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Creating a Review Response Strategy

Episode 61

podcast featured img Creating a Review Response Strategy

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Whether it’s a Yelp listing or another online review site profile, your reputation matters and is a reflection of the work you do in person with your customers. Having a strategy in place for responding to reviews can help you maximize that online presence and spread the word about who you are and what you do—it’s like word of mouth but amplified. In this episode, hear advice from business owners and consumers about how to engage with your online audience and build a strategy that reflects your business.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more advice from businesses and reviewers about the four steps to a successful review response strategy.

Emily: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interaction.

This week, I’m doing a deep dive into creating a review response strategy for your business, and leveraging your online presence to attract new customers. Whether it’s a Yelp listing or another online review site, your reputation matters and is a reflection of the work you do in person with your customers. Having a strategy in place for responding to reviews can help you maximize that online presence, and spread the word about who you are and what you do the way word of mouth does, but amplified.

A big misconception when it comes to online reviews is that you only need a strategy or plan for responding in case of a negative or critical review. In fact, there is so much opportunity in responding to all types of reviews. Another thing many assume but get wrong: the idea that online reviews are mostly negative. On Yelp, over 75% of reviews are positive, and we have more 5-star reviews than 1-, 2-, and 3-star reviews combined. Most people overwhelmingly turn to Yelp to share positive reviews of places they love, rather than criticize places they don’t. So instead of fearing the negative, get excited for the positive! And have a plan in place for when you receive both.

Vadim, Bagel Master: On every platform, I comment back on every review—good, bad, or ugly—because I think it’s very important. Because why would you only respond to the negative? You have to reach out to the people that took their time to give you a positive review and let them know that you appreciate them. I think it’s super important to do that.

Emily: It’s incredibly important! And even more, simply being open to hearing customer opinions and not jumping directly to the question of star rating or right and wrong can provide valuable learnings and insights.

Dennis, The Candle Pour: We make sure we understand. Because in my opinion, if there is a negative review, it’s a good teaching moment—no matter what it is, even if we didn’t do anything wrong, it’s still a good teaching moment. So we do address that. We try to respond to every single review to say, thank you. That’s important.

Emily: And it certainly makes an impact on your consumers as well.

Chadrick, Cranky Al’s: I’ve had both. So I’ve had it where I’ve given positive feedback on a business and I get the owner or someone will actually comment on my review and say, “Thanks for the glowing review.” It’s always great to hear that it really motivates you to want to write more reviews. I’ve also had just the opposite where I’ve written more of a critical review and the business owner responds and says, “Hey, come try me again. We’re not usually like this.” So you know, the shoe goes on both ways.

It definitely deepens my relationship to the business. It actually makes me realize that Yelp is making a difference and that the business owners are looking at what people are saying about their business, and that’s important. So it makes me want to write more reviews and keep up putting quality reviews online.

Emily: Your response can deepen the relationship with a customer. AND it can reflect your customer service practices to all future consumers as well.

Jennifer, Rescue Air Heating: When I’m reading reviews about a business and I see a company responding it gives me an idea about who that company is. To me, a random 1-star review doesn’t mean much because usually I’m like, “Okay, Karen, moving on,” but I can tell a lot when I see a business responding about what kind of business model they have. Are they customer focused? Are they calm, cool, and collected in their response? There’s so much you can learn about the company that you’re about to do business with.

Emily: So keep that in mind when you are responding to reviews. As the business owner or manager you need to make sure that you’re taking the high road and remaining professional in your response. Even if the reviewer isn’t playing fair or being honest in their review – don’t stoop to their level.

So how do you go about responding to critical reviews, especially when your emotions are high?

Nic, Starbright Floral: If you have something good to say, say it right away. If you don’t, take a deep breath. And we never, ever, ever have replied to a review angrily. Okay? We’ve never lost our temper in that situation. Maybe we’re disappointed. Maybe it’s a situation where we felt like we went above and beyond to help somebody, but the experience did not turn out the way the person expected it to. Those things do happen.  But if I’m going to reply to a negative review—and by the way, I reply to all the negative reviews personally. It’s not something that’s assigned to anybody. The review is, first of all, the write-back is never immediate. Okay?

