In the News

Social Analytics Cracks Case Of The Jalapeno Cocktail

23 January 2012
Source: BrainYard

NewBrandAnalytics scours social media feedback to help the food industry identify operational issues ranging from unappealing drinks to inconsistent chefs.

As one of the signature cocktails of the Crave America restaurants, the Sweet Heat drink is supposed to be spicy--but when it went nuclear, alarm bells went off at Crave headquarters.

Using a social media monitoring service from NewBrandAnalytics, Crave was able to identify a pattern of comments and complaints from customers who found the drink too spicy, Zach Sussman, marketing director at Crave America, said in an interview. One mention could have been a fluke, perhaps an isolated bartender error, he said. "Once we saw mentions of this at three or four locations, we started thinking maybe we have a recipe problem, or an ingredient problem."

The drink is made with Bacardi Dragon Berry, mango, jalapeno, St. Germain, and white cranberry, so it's meant to pack a punch, but not to knock you out. The issue turned out to be that the potency of jalapeno varied considerably from one batch to the next, so putting in the same quantity every time was actually a mistake. "We addressed it by making it more of a bartender's discretion thing," seasoned to taste so the result would be enough spice but not too much, he said.

NewBrandAnalytics says those are the kinds of operational insights you can get with its industry-specific solutions for social media monitoring that you wouldn't get from a more-general monitoring or sentiment-analysis service. There are now many services on the market that analyze posts to Twitter, blogs, and customer review sites, scoring them by whether they use positive or negative language when talking about a company or its brands. NewBrandAnalytics targets its analytics to specific operational categories, such as food, drink, reception, and wait staff performance in the restaurant industry. It is also targeting travel and leisure (hotels, cruise lines, and spas) and retail, with products for airlines and healthcare under development.

Survey processing specialist Medallia is doing something similar for hotel chains such as Best Western.

"We're trying to help service-oriented businesses understand what their customers are saying and make the proper operational changes to close the loop," NewBrandAnalytics co-founder Kam Desai said. While other monitoring companies provide overall assessment of brand sentiment, meant primarily for marketers, "what we're doing is completely different" because it's targeted at operations, he said.

"It's sort of like finding a tumor, versus treating the symptoms--we want to go after the cause of the issue itself," added co-founder Ashish Gambhir.

Another example from Crave concerned a pattern of complaints about a popular dish that all occurred when one chef was on duty, Gambhir said. "It turned out he wasn't using as much shrimp in the dish as should be there. The standards weren't being met. Something like that is a first warning from consumers before it turns into a dish that no one likes."

In other words, it's an opportunity to catch an issue early before a pattern of complaints starts to snowball and cause broader damage to the restaurant brand.

Comments on the food aren't the only things that turn up in this analysis.

Jennifer Wolinski, marketing director at the Alicart Restaurant Group, said her firm took note of mentions that cropped up several Sundays in a row about slow and disorganized service at the changeover between shifts at its Carmine's Family Style Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C. Management was able to adjust schedules and give new instructions to the staff until those complaints faded away, she said.

"This is a good way to utilize customer comments in an effective manner and a timely way," Wolinski said.

Wolinski and Crave's Sussman both said trying to monitor individual comments across all the restaurant review sites is very time consuming, and the NewBrandAnalytics service helps keep it manageable.

"I think we got an immediate return on investment-hundreds of hours saved in the past year," Sussman said. In the past, staff would spend much more time trying to analyze social feedback and still "get less of what we needed," he said.

NewBrandAnalytics also has developed its own "credibility assessment" that attempts to determine whether the person posting a particular message is a frequent reviewer with a large following, or an isolated crank. The idea is to help distinguish between someone who regularly posts thoughtful reviews, versus someone who comes out of nowhere and only posts negative comments. A cranky customer with a large social media following might need to be responded to via marketing or customer service--but that person's comments might not be a good reason to fire your maitre d'.

"We ran into an issue in Miami with a guy who applied for the head chef position and wasn't hired, and then turned up online posting all one-star reviews. It was just so obvious it was this guy," Sussman said. Crave reported the issue to Yelp, which filtered and eventually removed the comments, he said.