What’s the first thing you do when you are thinking about trying a new restaurant, staying at a hotel on vacation or buying a new product? There’s a good chance that you go online to see what others have to say about it. As one of the most popular online review sites, Yelp has the power to make or break a business. Attention from Yelp reviewers doesn’t always translate into a positive for a business, but now, some business owners are fighting back.
How bad can the effects of a poor review be? Statistics published by “Entrepreneur” magazine show that nearly three-quarters of people worldwide trust online reviews, and almost one-fourth of people will change their mind about using a business after they have read two poor reviews. Nearly 40 percent would do the same after reading three bad reviews.
On the other hand, a business that experiences an increase of one star at Yelp will see about a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenue. A New York City locksmith decided to set himself apart from his competitors by offering a five-star level of service after seeing a string of two-star locksmith reviews on Yelp; as a result, his business is booming and he has nothing but five-star reviews.
Unfortunately, due to Yelp’s algorithms and other factors, the math is not as simple as saying that you can run a good business and get good reviews. One problem is that Yelp displays its bad reviews and filters its good ones. This means that if a business has seven good reviews and two bad ones, a visitor to their Yelp page will not immediately see all the good reviews that balance the poor ones. Another issue is that although Yelp claims it takes precautions such as monitoring reviews to make sure that an entire series for one business does not originate from the same IP address and cracking down on businesses that try to exchange incentives for reviews, some business owners feel ambushed by what they say are inaccurate and outright false customer reviews that they cannot get removed. Furthermore, despite Yelp’s efforts, skimming Craigslist or similar sites reveals that businesses do offer pay for fake reviews.
Some businesses claim that they feel harassed by Yelp’s constant advertising solicitations. Furthermore, while Yelp denies a link between the reviews businesses receive and the advertising they purchase, a California federal court ruled that the practice is not illegal. Businesses also point out that if they have to terminate a relationship with a client due to non-payment or other problems, that client may go onto Yelp and write a negative review when they have actually done nothing wrong.
As the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them, and some companies have done just that. One restaurant in California’s Bay Area has begun offering its customers incentives to write terrible reviews. Another restaurant took the single line of a one-star review informing readers that “this place sucks” and had T-shirts bearing the line printed up for its staff. A third posts its bad reviews on its Facebook page and invites users to suggest replies. More conventional approaches to responding to bad reviews include employers monitoring Yelp and responding to dissatisfied customers.
Others have taken a more direct approach. The website Yelp Sucks calls itself a support community for businesses who say they have been damaged by Yelp ratings and encourages companies to share their stories. Two San Francisco restaurant publicists have launched a new app, Chef’s Feed, that focuses on the positive and features chefs recommending their favorite dishes in 24 different locales.
The practice of consulting online reviews is unlikely to wane. As a result, companies need to decide how they will approach Yelp and other online review sites and whether the best approach to a bad review is a playful one or a serious attempt to address the customer’s complaint.