YELP. Just reading the word brings up a range of visceral emotions for business owners. Should you ignore it? Should you embrace it? Should you advertise?

With more than 10 years of experience supporting our clients with online feedback, our team has read and responded to thousands of reviews. Although reading online reviews can sometimes be frustrating and overwhelming for business owners, our philosophy is to embrace the customer feedback and to use it as a positive opportunity to connect with your customers in an authentic way. Believe it or not, even some of the angriest reviewers will be in awe that someone responded in an open and honest tone. More importantly, clear trends begin to emerge from your online feedback and can often help you improve operations and your customer experience.

The truth is that whether you like Yelp or not, your customers (and oftentimes you!) are using it as a tool to find businesses and express their opinions. For many of our clients, Yelp is the number one social referrer to their website. Michael Luca, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, actually found that within the Seattle area, a one-star increase in a business Yelp rating leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue.

Here are a few tips and tricks when thinking about how to manage Yelp or any online feedback:

  1.  Connect With Your Customers
    Reply to your reviews – all of them. Oftentimes, it's just the negative Yelp reviews that garner a response from business owners. However, reaching out to the glowing reviews in order to thank him or her leaves a lasting impression on the customer. Replies to negative reviews should be authentic, open-minded, humble and brief. Let the customer know that you appreciate their feedback and that you’ll take the time to look into the issues they experienced.
  2. Let People Know You’re There
    As a business owner, it’s important to let reviewers know that they are not anonymous. It’s easy for reviewers to feel angry when they’re at their computers, and sometimes customers might type out a message that they would never say directly to a business owner. Replying gently reminds customers that there is an emotional person behind the business that works hard every day to provide a service and to keep their business open.
  3. Look for Trends
    Online reviews may help uncover issues with operations that you can change and improve. Take notice of comments that follow a pattern and use it as an opportunity to check in with your team and refresh your training.
  4. Take Action With Extreme Reviews
    You can flag reviews that don’t adhere to Yelp’s guidelines or that don’t express a “personal consumer experience.” And, you should. You’ll find that if you appropriately flag negative reviews, a decent percentage of them may be removed. Keep in mind that Yelp will not remove reviews just because you believe they are untrue. While that can be frustrating, it's nearly impossible to prove that a reviewer is not telling the truth and it makes sense that Yelp can not take a stance for or against the reviewer in most circumstances.
  5. Provide Opportunities for Direct Feedback
    If you want to attempt to keep negative feedback offline, offer your customers opportunities to provide their feedback in a private and direct way. If your customers feel heard and are connected to your business, they may not feel the need to write a public review. Put a feedback inquiry form on your website, send a survey annually to your email subscribers, consider establishing a loyalty program. Let your customers know where they can send their positive and constructive feedback.

Bottom line: Your customers are online, and they are talking. If they’re not on Yelp, they will write reviews on Facebook, Google, Trip Advisor, or Twitter. If you can master the art of your reply, you can absolutely make positive connections with your customers and control the conversation rather than watching it happen without you.

Need help managing your online feedback? Wednesday Seven can help. Email to learn more.