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The best I can do is pretend

At the start of the year, I started writing restaurant reviews on Zomato for every restaurant that I visit. Four and a half months on, and about fifty reviews later, I have now broken into the top 100 on Zomato's leaderboard for Bangalore reviewers.

A lot of restaurants have their management tasked with responding to reviews. But the way they do it has been very disappointing. Everyone has a standard templated response where they first thank the reviewer for their feedback and then offer to promote either their loyalty program or their discounted buffets and finally mention that they hope to have the reviewer dine with them again. In all the responses, I haven't seen a single genuine response.

This is just one sample. Every website or app where you leave your phone number or sms treat you the same way They seem to be saying "We just need your e-mail address so we can e-mail you all day every day for the rest of your life."

On my personal email address, more than 95% of the mails I receive are not sent by 'people'. They are either promotional emails or acknowledgements or notifications or reminders. And all of them following standardised templates.

This is a lost opportunity by brands and companies and social celebrities to engage with an audience that ought to matter to them. Of course, it is not possible to send out personalized responses to everyone that contacts you as you scale. But, that doesn't mean everyone needs to be responded to either. The moment you decide to respond to every incoming review, every follower on Twitter, every comment on Facebook, you are leaving no choice but to resort to templated and automated responses.

The funny thing about restaurants responding to Zomato reviews is that they are neither personalized nor automated. It is as though a school kid being forced to do her homework when she would rather be playing outside. Automation removes people and let's you hit scale, but when people are typing out templated responses, then you are neither playing to economies of scale nor to the goodwill of your audience.

Many a time, it is good to not respond at all than to say a standard response. And this occurs when the front line staff are not trusted to make the right call in communicating with the audience/customers. Be it the person responding to Zomato reviews, or answering your support call over phone, or talking to you across a reception desk (like at the airport), there are fake smiles and standard responses that is all a big charade that everyone sees right through, that screams out loud 'I don't care about you, and the best I can do is pretend that I do'.

There is no need to pretend.

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