I let it sit for a day or two. And there are times. in fact, just a little hint to the Yelp listeners—there are times when that reviewer might fall outside of the Yelp algorithm and the review may just disappear, because it’s not credible. Maybe it’s the only one review that they’ve written and, whatever the algorithm is, drops reviews. You know, it causes that review to fall off. So I kind of wait and hope that happens, first of all. Secondly, I’ll write the reply in Word on a document that cannot possibly accidentally be posted.  And I’ll read it, I’ll reread it, and then maybe edit it. And then finally I will post it.

If we are fortunate enough—and in many cases we are—where we can track this person down to a specific order, before I even reach out on Yelp, I’m going to send them an email privately if I have their email address. And I will address their disappointment and I hope to be able to do something.

And the key word to us is, we hope to be able to make amends. That’s really a straightforward way to apologize and say, “Hey, I want to make this right.” And throw it in the customer’s hands and ask them what can we do to correct the situation. And if they reply to us and if it’s resolved, without asking, we hope that the review goes down or we hope that the review is updated.

And we hope that the consumer at that point takes it upon themselves to re-address the issue with what happened subsequent to the negative review. I will parenthesize here for a moment.  I’m gonna say that, you know, oftentimes, a negative review is not bad if it’s followed up online with a resolution and a show of how you resolved it.

So either the customer we’ll take down the review or they will post a follow up with hopefully more stars, or at that point I would step in and write something: “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to make this right for you. And I hope you have accepted our full refund and the complimentary flowers and, you know, everything else that we did for you.” And so we will state our case if they have not. If they have, then we’re going to come back with a humble expression of appreciation. Not over the top, not overly extensive, okay? Humble, positive and grateful to the person that they said or did what they said and for giving us the opportunity to do that.

So that’s basically the rules that we follow when it comes time to addressing the negative review, and most of the time, it works out that way. I will say that it’s an entire playbook on how we go about it step-by-step. And in no case have we ever deviated from that playbook, which of course has evolved over time.

Emily: And Nic makes another really important point when it comes to making things right or turning around a consumer’s experience.

Nic, Starbright Floral: Usually I will start off the conversation—whether it’s on email, whether it’s public online on Yelp, or however else we reach the customer—and in a true empathetic, Fatos fashion, with a lot of sincerity, I’m going to say something like, “I wish I could turn the clock back and make this right in your experience the first time.” At that point, to be honest, I’m not concerned about getting the person to change the hypothetical 1-star review to a 2-star review or a 5-star review. I’m not looking for more stars. I want to talk about that for a moment. I’m looking to express sincerity. I’m looking to express care and I’m looking to express, “What can we do to make this right?”

Emily: Expressing sincerity. Not being overly concerned with the star rating, but rather the customer’s experience and making things right or turning them around. That’s what’s important.

Something else I find extremely important to mention is that not all feedback or criticism is valid or worth making a change in response to.

Lucas, Nice Day Chinese: I think many restaurant [owners]—including myself—have a tendency sometimes to jump and change things really quickly based on negative feedback. Learning how to approach reviews in a helpful and structured way has really allowed us to manage reviews as a mode of feedback. I don’t know if this is extra. I don’t know if this is consistent with what everyone else is doing, but we respond to most of the reviews that people post. We’re very, very fast. And we’ve learned a lot, right?

Tom, West Coast Animal Hospital: I take ownership of any legitimate problem that surfaced from the 1-star review. First and foremost, it needs to be a learning opportunity for the organization. If we mess up somehow, we gotta own it. We’ve got to fix it. And then when you have need to post a response that lets them know in a general community that we are committed to fixing any problem that was discovered, If there’s nuggets in there for me to take responsibility and ownership of, I do it. That’s my opinion of reviews.

Emily: We’re all human. Businesses are made up of humans! And sometimes things go wrong, or people’s expectations aren’t met. When that happens you want to acknowledge it and see if there is any potential learning or takeaway you can gather for your team. Critical reviews can hurt, but they can also be helpful.

Josh Rescue Air Heating: Usually by the time I listen to somebody, half the time, that’s all Yelp’s doing anyway. They want people to listen. They want people to hear what they have to say. They want to voice this concern because it’s not okay. And I’ll listen to them and I’ll be like, “Listen  I’m taking action on this. I’m going into my company. I’m going to build a better company.” Every time I thank them for it. Thank you for the 1-star review. This is how I grow. Without you bringing these mistakes to my attention, I would never know they were occurring. So you’re a layer of accountability for me to build a better business. And usually I send them like treats in the mail. I’ll say, “Hey, I know who it is I have in my system.”

