive—not reactive–strategy.”

The company, which has a menu based on Chinese-American food, has increased its use of the tool since last May, when it  agreed to be bought by private equity group Centerbridge Partners for $1.1 billion.

More and more companies are conducting sentiment analysis of what the public has to say about them in social media. P.F. Chang’s use of the technology is an example of how the tool, which was accessible only to high-level data scientists, can be put to use by non-technical business people.

The web-based software gives the company’s regional vice presidents, who oversee 40 to 60 locations each, the ability to slice and dice comments sorted into categories such as value, ambience, food quality and service, said Glen Holroyd director of guest experience and restaurant support. The comments are then weighted according to the social influence of the author–partially determined by the number of followers or friends that the writer has. Executives also can compare the company’s performance to those of rival upscale chains, such as The Cheesecake Factory .

About a year ago, the tool revealed that customers were dissatisfied because hostesses didn’t always greet them when they arrived, pulling P.F. Chang’s service score below that of competitors in some parts of the country.

Investigating further, Federico soon learned that hostesses often had to choose between saying hello to a customer who just arrived and answering a phone call from a customer who wanted to place a to-go order. “It created a dynamic that was lose-lose,” Federico said.

To solve the problem Federico outsourced the orders to a call center, allowing hostesses to focus on service. As a result, service scores  improved and the negative feedback decreased. The data also revealed that restaurants in certain areas were serving lukewarm food, because some dishes were not being moved fast enough across a row of eight cooks.

Going forward, Federico wants to hone in on value–an area where he believes the chain could be more competitive. “‘We went here on date night, wonderful atmosphere, great food, but it was pricey,”’ Federico read from one comment he received Friday. “This tells me that we haven’t quite solved the price value equation.”

Federico said he has no plans to cut prices, but he does intend to offer customers more value by improving service. He plans to soon begin deploying server assistants, which will help free up waiters and waitresses to spend more time with the customer. “A comment on value doesn’t mean I have to lower the prices,” Federico said “If I have raised my service standard, I have effectively improved the value.”