In a perfect world, you’d run your business and all your customers would love you for it. Unfortunately, we live in reality-world, where such bliss isn’t a thing, and customers frequently lob Yelp reviews with complaints. There are typically three ways businesses respond to negative Yelp reviews. One, they just don’t respond. Two, they lose their cool and shout down the customer with a defensive tirade. Three, they ignore the comment but petition Yelp to have it removed.

We don’t think any of these are the right way to go. We think Yelp reviews, good and bad, are an opportunity to solidify your brand while broadening your base.

Negative Yelp reviews can have a good outcome, if you keep a pragmatic perspective, and maybe a sense of humor, too.

Before any of these things can happen, the most important first step here is to “claim” your business on Yelp. Once you do, you can weigh in with responses to any bad or so-so reviews. This is critical if you’re to weather the popular opinion storm.

Here are ways we suggest dealing with negative Yelp reviews.

Take it Somewhere Private

If an unhappy reviewer posts vague complaints, reply promptly and ask them to message you with further details so that you can resolve things.

This accomplishes a few things. One, it keeps the dirt off the public pages. Two, it allows you to resolve matters with a person directly, while showing the public that you care about negative feedback and try to make things better. Three, if it’s a situation where offering discounts, a comped visit, or other remedies can fix the situation, it will allow you to do so privately. The last thing you need is a public seeing that a bad review can get them freebies, so keep those solutions off public forums.

Fix the Problem

Simply listening to people is a great way to defuse situations. Yelp reviews might give you new perspectives on your business that your biases have previously blinded you to seeing. Maybe a reviewer says how awful they looked in a store’s lighting, so they stopped trying clothes on and left. Well, perhaps the lighting is really unflattering to anyone trying on clothes. Maybe a different kind of lighting would make people look nicer, and thus increase sales.

Perhaps a restaurant customer is right, and the kitchen made a terrible choice by having a balsamic-cherry vinaigrette on a salad topped with lemon chicken.

Consider what you’re being told. If the customer is right, tell them so. Thank them for alerting you to this problem, tell them you’re making changes, and invite them to come back to re-assess matters later. Other Yelpers reading these responses will be glad to see you’re taking matters seriously.

Call Out Foolishness When You See It

Not all negative Yelp reviews are merited. Some are just downright silly. Take a recent trip I had to Thailand, when I had a burger craving and looked for an American-style restaurant. I found one with loads of four- and five-star reviews, then clicked on the few one-stars to see what was being said. One complaint said it was stupid they were closed on a Sunday, despite hours posted saying that was the case. Another one-star review was because it didn’t have any Thai food on the menu.

Foolishly, the eatery’s owner just ignored the one-star comment. This was the perfect opportunity to weigh in and shut it down. An easy reply would be, “Would you expect a Thai restaurant in New York to serve a burger? Then why should a burger joint in Bangkok serve panang curry? Our neighbors offer a great panang curry. Not up for panang? Well, ask us next time, and we’ll be happy to refer you for great local food. Personally, I’m addicted to the cashew chicken down the block!”

As a prospective customer, this response would endear them to me while making me dismiss the negative nelly complainant in the first place. I’d be likely to go have a burger, then find out where the cashew chicken joint was for another day!

Learn from Mistakes

Some feedback is valid. Did food arrive cold? Was staff not attentive when the customer entered the shop? Was music too loud?

Take feedback for what it is – valuable market research. But don’t let that complaint sit there, because it could deter others from visiting. Thank them for the feedback. Apologize.

When was the review left? Usually people comment same-day as their visit, since it’s almost therapeutic that way. Next, take it up with your staffers. Do they remember the person in question? What’s their side of the story?

Then reply accordingly.

“We’re sorry you had too long a wait to get your oil changed. We strive to get our lines moving quickly, but we’ve had some staffing issues lately that have occasionally made us less speedy than we’d like to be. We’re glad we got you safely on the road and that you enjoyed some complimentary coffee. Hopefully you’ll give us another chance to make it up to you, as we appreciate your patronage.”

And you can even go one further and privately message that user with a coupon code for a discount or free service next time around.

In Rare Instances, Flag for Removal

There are times in which bad reviews are bogus. Maybe you’ve had a flurry of repetitive bad reviews from a series of users who only have one review – yours. These may be bogus, then. Or maybe reviews are slamming your pedicures, but you run a shoe store.

There are some protocols for having bad Yelp reviews removed, and they may be applicable, but it’s not a resolution to hold your breath for. Instead, take the pragmatic approach and reply to any off-the-mark reviews, because that’s always in your power.

Always, Always Reply

Nothing shuts down anger faster than saying “I hear you, I understand why you’re upset, and I want to help.”

Yelp gives you the power to reply. When a customer complains, tell them you hear them, and you appreciate them giving you the chance to respond to the situation. If it’s something you can improve, pledge to do so and thank them for being the catalyst for change. If it’s a wrong-minded and non-sensical complaint, thank them for speaking up, and then clear up their misconceptions.

Ultimately, Yelp gives you the opportunity to further cement your brand with the paying public. You can respond with your brand’s “personality.” You can make your management appear approachable and concerned. You can retort with a sense of humor.

Instead of seeing negative Yelp reviews as just another burdensome hassle of doing business, look at it as a gift – a means to create better dialogue with your public, for making sure you’re putting the right image forward, and ensuring your brand is understood by the masses at large.

Always reply to negative Yelp reviews – good or bad – and you’ll find that potential customers will see you as being a company that listens and tries to remedy problems. Historically, that kind of public perception has been hard to generate. Today, Yelp means it’s easy for you to be a responsive, plugged-in business that keeps its public engaged.

Need a team to strategize, manage and respond to your reviews on Yelp? We’ve got that. Click here to receive a free proposal for your business.

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