How 4 Companies Used Yelp To Woo Customers

Review sites don't have to be your enemy. See how these companies used them to find success.
Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes
August 18, 2011

Life for retailers, particularly restaurant owners, used to be simpler. That was the life without customer review sites, whereas now, every citizen can poke holes in your customer service efforts. This post looks at successful approaches business owners can use to make Yelp into a marketing and sales tool, as opposed to letting it work against them.

Restaurant reviews seem to be the most popular on Yelp, but the service covers many other categories. It used to be that a restaurant would only get an official newspaper review every so often, but with mobile applications and social media, restaurants are under a constant deluge of “citizen reviewers.” In fact, nearly every business faces this same sort of scrutiny and opportunity.

Some will scoff when told it is an opportunity to be reviewed. In every customer interaction, there is a lesson and a chance to shine. Review sites up the game, for sure, but if you provide honest, good service, you can thrive online and in real life.

Here are four success stories to learn from:

Bagelheads

Bagelheads, located in Tallahassee, Florida, has 14 reviews. When the owner, Ben Giles, wasn’t as active online in 2009, there were a few not so favorable remarks. He told me that he likes those reviews, learns from them, and believes that customers can see his progression. Now that is a great attitude.

He likes that you can respond to posts directly and get a chance to give a personal feel to the customer. It shows that you care, and is useful in addressing problem areas. His advice is to use some sort of checkin reward that is visible to the customer when they see you on Yelp. They also created a scannable QR code for the website to give customers more info on their social media efforts, which include Yelp.

Findwell

Findwell is a real estate brokerage in Seattle. CEO Kevin Lisota told me that it is important to hit the basics on these sites: Make sure that your business is not only listed, but that the information is accurate and completely filled out. Consumer trust increases when they can find a photo, website, e-mail address and sometimes special discount offers, rather than just a generic listing.

Their reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Lisota said that negative reviews can be more beneficial than a great review. It teaches him and his staff new lessons and shows consumers how his business behaves when things go wrong, which is super important today.

In a Pickle

In a Pickle is a small restaurant in Waltham, Massachusetts that credits a ton of their business success to their activity and outreach to customers and fans on social media. With 173 reviews and a 4.5 star rating, owner Tim Burke is doing something right. He estimates that 30-40 percent of new business is generated through Yelp. Out of all of his activity on social media channels, he has made it a priority to make sure they have a high rating on the site. He openly says how not having a high rating on Yelp would be disastrous to his business.

Tim knows that customers who are already following him on social media are fans of his food—they wouldn't have liked his Facebook page or followed his Twitter handle if they weren't—so he leverages all of his social channels to encourage customers to review the restaurant themselves. He even sent me this tweet, where he thanked a customer.

Castle Ink

Castle Ink is in the printer ink cartridge business, which is a pretty competitive industry. Bill Elward, president of the company, said that review sites like Yelp are a blessing in the industry. Yelp and similar sites help consumers weigh their options by providing honest feedback on quality. They are active on Yelp, Google, City Search and now credit 10 percent of all orders placed as having originated at one of these review sites.

Yelp is not just for restaurant owners. Most businesses can grow their sales and online presence with review sites like Yelp. From almost every business owner I heard this one bit of advice—recognize that you are going to get reviewed whether you want it or not. Online tools such as Yelp will continue to grow in prevalence, and it pays to embrace them and participate in the active online discussion with your past, current and future customers.

Please share your success story with me here in the comments.