Online review site Yelp has been causing quite a stir in the small business community for a few years now. By allowing anyone to write reviews about any business, Yelp has empowered the general public with the power once held only by professional restaurant reviewers and reporters. Of course, with this newfound power comes its fair share of controversy. Before Yelp, if a customer had a bad experience, they could fill out a nasty comment card (and hope someone read it) or complain to the manager and hope for some sort of resolution. Now that customers can share their experiences with thousands of people online, small business owners fear that a few bad reviews translate into real business dollars lost. Taking a different approach, Pizzeria Delfina, a restaurant in San Francisco, made light of their negative reviews by clothing their staff in t-shirts printed with several of their worst 1-star reviews.
Given that Yelp may already be on rocky ground with merchants for upsetting the status quo, it’s easy to see why Yelp might have a hard time selling advertisements to local merchants to promote themselves on Yelp’s site. Furthermore, there are reports from merchants that claim that Yelp sales reps have been offering to shuffle negative reviews to the bottom of a listing, but only if the merchants agree to advertise on the site. Yelp vehemently denies such claims of coersion, but regardless of whether it’s true or not, it speaks more to the fact that merchants don’t value the advertising on Yelp at all, but rather see more value in the actual content on the site.
So, seeing this situation, it’s promising that Yelp is starting to let businesses publicly respond to their critics online. This could be a win-win-win situation that benefits Yelp, businesses, and consumers. In this scenario, Yelp becomes the platform around which conversations about businesses can happen. Businesses can use Yelp’s online tools to build better relationships with their customers. By listening to their customers, businesses can learn more about their customers’ needs and adjust to fit those needs better. Finally, customers are ultimately the biggest winner since they receive better services, better experiences, and hopefully are happier overall.
That said, even though we’re talking specifically about online tools, these lessons are really not that new. The best businesses have always listened to their customers and engaged them in real conversations. However, in these modern times, things like Yelp make it even more important to maintain these good habits since the efficiencies of the online environment amplify the effects (both positive and negative) of customer satisfaction.