I never asked somebody to change their review—ever, never. Leave that up there, that’s real. You’d be amazed. I bet half, if not three quarters of those reviews go from one to five stars, just cause you listened to them. And they got the result they were looking for.

Emily: Josh is right! Having a plan in place to connect with customers and try to make things right can often result in them updating their review or turning around their comments about the business. But that’s not always the outcome, and remember, it’s not truly our goal either. More than anything we want to respond to reviews as a way to reflect our customer service practices to all potential customers.

Joey, Cranky Al’s: And literally, I would say on probably 99% or 95% of my reviews that have three stars or less, you will see that I will respond and I will put my cell phone on there. And I would say maybe 10% ever call me back because I do want to hear—because words, when someone can sit back behind a computer and type, right, you don’t always know the tone that’s coming from, but what you can assume is that anything from a three or less, they weren’t happy, right?

So what I do is, “Hey, I’m sorry about the experience.” We’ll reach out most of the time, unless it’s some crazy thing that I know that I have no control. But I will reach out no matter what and say, “Hey, this is what I’m sorry about your experience. Can you please call me on my cell phone so we can talk about this?” And I put my public cell phone for most of those bad reviews. Most people don’t call back. I think I get upset the most is when obviously someone took the time to write that review out of their day. So I already messed up by ruining their day or by not living up to their expectations. But then when I reach out to someone and say, “Hey, can we talk to figure out how we can make it better or how I can learn from this?”

Emily: I can totally understand the frustration of replying to a critical review and then not hearing back from the reviewer again. It’s like they left you hanging! But remember, your response is not to win the reviewer over necessarily—it’s more so to reflect your customer service practices to all potential customers who look at your listing. By sharing a phone number or email address for people to get in touch with you, you’re more likely to have consumers connect with you directly if they have an issue, rather than provide the feedback in the form of a critical review.

Remember: Sometimes there are even situations where you receive critical feedback, but your business’s product or service was delivered or served exactly to your standards. It just didn’t meet the expectations of the customer.

Natasha, Mixed Fillings Pie Shop: I got one 1-star review once. It’s the most hilarious thing ever. He was mad that we were pre-order only. It was during the pandemic. I didn’t have any employees. It was literally myself and my husband. And so I could only be pre-order and I couldn’t afford to hire people. It said everywhere that we were pre-ordered only online—it said everything. And so he wrote a review, and I did respond to the review. I was not rude. I responded to the review and I told him that I didn’t feel it was fair that he was holding us to a standard that he had created and not a standard that we, as a business model, had ever set. We had explicitly said from day one that we were only pre-order, and that was our service model all the way. And we actually were never going to be walk-up. The only reason we offered walk-up was because of this 1-star review.

Emily: This might seem completely unfair that a consumer ranked a business one star for not offering something they never offered. But try to get out of the mindset of being consumed with the star rating and take it as an opportunity to state who you are and what you provide. Natasha may have started selling pie by the slice after that negative review, but she could have just as easily written a public response to affirm that she does not sell pie by the slice but you can connect with the business online to place an order for pick-up.

The last topic I want to cover today is growing your online reputation and spreading the word about who you are and what you do without soliciting or asking for reviews. On Yelp it’s against our terms of service and content guidelines to solicit or ask your customers for reviews. And to be honest, it’s a pretty icky thing from the consumer perspective anyway. You want customers to naturally share their experiences with your business online. A great way to let them know you care about your online reputation and would love to hear their feedback is to let them know you’re on social and review platforms. Put links to your listings on your website, in your email signatures, and in other promotional materials. You can also share a review of the week or month from any of your online listings to your social media accounts. This is a great way to remind your existing customers that you’d love to hear their experiences and feedback without making a direct ask.

Something you want to avoid is having devices in your business asking customers to write reviews on the spot or sending mass emails in a newsletter form to a database of customers asking them to write you reviews. Instead, provide great customer service and memorable experiences, and that will translate into positive customer reviews in no time!

It’s as easy as that! To wrap up and summarize, creating a great response strategy is just as important as creating a great experience for customers. I hope this was a valuable guide to how businesses approach responding to reviews. Keep their advice in mind as you look to build your reputation on Yelp.

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