Help I've been Yelped!
If you’re familiar with the online review site Yelp and the recent controversy that’s arising from the recent lawsuit filed against the company by a Long Beach Veterinarian, our headline makes sense.
For those of you not familiar with it, Yelp is the most popular of a new breed of websites that collects reviews of businesses and posts them online for others to review and leave comments on.
Online Reviews and the Yelp lawsuit
If you're in business, it's a pretty sure guess you've had a disgruntled customer and have probably received a negative testimonial or two during your business career. Even if you're perfect, someone, sometime, will have a reason to find fault with you. That's just how it is.
Recently a Long beach veterinarian filed a class action lawsuit against Yelp, the very popular online review site.
The charge? That Yelp was using blackmail tactics to get businesses to buy their $300 review service with the suggestion that ‘we’ll make the bad reviews go away’. The lawsuit is claiming that those businesses that turned Yelp down not only had bad reviews from before - often at the top of their reviews, but, mysteriously, there would also be new negative reviews for that business appearing.
The lawsuit is still ongoing and at last writing 9 other businesses have joined in on the suit. It will be interesting to see what the outcome is, but the fact that this business owner felt so strongly about Yelp's alleged use of negative reviews to coerce him into paying to subscribe to their service is an indication of just how important online reviews are to a business.
The positives about negative reviews
"As for the product(s) with negative reviews -- my experience is that negative reviews do not hurt a product as long as there are also positive reviews associated with it." says Don Zeidler, Director of Direct Marketing for W. Atlee Burpee Co. "I'd guess that when customers see a mix of different ratings they are more apt to trust the review process."
Negative reviews help establish authenticity.
When I look at reviews I can usually tell if the review is genuine or one that the business wrote for itself. How can I tell? It's hard for me to put my finger on it, but non-stop gushing adjectives and rave reviews with no negatives make me suspicious and I'll tend to turn away from that business and keep looking. And your potential customers probably feel the same way. There is something about 'fake' reviews that can be sensed when reading them and they leave a negative response in the mind of the reader.
So when I read reviews on something I'm considering, what I'm looking for are lots of real reviews with a preponderance of positive reviews and the negatives not too horrible or one's that wouldn't stop me from trying the business.
Have a Plan
Online reviews are here to stay and as time goes on their impact on your business will continue to grow. You need to have a strategy in place to manage potential damage caused by negative conversations and reviews.
According to a Marketing VOX article: "A customer that has a good experience will typically tell 3 to 5 people, but a customer who has a poor experience will tell more than 20. When this trend occurs via the web, these numbers can rapidly multiply and could spell disaster for brands that don't have strategies in place to combat online negative chatter."
How to tackle negative reviews:
Once you've discovered that someone has posted a negative review about you or your business, do the following:
1. Check the facts. Is this person a customer? A former or current employee? A competitor spreading rumors?
2. Decide who is going to be the official 'voice' for your business when situations like these happen. It should be someone of authority, such as the business owner or office manager.
2. If this is a valid issue, contact the person leaving the review personally via telephone, email or letter and let them know you'll be checking into the matter in an effort to resolve it.
If you don't have a way to contact them directly, then respond to their negative review online and say the same things in your response. The point is to be proactive and helpful and make this visible to others who may be reading the review.
*Yelp began allowing business owners to sign up for a free "business owner account." It enables them to track how many people view their page, update their business' information, and send messages directly to a reviewer (although reviewers can choose to disable this feature when leaving a review).
3. Once the situation is resolved, go back to the site where the negative review was posted, and post an honest explanation of what was done to rectify the issue.
4. If you're not sure the complaint is valid, post your policy on the subject and offer to resolve the issue.
Here's a real life example from Successful-Blog of a store owner handling a negative Yelp review:
“I wanted to tell you how I resolved a problem I was having with a really bad online review on Yelp about my business. Someone – I never did figure out who – posted a terrible review – and that was the first thing people saw when they did a Google search on our company name.
“So I got my own Yelp account. I used my own name, and identified myself as the owner of the store. I basically said, ‘I’m saddened that you had a bad experience in my store. I’ve checked my records, and I can’t find a transaction that sounds like this. Please call me at this number, so that I can resolve this issue immediately.’ No one called, so a few weeks later I posted a second reply that said, ‘I haven’t heard from you. Please call me. I want the chance to make you a happy customer.’
“I used my real name, our store name, and posted the store phone number. At the same time, when I would talk to a satisfied customer, I’d say, ‘I’d appreciate it if you’d consider telling other people that you had a positive experience.’ I even put a request for positive Yelp reviews onto the receipts we give to customers. That first terrible review is still out there – but now there are more positive reviews, and the search engines don’t pick that bad review up first.”
5. ***Important**** Never directly attack the person who left the review, say bad things about them or another business, or leave something negative as retaliation. This almost always gets into a mud slinging attack and can quickly spiral out of control. When this is done visibly online it tends to attract people you've never even done business with who will now side against the business and leave more negative reviews. This is one can of worms you don't want to open!
6. Develop the habit of asking for testimonials and reviews when a customer says something nice or you know you've done a good job, and ask them to post that review online.
Most will tell you they'll be happy to oblige.
There's a problem with this approach though, and you can probably see what it is.
Leaving the task in the hands of your customer to remember to go home and sit down and post a positive testimonial is iffy. It's no secret that the follow-through for testimonials, unless they are gotten right on the spot, are poor at best.
In the past many experts would advise that you write the testimonial for your customer and send it to them for their signature to get the job done.
That was the way things used to be.
This approach doesn't work well for getting reviews online. Not only will the reviews sound similar (remember how having nothing but glowing reviews is a customer turn-off?) but you're counting on them taking your words and posting them online, or, YOU post all the reviews, meaning all the reviews are coming from your own company, which is easy to verify. That looks just as false and just as bad.
Here's a better approach, and one that we recommend because we've seen the results personally.
Local Search Reviews delivers. For $97 a month they provide your business with review cards that customers fill out in their own handwriting, on the spot. Local Search Reviews gets those cards from you and distributes them to a network of review services including Google Local, Yelp, City Search and dozens more. Then when someone does a search for you or your business keyword, they'll see, not only a review from your customer, but the review appears as an image in your customer's own handwriting.
Your job? Get your customers to fill out a review/testimonial card. Local Search Reviewsdoes the rest and the results help your organic rankings, your Google Local results (reviews are a big factor for ranking high on Google Local - those listings next to the map in search results), your online reviews - and remember, the more reviews you have, the better, and your online reputation.
It’s no longer a question of whether or not social media and online reviews are going to affect your business – they already are. So the only question is when are you going to take charge of your own online reputation?
- I've posted a video on how to handle bad reviews on Yelp and other review sites that you can see HERE.
- Here is a video on the importance of ranking in Local Search that I did a few weeks ago - and it includes why ranking well in Google Local for your key words impacts accessing the internet via an iPhone or other smart phone, or using Google's toll free information number 1-800-Goog411.
- Yelp facing class-action lawsuit over extortive "ad sales" (arstechnica.com)