Confessions of a Yelp Addict (or How Business Owners Should Respond to Reviews Online)


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Before eating I check reviews; before vacation, before taking my car in for auto repair – shoot I even check reviews before taking my dogs to the park! Sure, I leave gushing reviews of perfect service and superb products but I also leave nasty ones. Reviews so nasty and mean-spirited that I laugh gleefully as my fingers tear across the keyboard finding the sweet spot between sarcasm and vivid reality that I know people like me love to read on sites like Yelp.

I admit, it has more to do with entertaining the other readers of reviews than my actual experience, but if you dare cross me while I’m in your establishment, I’ll unleash a biting, witty, negative review so vicious it’s sure to go viral. I may just do it because I’m having a bad day and I need to take my rage out on something – lucky you, Mr. Business Owner!

I may be your worst nightmare, the technologically savvy reader of Internet reviews who can also damage your online reputation with 15 minutes of un-edited bitterness, funneled into a review of your business. Luckily, I am few and far between and though I may post more reviews than other people, the average reader of online reviews can see right through my act and discount my opinions immediately. You can even spin my most merciless bad reviews to your advantage if you know the rules of responding to bad online reviews discussed below. Let’s first talk about 90% of the reviews you will receive though – the great ones.

How to Respond to Positive Online Reviews

Since you are doing business the right way, providing great customer service in an honest way, most of your reviews are going to be very good. Shops using our automated customer review tools average more than 4 out of 5 stars.

There is really only one perfect way to respond to a positive review: with nothing at all. That may sound rude, but unless you have something meaningful to add to the review that can be helpful to someone else reading it later, don’t say anything. By saying nothing at all, you are really saying, “I expect glowing 5-star reviews because I run a tight ship and I take pride in my work. In fact my business is so busy right now due to my superior service that I don’t have time to sit around and respond to every positive review that comes in.” Play it cool; that’s the best way to go in this situation.

Some people believe that you should respond to all positive reviews and if that is your natural inclination, go ahead because that probably means you will sound personal and genuine which can help you with future readers as well. In my opinion, if you absolutely must respond to an online review that does not beg an obvious answer, a simple “Thank you!” is the best way to go. Don’t butter them up or give them offers or discounts – these people already love you so just keep it simple. When adding anything other than a simple “Thank You!”, please follow this advice: keep it short.

It is an excellent idea to make a note in your shop management system about a customer that makes an especially glowing review. This way, you can make sure somebody shakes this customer’s hand and thanks him in person the next time he’s in the shop. This old-fashioned thank you goes way further than any digital response you could muster!

How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

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An awesome real world response! What should be done about the original bad review that is still online though?

The sandwich shop owner who produced this sign did a masterful job of spinning a negative review into a likely steady flow of new walk-in customers. The real beauty in this move is that it takes the review out of its online context which only highlights how ridiculous an overly passionate bad review can look in the real world. If you can pull off this move, you should do it; but the fact remains that a poor review will live forever online, and you need to respond to it in order to blunt any negative results from it. If you follow these simple rules, you’ll be able to get the same results as this creative sandwich shop owner with the added bonus that your response will be right there next to the bad review for anyone that reads it online.

Rule 1: Stay professional and pull the focus back from the details to focus on a solution.

Swallow your pride and don’t get pulled into an argument over the details of what the person said, even if it was a total lie! The key here is to generally acknowledge and validate the reviewer’s frustration and offer a solution. If you can see no solution, try a response similar to this: “I’m surprised and disturbed that you had such a terrible experience at John’s Automotive Repair Masters; that’s not how we’ve stayed in business for 20 years. Please call and ask for me so I can make sure this doesn’t happen again. — John Stevens, Owner.”

Rule 2: No personal attacks. Write to future prospects, not the reviewer.

It’s vital to remember that you are not really writing to the reviewer when responding to a poor review online. Instead your real audience is the legion of future new customers that will see this review. The reviewer may well get personal, so you should refer to Rule 1: take the high road, be professional and completely ignore any personal attacks. This will make the reviewer look like a child throwing a temper tantrum and will make you look like the adult in control of the situation.

Rule 3: Show that you are human, not a nameless, faceless company.

It’s easy to hate a building and a logo but much harder to hate a living, breathing small business owner who is trying his best to keep his customers happy. This is not a call to grovel and whine; you need to keep your dignity and demand respect while taking every opportunity to show that there are real and caring people behind your business. This is a great way to use your small business nature to your advantage, and it’s something that the Walmarts of the world can never do.

Rule 4: Know what’s being said!

How are you supposed to know how to respond if you don’t even know you got a bad online review? In order to apply these rules quickly, you would need to constantly monitor the Internet and know immediately when a new review about your business is posted. Fortunately, there are many services out there that can do that for you. Some of them are even free. Or check out our reputation management products, one of which includes a service that does this for you automatically, helping you manage your customers’ and prospects’ perceptions before the online conversation spins out of control.

If you follow these simple rules, you’ll turn a possibly destructive Yelp reviewer like myself into a positive outcome for your business. You don’t have to fear bad reviews because you now know how to turn bitter words into future cash, and isn’t that more fun than the momentary joy of the perfectly sarcastic online comment?

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