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Rewriting the Rules of Online Reviews | Zack Oates (Ovation Up) | DH081

Podcast Cover Image - DH081 Zack Oates Ovation

Your biggest critics are often your biggest fans. But try telling that to a restaurant owner with a Yelp page.

Serving as the founder and CEO of Ovation, Zack Oates is helping rewrite the rules of online reviews by making them easier and more valuable for restaurant owners, operators, and customers alike.

Zack Oates is Ovation Founder and CEO. He grew up in the restaurant and retail world. He went on more than 1,000 dates before he met his wife. He learned about relationships from both.
Zack Oates is Ovation Founder and CEO. He grew up in the restaurant and retail world. He went on more than 1,000 dates before he met his wife. He learned about relationships from both.

In any industry, including our own, online comment sections and spaces for feedback are usually dominated by enraged, detailed negativity or quiet, polite praise. Surely a customer base can’t be that divided about the same meal served from the same establishment?

Well, they are not. Zack Oates and Ovation knows this for a fact. 

Dh081 Zack Oates Ovation Screenshot 2

Zack Oates was a guest on the Digital Hospitality podcast in 2021, where he and host Shawn Walchef (Cali BBQ Media founder) talked in-depth about his life before founding Ovation, his entrepreneuring spirit, finding love, and the power of online reviews.

So, what is Ovation?

Ovation’s mission is to “Enable Businesses to Measure, Build, and Maintain Trust with their Customers.”

“Ovation is an actionable guest feedback tool,” Ovation’s Zack Oates said on the Digital Hospitality podcast. “Now more than ever, it’s so important that we know how guests are feeling and what they’re thinking.”


The Story of Ovation:

For Zack Oates, starting Ovation is the sum of his life experiences up to this point.

As a kid, Zack grew up working at his father’s barbecue joint. When he went to college, Zack’s eyes turned to tech, eventually leading him to building and selling a company in that space. Still, he was a foodie at heart.

Zack Oates Ovation Screenshot “I would go out to eat and it would seem crazy to me that the only way to give feedback was through a comment box or through some long receipts survey,” Zack Oates says on Digital Hospitality.

Surely he couldn’t be the only person who didn’t like receipt surveys.

“We found that over 90 percent of people hate receipt surveys,” laughs Zack Oates.

The more intimate reviews left on the likes of Yelp were not telling the entire story either.

“Data shows that you’re three times more likely to leave a negative review than a positive one,” Zack points out.Ovation How Did We Do Today? 1

Still, Zack was too smart to believe that customers are simply lazy or angry. After doing some digging, he realized the issue with reviews is the money it costs the restaurant to acquire feedback and the hoops that customers have to jump through to do so.

“Guest feedback has always been an expense,” Zack notes. “Why does it have to be an expense? Why can’t we actually drive revenue through this? So that’s really what our whole thesis is. We’re an actionable guest feedback company that actually drives revenue.”

With Ovation, customers are incentivized to give feedback and they’re able to do it through standard text messaging. Ovation allows restaurants to have these important conversations privately because, well, they should.

“You can’t outsource your customer service to other people,” states Zack Oates. “They’re your customers and you deserve to take care of that customer and they deserve to hear from you. Customers need to communicate on the channels that they feel comfortable communicating on.”

By making the customer comfortable, even when angry, you can come to a resolution and actually make good on your mistakes. Ovation allows this to happen in a fashion that’s timely and solution oriented.

“If you are in an emotional state, you want to tell someone right now,” Zack notes on human behavior. “Ovation allows customers to vent and vent privately to you. Now you get the information and you can make it right instantly. It’s all text messages to the customers so they’re not downloading an app. They take a question survey, tell us how it was and tell us more. If it was great, tell us more goes to Google, Yelp and Facebook. If it was bad, it goes directly to the restaurant.”

Because of Ovation, not only can bad reviews be made good, good reviews can be amplified so that the world sees your best work.

For a smoothie shop that works with Ovation, the proof is in the pudding.

“One of our customers was on like the seventh page of Google,” Zack said. “We started working with them and in two months they got up to the top of Google for smoothies in their city, which is not a small city, mind you. It increased their traffic over 300%. That’s the power of these online reviews.”


Power of Online Reviews:

Online reviews are incredibly powerful, and Ovation is making it easier to both collect more and connect more. This even proves close to home for our San Diego Cali BBQ restaurant which just began using Ovation.

Ovation Cali BBQ - How was your experience?

Ovation How Did We Do Today? Review Cali BBQ

In two days, Cali BBQ alone has received between 50 and 100 pieces of feedback. Still, Zack emphasizes that while restaurants win by using Ovation, it’s not really about the businesses.

“I’m not building technology for you,” Zack Oates emphasizes to restaurant owners. “I’m building technology for your customers. I want it to be easy for your customer so that both you and they get all the value from it.”

So far, the value for both is filling in the blanks between the polarizing reviews that generally define standard, public customer feedback.

“The data showed that we’re actually getting a lot more 3- and 4-star reviews because you’re getting those customers where they would have never given feedback otherwise,” Zack explains.

Ovation Leadership TeamIn effect, those 3- and 4-star reviews can provide the easy, tangible feedback that really changes your restaurant. Those end up being the customers that really want to come back and thus are attempting to improve your restaurant.

“I’m trying to help you to be better,” Zack says speaking for the customer. “And those customers, man, you respond to them and you get them on board, and you thank them for their feedback? It is just crazy how they become more loyal than if you would have given them a five-star experience in the first place for sure.”


Using Ovation at Restaurants:

Because of Ovation, restaurant owners and operators can respond over text right after the to-go order was eaten. Quickness leads to cooperation and that’s important for both parties.

“The speed in which you respond is important,” notes Zack. “Bronze is within 24 hours, silver is within an hour and gold is within ten minutes. If you can respond quickly, people are a lot more willing to do business with you again.”

Ovation Board of DIrectorsWith Ovation, Zack is once again proving our thesis that connecting with customers and serving their needs is not lost by modern technology, it’s amplified.

“Hospitality’s not dead, it’s just gone digital,” states Zack Oates on the Digital Hospitality podcast. “But it’s not going to be robots. You can’t take the humans out of hospitality, that’s what provides that love. Hospitality is a dialog and it’s about how you make people feel.”

Because of companies like Ovation and the power of Digital Hospitality, your biggest fans are no longer your loudest critics.

Instead, they’re about to be your most loyal customers.

Know thy customers.   -Ovation 1 : 1

— Article by Cali BBQ Media Content Writer Ian Stonebrook. Connect with Ian by email or DM. @ianstonebrook



About Zack Oates and Ovation —

Zack Oates is an author, husband, father, entrepreneur, and hot tub aficionado (but not in that order, necessarily).

Zach was voted Top 100 Entrepreneurs, rang the NASDAQ bell, won the world’s biggest business competition, and started 3 companies.

After going on over 1,000 dates, Zach finally met his wife and wrote a book called “Dating Never Works…Until it Does,” which has 100 lessons from 1,000 dates.

Zach received his MBA from BYU and did customer experience consulting for fortune 100 companies. He took his dating and customer experience consulting to start his current venture: Ovation. Ovation is The Actionable Guest Feedback Tool for restaurants and retailers where he serves as the Founder and CEO.

Zach Oates speaks and does guest posts focusing on customer experience with sub-topics of customer communication, online reviews, innovation, text marketing, building relationships with customers/employees, and personal improvement.




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