Like it or not, there’s a good chance that your customers either found your business through Yelp.com or plan to say something about it there in the future. That’s a scary reality for many business owners, but it also offers an opportunity to engage with customers and improve sales down the road.
James Sinclair, principal at the Los Angeles-based OnSite Consulting, which specializes in the restaurant and hospitality industry, says Yelp is like a public shopper program. “There are some companies that pay thousands of dollars to secret shoppers,” he explains. “When you go to Yelp, it’s done for free and with passion.” Most customers won’t offer such candid feedback in person because they don’t like confrontation, but they’ll more readily open up online.
Here are five tips for small business owners who want to improve their Yelp strategy.
- Create a Yelp business account.
With a free business account on Yelp, you can monitor traffic to your Yelp page, upload photos, announce special offers, and communicate with customers. Sinclair recommends that business owners set up a business account for using all of these tools rather than using a personal account.
- Take feedback to heart.
Often business owners read negative reviews and get defensive or dismissive, saying “we don’t have a cucumber martini” or “that customer must have gone to a different restaurant.” But as Sinclair points out, there’s often an element of truth in online reviews, even if the customer didn’t get all their facts straight. “There’s something that’s making them unhappy,” he says. “Was it the service, the quality of food, your valet, your hostess?” Take these comments seriously and look for themes across multiple reviews so you can improve in those areas.
- Don’t lash out publicly.
If someone leaves a scathing one star review you may be tempted to post a public rebuttal or even demand that the Yelper remove the review. But Sinclair says it’s best to message the Yelper privately, apologize for the bad experience, and invite the customer back so you can get it right. Details will vary depending on your business, adds Sinclair, but “some operators will say ‘come in for a meal on me’ or ‘next time you come in, please email me directly and I’ll send you a dessert.’ If you fail them the second time, shame on you.”
- Thank your supporters.
It’s easy to focus on a few negative reviews and lose sight of the positive ones. Hopefully you have more positive than negative reviews, and a quick message thanking the Yelper for their business and the review can help build loyalty. Sinclair says this should also be done privately to show that you’re truly engaging with customers instead of showing off to others.
- Let some of the negativity go.
Occasionally, you might have a customer you just can’t satisfy. Fortunately, Yelp ratings are based on averages so a single one star review amidst lots of four and five star reviews isn’t likely to damage your reputation. As Sinclair puts it, customers aren’t “looking at the one one star, they’re looking to see if there are consistent one stars.”