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Taking Your In-Person Experience into the Digital World

Shawn Walchef, Owner of Cali BBQ & Founder of Cali BBQ Media, talks about what Digital Hospitality is, why it's so important and what steps business owners can take to implement an effective digital strategy.

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Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.

Cali Comfort BBQ

It’s nothing new to hear that hospitality is traditionally an enormous priority for all business owners. But for Cali Comfort BBQ, it’s all about digital hospitality. While that may sound like just another buzzword, it’s something that all businesses should be prioritizing. This week, for our second deep dive episode, I speak with a previous guest, Shawn Walchef, owner of Cali Comfort BBQ and founder of Cali BBQ Media, about what exactly digital hospitality is, why it’s so important, and what steps business owners can take to implement an effective digital strategy.

As we know, the best customer service is achieved when the customer has a great experience, which gives you the best chances of running a successful business. When you’re interacting in-person with a customer, it’s easy to think about hospitality—the customer is right there in front of you. However, as Shawn shares, it’s about the businesses that treat their consumers well online.”Digital hospitality is about integrating your in-store experience with your digital strategy.

Your brand is what consumers resonate with (or don’t), and these days, it almost always involves the way your brand is presented onlined—but building a digital brand can be challenging. When thinking about where to start, Shawn puts it simply: “You have to extend who you are—no matter what kind of business you are—to the online business and to your communication.”

That being said, for many small business owners, a digital strategy might seem like a “nice to have” with how busy their day-to-day operations already are. But in reality, an online strategy is becoming more essential every day. As Shawn notes, “So much has changed with how people interact with brands online. When you go to search on Google, or when you go to ask Alexa or you ask Siri. We need to be mobile first with a responsive website.”

In the past ten years, the landscape has completely changed, and consumer expectations have changed along with it. On top of that, the pandemic has accelerated those changes, making consumers even more reliant on the digital interaction they have with brands—whether it’s the local barbecue joint, a small boutique, the mom-and-pop coffee shop, or the family-owned hardware store. Consumers expect to be able to connect with your brand online, and how you show up makes a big impact on their experience.

Here’s a quick look at what you’ll learn from this week’s episode and how you can start thinking about your own digital hospitality strategy:

  • Hospitality must be extended beyond the in-person experience. The most fundamental part of understanding digital hospitality is knowing that you can interact with your “digital guests and customers” with the same level of hospitality as you do people who are in your restaurant or store. It’s extending those same principles of care engagement to an online audience.
  • Storytelling is critical. When thinking about your digital brand, it’s much more than just setting up a website, social media accounts, and a Yelp Page. While those are all crucial elements, you need to take a step back to think about your story. People buy on emotion. They spend their money and time with businesses they love or care about. When you communicate your story well and connect with your customers in an authentic way, that will pay off down the road because those people will share their experience online—reaching more people than you would have ever been able to.
  • Let technology help you. Technology is ever-changing, and that can certainly be overwhelming, but try thinking about how it can help you. There are many platforms that can help you run your business more efficiently, many offering free trials so you can see if it’s the right fit.
  • Never stop learning. Shawn’s advice here is worth taking to heart: “I'm a student every single day. I've got to learn. So stay curious. If you're listening to this podcast, you're already so much farther ahead than so many people because you want to be better. Get involved, take some action items from this podcast, and then finally, ask for help.”

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Shawn and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Emily Washcovick

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As Yelp’s Senior Field Marketing Manager and Small Business Expert, Emily is responsible for building a thriving network of local business owners, operators and marketers through education and networking events (now, exclusively virtual). She hosts events and webinars to provide business owners with resources that help them succeed and grow in the world of online reviews. Emily’s expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management and all things digital marketing. Her knowledge encompasses countless industries and through thought leadership and speaking engagements, she’s able to share insights that business owners of all kinds can leverage for the future of their business.


Emily is also host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media that features conversations with business owners and reviewers about their experiences—whether positive or negative —giving listeners behind-the-scenes insights and real life learnings.