How Businesses Can Respond to Criticism on Yelp
BY Kasey Wehrum
Three business owners give their views on when it makes sense to respond to critics posting negative reviews on Yelp
RIGHT BACK AT YOU Pizzeria Delfi na isnâ€™t cowed by nasty reviews.
Yelp, the online review service, recently announced that business owners will be able to publicly answer negative posts. Does it make sense to respond? Here's how three businesses are dealing with their Yelp complainers.
Craig Stoll, co-owner of Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco, outfits his servers in T-shirts emblazoned with quotes from the restaurant's harshest critics. So a diner may be greeted by a waitress wearing a shirt proclaiming, "This place sucks." Stoll says the shirts are meant to poke fun at his critics and boost employee morale. "You can only take so much bashing," he says. "We've never been one to say the customer is always right."
Would Stoll consider responding directly to his critics on Yelp? "I think it is a lose-lose proposition," he says. "You either wind up coming off as defensive or accusatory. There's no way I would get on there and answer somebody's review."
Eric Kirsammer, owner of Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago, also avoids engaging his critics openly online. Instead, Kirsammer uses negative reviews as a tool to improve customer service. Yelp reviewers, for instance, though happy with the selection of the store's comic books, weren't too thrilled with what they perceived to be its unwelcoming staff. "It's one of those things that we didn't realize we were doing until I read it on Yelp," he says. Kirsammer and his store managers now regularly check the business's Yelp page for tips on what they could be doing better. Says Kirsammer, "I totally revamped our customer service approach." Quimby's staff now makes a point of being extra welcoming and available to answer questions, especially to new customers, who may not know their X-Men from their Fantastic Four. "It's so hard to get feedback, especially negative feedback," says Kirsammer. "People just don't come up to the counter and say, 'You guys stink.' They usually just leave. I always learn much more from the negative reviews than from the positive ones."
Sarah Dunbar, owner of Pretty Penny, a vintage clothing boutique in Oakland, California, says she makes a point of responding privately to each critical review. "If someone gives Home Depot a two-star review, I don't think it really matters," says Dunbar. "But it does matter for community-based businesses." Dunbar says getting back to her online critics is just good business sense. "If there's a legitimate complaint, I want to know how we can make it right for them," she says. "I've offered people on Yelp my cell-phone number, my store number; I've given them the hours I'm working and asked them to come in to the store and talk to me." Dunbar's efforts have swayed some reviewers to rethink their negative ratings and give Pretty Penny a second chance.
That, of course, hasn't entirely stopped the nasty comments. One Pretty Penny customer wrote the following post after Dunbar invested some serious time contacting disgruntled customers: "The owner is sending messages to all the people who don't give her stellar reviews'¦that's just shady business." Dunbar hasn't yet taken on her critics on Yelp's site, but she thinks it's a good option to have. "Business owners deserve a forum where they are able to defend themselves," she says.
Last updated: Jun 1, 2009
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.