Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Yelp

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .

You open a business. You market it aggressively. You do your best to serve your customers. You have a few “learning experiences”, but over all everything goes well. Then tragedy strikes. You get “yelped”. Some customer who you barely remember posts a scathing review of your product or service on the consumer feedback site Yelp.

Think it couldn’t happen to you? If you’ve got customers in the local retail sector, you’re most likely on yelp. For those of us working for companies that sell to the enterprise, we have our own demons. Our disgruntled customers are as likely to buy domains of “” and make a career out of vilifying us. But we have infrastructure for that. We have huge multi-touch marketing teams and great PR departments and legal representation if needed and about a million ways to engage our customers directly using a number of different channels, some of which we’ve covered here.

But what do you do if you’re a small corner shop? Your options are much more limited. Much of your revenue base is dependent on new customers, meaning you’re not able to preempt negative reviews with your own information. But even if that weren’t the case, you don’t likely have a very large marketing budget. And if you were going to use it for anything, it would be to get new customers, not lose old ones. Unfortunately, many business owners are facing this situation now.

Could this mean the end of business as they know it? Maybe for the bad ones. If you remember, authors found themselves in a similar dilemma as Amazon’s user reviews system became more relied upon than the publisher’s canned marketing pitch. Today however, more books than ever are being sold through Amazon and with rare exceptions do authors have trouble with allowing every single customer to have an open public forum with anonymity and almost no barrier to entry to posting their review. Its just become part of the paradigm in publishing – if you want good reviews produce a good product.

I’ve spoken to some local business owners about their reaction to yelp and its effect on their business and without exception all were driven to improve some aspect of their service because of it. How is this a bad thing again? It’s certainly not a bad thing for the folks at yelp, who’ve seen the unique visitors triple over the last year. As a business owner, I’d be terrified of yelp to the point where I’d go out of my way to satisfy each and every customer as if they were the Internet Yelp’r from hell. As a customer, I really digg that.


April said...

Hi LaSandra,

Interesting post. As a small business owner, I've had to deal with Yelp. My primary concern with Yelp is that they really have no way of verifying the reviews that people are posting, and they are fine with that.

I've got a few reviews on Yelp - good ones from the brides who have actually used my services, and 2 from brides who called to inquire, couldn't afford me, and moved on to another vendor. I had no more than 1 - 2 emails with both of the negative reviewers, but yet they gave me horrible reviews.

Basically, I look at it like walking by a restaurant, looking at the menu posted outside on their door, deciding you couldn't afford to eat dinner there, and going home to write a nasty review about how bad the whole place was.

I've complained to Yelp, since not only did these people not use my service, but they made false statements. One of my brides posted back to the negative reviewers, addressing the statements, but her positive review of me was removed.

I've asked repeatedly (since Yelp calls me every 6 weeks to so trying to get me to spend 3 times what it would cost me to advertise on The Knot) to be removed completely from their site, but they refuse. They state that if I become a "featured vendor", I can email and directly address the negative reviewers and ask them to take down those reviews of me. I call this Marketing Blackmail.

I hate Yelp.

Sorry for my rant, just wanted to give you one small business owners experience with this service.


Rich said...

Nice post and good points. I think Yelp is amazing for a consumer like me (who looks to it for reviews sometimes even before doing a Google search). I can also see how Yelp can hurt a small business, but I actually see it more as Yelp making a business work harder.

The world is flat and people will ask around for reviews. One suggestion for April (earlier comment) would be to proactively ask your customers to write reviews about your business on Yelp. But one disclaimer would be to ask them not to respond in an attacking manner toward another post (that will probably get the offending post deleted).

Even though a business might have the most positive reviews and testimonials on its website, consumers are trusting Yelp (and their virtual peers) much more now. So it's important for businesses (especially smaller businesses) to ask their customers for reviews - I don't think it would be awkward if a business owner asked me to yelp a review on my experience with them...especially since most people [excluding GenYers] only actively yelp [or submit reviews, for that matter] if they've had a negative experience.

One thing I'm seeing with Yelp, though, is that the true rating usually comes out after a dozen or so submissions. So you usually get a good sense of the restaurant/business from the reviews..if there is enough of a sample to read from.

Anonymous said...

I was recently asked by a local business owner to sumbit a Yelp review. I'd been using their service for ten years and couldn't say enough positive things about it. Now it seems there's a place where I can share that opinion with others.

I noticed that not all his reviews were positive, but the negative ones were written very casually and weren't core to what the business actually does.

I'm hoping that as time goes on, people become better at taking all reviews with a grain of salt and understanding criticism in context. For example, its easy to tell the difference in the tone between a review that's offering constructive criticism and one that's just empty venting. There are angry, bitter people out there. The internet has given them a great new medium to spread their special kind of anti-joy. Sooner rather than later, people will be able to weed that out.

LaSandra Brill said...

Interesting related article i wanted to share (in case anyone was getting ideas). "Belkin president apologizes for paying users to post positive reviews of Belkin products" -

Sawicki said...

I was a big proponent of Yelp until I was recently told by a friend who runs a small business that for a fee, Yelp will remove the worst reviews on their site. That was hugely disappointing to hear.

Anonymous said...

I have a small, new restaurant. Luckily, we've been doing very good business; we usually have to turn away business during prime lunch and dinner hours. However, 95% of our reviews on yelp are scathing ( and a couple appear to be written by a disgruntled employee). We have only had one positive review and that one somehow disappeared after we contacted yelp to change some details about our business (they had the name wrong). We also declined to pay them a monthly fee for advertising; it's just not in our budget right now.

I think this speaks to the nature of people; they only have the energy to say something if they're angry. Happy people don't feel the need to write reviews, generally speaking. I do take the comments seriously, but I would take them much more so if our restaurant were empty with no repeat business. As it is, we have lots of happy and repeat customers every day. I hate to think how many people won't come to our restaurant because of the reviews...

LaSandra Brill said...

Update..."Yelp Lets Business Yelp Back" -

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john said...

in regards to what Rich said...i did ask my happy customers to leave their comments on yelp to try and fight just a few negative commments that were keeping my score to a 2 star! but the system they use to sort comment sorted out every one off them to a filter and their comment didn't count toward the rating. i wasted so much time talking about yelp to my customers i felt like i could have been using the time doing last minute add=ons instead of advertising yelp to good customers and have them go and read bad comments that arent' even true. the site is just wrong. i could go on and on with examples but i wont waste any more time.

Anonymous said...

WOW.. so much to comment on. @April... you do not have to pay to respond to people, you can claim your business for free. I have been upset to know even my reviews have been filtered from time to time.. and what I've found is a business should NOT ask for reviews.. let them come naturally.. and people on Yelp are savy.. like me I think they take it with a grain of salt. Paying for Yelp or not, doesn't change anything that the review filter does. I know this first hand. Yelp has helped my friend's businesses so much (even with her 17 filtered reviews and 8 on her page) The world, like computer systems aren't perfect.. but at least we can get a better idea of businesses from the information the business provides and yes, reviews.