Yelp – The Bad

As discussed in our previous post titled Yelp – The Good, Yelp has proven itself to be a powerful marketing tool that can help businesses promote their products and services. While it would be great for any business to have a five-star average rating on Yelp, the reality is that getting negative reviews is unavoidable. No business can satisfy every customer every time.

Before getting into how to respond to negative Yelp reviews, it is worth considering briefly why people write reviews on Yelp and other sites in the first place. The conventional wisdom is that people write reviews primarily to share their experiences with others and provide useful information. However, Yelp is more than just a review site: it also has a large social-networking component. Users can add each other to “friend” lists, interact on chat boards, “compliment” each other, and rate each other’s reviews as being “useful”, “funny” or “cool”. Users may also be officially designated by Yelp as a Yelp Elite and receive a series of perks for a calendar year. Yelp offers these features for a reason: people often participate in sites like this to gain stature within a community, and these social components often motivate users to keep writing reviews.

On the other extreme, a growing number of Yelp reviews are written by consumers who have no intention of being part of a community or even writing more than one review, but rather wish to tell everyone about a (usually bad) experience. More often than not, these one-time rants are centered on a particular service and can be very personal.

The complicated nature of what motivates negative Yelp reviews is what makes responding to them a delicate balancing act. Here are some tips for how to address negative reviews:

1. Have the right attitude when responding.

Let the reviewer know that you appreciate the effort they put in to comment about their experience. Show that you take their comments seriously. Respond to what each person said, instead of offering generic comments in response.

While these ideas seem like common sense, consider the opposite of this approach: a hasty, impersonal, or incomplete response. Think about how such a response would make you feel if you were the person who wrote the review. Do you want your customers feeling that way – and telling others they feel that way?

2. Solicit more information.

If possible, ask questions to clarify their experience so you can better pinpoint what needs to be done to improve your product or service.

3. Focus on getting the reviewer to update the review, not retract the original one.

Given that a lot of reviewers on Yelp are trying to gain stature within the Yelp community, their instinct will be to write as much as they can and make their opinions heard. Trying to get someone to retract a negative review goes against this instinct and probably won’t get you very far. Instead, try to make that instinct work in your favor. Suggest they give your business another try and offer them a meaningful incentive to do so. If you have shown them that you have taken their concerns to heart and made a good faith effort to remedy them, they are much more likely to give your business another chance and update their original review.

For example, a pizza restaurant in the Bay Area sent an email to Yelp reviewers who had rated the restaurant unfavorably and offered them a $25 gift card to return. The offer was accompanied by the following note:

“I am reaching out to you to apologize for the subpar experience you had at Joe’s Pizza*. Since you wrote this review, we have made many positive changes and improvements in our operation. I want to invite you to return to Joe’s Pizza by offering you a $25 gift card. I am confident we will do much better this time. Please give us another chance to put a smile on your face.”

4. Know when to ignore a review.

Sometimes, a negative reviewer is just the type who will never be satisfied, so engaging them will likely lead to an escalation of their ranting rather than a fruitful conversation on how to improve your product or service. In extreme cases, this can result in negative and embarrassing publicity – as seen in the infamous Amy’s Baking Company incident last year – but even if it doesn’t get that far, a war of words takes away time and energy you could better spend elsewhere.

5. Know when NOT to ignore a review.

The option to ignore a negative comment or review is always yours, but be aware that not responding also sends a message to customers. Dave Kerpen, author of “Likeable Social Media”, proposes that sending this message too often can be dangerous – the equivalent of keeping a caller on hold and never responding. Kerpen proposes a middle ground between ignoring customers and getting pulled into a “comment war”: you can also respond very briefly in the public forum (e.g., Yelp), so that everyone sees you didn’t ignore the customer, but invite that customer to contact you to discuss his/her concerns in private.

* – name changed to protect identity

Written by Dr. Ravi Shanmugam  and Dr. Atul Teckchandani

Note: This is the second of a series of posts about the importance of Yelp and other review sites and how entrepreneurs can manage their presence on these sites in a manner that increases their firm’s reputation and sales. It was co-authored with Dr. Ravi Shanmugam, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Santa Clara University and Dr. Atul Teckchandani, Assistant Professor of Management at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, California State University, Fullerton.

Yelp Series:

Yelp – The Good

Yelp – The Bad

Yelp – The Ugly

Published by CSUF Entrepreneurship

We teach, coach and lead the principled, cross-disciplinary practice of entrepreneurship. We believe that, through determined practice, leadership and team work, our students, faculty, clients, volunteers and alums can systematically recombine the new and the old to forge new ventures, create an entrepreneurial culture, and dramatically benefit our community.

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  1. Really useful information. There’s such a fine line between when to address a review on Yelp and when to just ignore it. I always use Yelp when trying to find a new restaurant–especially in an unfamiliar place. I’m able to look past some bad reviews if they lack a lot of detail, but if I see a trend in the bad reviews (like the place wasn’t clean, or food was served raw) I immediately steer clear of those places. Thanks for the post!

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