Stop Being Afraid of Yelp

I’m fascinated by Yelp. Sure, a dark part of me loves the drama, but I’m most taken by business owners being so terrified of the platform. Especially when there are so many well-documented benefits to being active on Yelp:
And yet, the mere idea of a handful of customers leaving negative reviews is enough to stay clear of the site.I wanted to find out who was right, marketers or the business owners, so I started testing assumptions.
 
Question 1: “Are business active on Yelp?”
 
At Kasasa, I service community banks and credit unions. To answer my question I looked at 100 reviews on 20 institutions (10 banks / 10 credit unions) across 9 communities.
 
Only 1 institution had claimed their Yelp page. If you think this sounds bad, it’s actually pretty accurate across verticals. According to Yelp’s 2014 investment deck, there are 6.6 million businesses listed.  Only 80,000 of them had claimed their page and were active. 1.2%
 
Result: Assumption confirmed. It seems that those fears (plus resource and know-how restrictions) are enough to stop businesses from getting on.
 
Question 2: “Are business owner’s fears valid?”
 
When I worked at Main Street Hub, we would field thousands of reviews every day. I asked our data scientist for a distribution of star ratings for the past year.
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This looks a lot like what Yelp publishes as their rating distribution.
In both samples, ~68% of the reviews were 4 or 5-star.
Result: No. Yelp is a pretty positive place. Faith in humanity has been restored.
 
 Question 3: Can you do anything about those negative reviews?
Going back to the banking survey, there were three major areas of complaint; the service, the products (loans), and the branch (hours, location, cleanliness).
What did most people complain about?
 90% of the negative reviews were focused on service. What’s more, in 27% of those reviews, the reviewer mentioned an employee by name. Someone specific ruined the experience.
That’s hugely important for several reasons.
  1. If you notice a trend, you can coach and develop specific employees.
  2. You can reach out and apologize, or better yet, have the specific employee apologize for the mistake. You have the chance to make the situation right.
  3. If the reviewer left the full name of the employee, it actually violates Yelp’s reviewer guidelines and the review can be flagged for removal.

Don’t think apologies matter?

I believe you should respond to 100% of reviews, and I’m not the only one.
  • You are being given the chance to right a wrong.
  • You’re replying not just for the reviewer, but the prospective customers who are looking for active business owners. (According to Everyone’s a Critic, 70% of customers check reviews prior to purchase)
  • Customer centricity has been linked to profitability, and building a company culture around reviewing and acting on reviews helps ensure this centricity

Okay, but do customers really care about responses? I looked into it. This data was pulled from some fellow community managers at Main Street Hub on which of their responses received follow-up responses from the reviewer.

64% of replies to 5-star reviews received a customer follow-up.
14% of 4-star
9% of 3-star
10% of 2-star
4% of 1-star
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 Results: Okay, so my assumptions here were a little wrong. It seems like if people are pissed, then you only have a 4% chance of writing them and getting a response. However, if a customer is happy, you have a 64% chance of getting one. Consider the potential for encouraging a follow-up visit or a referral.

The Tactics

Since these reply statistics were aggregated from different community managers, I wanted to do a qualitative examination of what tactics seemed to crop up and contribute to getting a successful reply. Here are some commonalities:
  1.  Everyone used some visual element to separate the question from the body (colon, line break, double dash, ellipses)
  2. 1-star reviews that received responses always had “sorry” or an apology in the opening sentence.
  3. End your response with a yes-or-no question:
    1. Was this your first time dining with us?
    2. Do you happen to recall the date of your visit?
    3. Did anything catch your eye for next time?
    4. Do you have a favorite dish at our place?
  4.  Be human, reply with a casual tone and sincerity.
  5. Bring extra attention to the question in the signature. “Hope to hear back,” “Eager to hear more.”
  6. Be concise. 3 sentences or under.

Go forth and prosper

Yelp is a happy place, and hopefully this study and these tactics give you the confidence to claim your page and begin responding. Have a tactic you use for Yelp? Let me know in the comments!

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