When talking with business owners there is a general consensus that yelp and online reviews are a nuisance and that specifically yelp has below board business practices. The mindset is, that these sites create a pedestal for people who like to complain and now there is a “shady” company to help them along. Although we have all seen a yelper or two with an attitude, or that are just unreasonable, I would argue that this is the exception not the rule. Additionally, I would argue that anyone reading these extremely negative reviews can see that the individual writing them has an agenda to destroy the establishment and will take it with a grain of salt. Regarding yelps business practices, there is ongoing litigation and the power of the reviews on the site can simply not be ignored at this point.
With this in mind, the general population on yelp and other review sites are giving their honest opinion about the business and this information is invaluable. Think about how many hoops a business owner jumps through to get feedback on their product or service. Much of this information is now available to you for free. However this information does have hidden costs, because it requires businesses to have a plan in place to manage the onslaught and to sift through the garbage, which was not needed in the past. Although it’s in the public realm and you have little to no control what people post, with a proactive plan, a business can use this to their advantage.
The online review world has created a platform for business owners to deal with issues that did not come to their attention during the course of the original transaction or did and were not handled well. Think of it as the second chance you always wanted. For example, there are plenty of people that are too shy to bring up a bad experience during a dinner out, or just simply do not want to make it awkward for the others at the table. In the “new world” that patron who never said a word now can go on yelp or other sites and let you know how you did. Will it always be exactly what the business owner wants to hear? Absolutely not, but this feedback can be used to identify growth opportunities, problem employees, process improvements, and countless other ideas that can improve your business.
Considering the dinner example think about the positives and negatives with this situation. The negative is that the patron was not comfortable, or an environment did not exist, that he/she could bring up an issue during the normal course of business. If it were not for online reviews, this would go unresolved and that individual may never visit again and talk about the bad experience with many people. Now there is a legitimate opportunity to redeem yourself if you have a system in place, by responding to the issue in the review realm, and that is a huge positive. Again, not hiding behind the fact that some patrons will be unreasonable, but to the majority of your customer base a gesture to make good on the perceived error will go a long way. You do not get to choose how or where your customer base communicates about your business, so you had better have a system in place to cover as many channels as possible.
In the era of the online review yelp.com has 100,000,000 users! (yelp.com) This is just one channel but certainly shows that the likelihood of a patron reviewing your business has gone up substantially, since say 2005, when yelp only had 12,000 users. (yelp.com) When there is a fear of a Yelp planet, stop yourself for a second and think about the advantages you now have, if you have a plan in place to address these reviews. Many businesses are not doing anything and if properly managed this will set you apart. Not to mention they may go “old school” and tell 10 or so friends how you went out of the way to resolve their issue, but more likely they will go “new school” and do it on social media or on yelp. “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood” –Marie Curie