A negative Yelp review can feel like a punch in the gut.
You work hard, train your staff, and pour your heart into providing great customer service. Then some bozo comes along and shreds it all to pieces with a scathing write-up.
It may seem counterintuitive, but these complaints represent an opportunity. The key is to handle them correctly.
This post covers proven steps for responding to negative Yelp reviews. It’s the second post in a three part series. Last week’s post covered five Yelp trends every business owner should know. Next week’s post will focus on ways you can use Yelp to grow your business.
Here are three steps to responding to negative Yelp reviews. (Note: this post borrows heavily from another post I wrote two years ago on responding to online complaints.)
Step 1: Stay Calm
Your mom probably told you that two wrongs don’t make a right.
This sage advice holds true on Yelp. Nobody wins an online argument, so fighting a vitriolic review with your own incendiary rant will only make you and your business look bad.
It might even bring you and your business more negative publicity.
In one extreme example, a small business owner was arrested and sent to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. The whole story was chronicled by Inc. Magazine.
That type of coverage is a lot worse than one bad Yelp review.
Step 2: Respond Strategically
There should be two goals whenever responding to a negative Yelp review. First, fix the problem. Second, maintain a positive public image.
Yelp provides tools to help you do both.
One option is to respond privately to a reviewer. To do this, you first must set up a free business owner account.
You can approach this option just like you would a customer email. Use this connection to try to get to the bottom of the issue and, if possible, make the customer feel better.
The second option is to respond publicly.
Your goal here is to signal to other potential customers that you care about their experience and will work hard to make things right. This makes the tone of your response very important.
Here’s an example of a terrible public response to a one-star review (full review):
It has been said , "An educated consumer is our best customer", clearly you do not fall into this category. You are an idiot.
That response probably won't win the business any future customers. It might even be picked up by a blogger who uses it as a "how not to" example. You don't want that.
Here’s an example of a terrific response to a one-star review (full review):
[W]e don't like to turn away business and we are sorry we can't work with everyone in every situation. We wish you well in your search for a company that is better matched for your contracting needs.
In this case, the person writing the review wasn't even a customer! The business owner used the opportunity to politely clarify the company’s position so other potential customers know what they can and cannot expect. (Full disclosure: I’ve used Ideal for years, in large part due to their awesome service. If you're in the San Diego area, they are the company for plumbing, heating, hvac, electrical, and kitchen or bath remodels.)
There's a third potential benefit to responding to customers who write negative reviews.
While you should never solicit this directly, some customers will increase their rating if a business resolves the problem to their satisfaction.
Step 3: Look for the Kernel of Truth
Inside all be the most clueless of reviews is a kernel of truth. This is a signal that can be used to improve your business.
Let’s say you run a restaurant and someone writes a one-star Yelp review because there was a two hour wait to get seated. You look closely and notice they didn’t even dine in your restaurant.
Is that fair?
Maybe not, but this reviewer may also be doing you a favor by pointing out an iceberg. An iceberg is a seemingly small problem that is much larger and more dangerous below the surface.
Here are just a few reviews this iceberg might signal:
Wait times might not be communicated with empathy
Table turnover is taking too long
Your reservation process is inadequate
If any of these issues are real, you can make a lot of customers a whole lot happier by fixing them.
Yes, the reviewer might just be a clueless jerk. They may also be one of the 16 percent of reviews that are fake.
Smart business owners will take a deep breath and investigate before dismissing the complaint outright. They might even use it as an opportunity to signal other customers by posting a good response. For example, they could thank the customer for their feedback and suggest some times of the week when they are much less busy while also providing a gentle reminder about their online reservation system.
Will that customer come back? Maybe not. But other customers might see the response and appreciate the thoughtfulness that the owner put into it.
How Negative Reviews Are Good For Business
There are at least three ways that negative reviews can be good for business.
First, customers mistrust businesses with 100 percent positive reviews. They know that a lot of fake reviews are actually written to support a business rather than tarnish a competitor. The occasional negative review makes all the other positive reviews appear more authentic.
Second, many customers look specifically for negative reviews. Most reviews are positive (67 percent are 4 or 5 stars), so customers want to see what problems people are noting. A business that responds quickly and positively to reviewers instills confidence that problems are being addressed.
Finally, the content of negative reviews can help you improve service. (See Step 3: Look for the Kernel of Truth) Stay tuned for next week’s post, the third in a three-part series, where I’ll break down the steps to using Yelp reviews to improve your business.