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The landscape of online reviews can be tricky to navigate, but harnessing their potential is worth the effort. Yelp’s Small Business Expert and host of Behind the Review podcast Emily Washcovick revisited her interviews with several business owners from past podcasts and collected their unique approaches to online reviews—both positive and negative—and how they turned them into a business advantage. Let’s take a peek inside their review response playbooks.
Using positive reviews as positive reinforcement
Positive reviews are a great way to reinforce what you’re doing right—but you can take them a step further. Bring them offline to inspire yourself and your team, and use them to communicate your appreciation for your customers while making a good impression on future customers.
Robert Meir, CALA
The positive [reviews] I do focus a lot on. I think a lot of owners just take it and go, ‘Okay, great’ and move on. I try not to. I take it to the staff and I say, ‘Hey, look! Someone said something great about you’ because it makes them feel good. And then they strive to do better.
We’ve been putting together a little book of good reviews—both as a, ‘Hey clients, when you’re waiting around, here’s this cool book you can look at,’ but also, ‘Hey Korri, you’re having a bad day. Read this.’ [Positive reviews] make me really happy because I know most people don’t review. But it means that those people had such a stellar experience that they felt the need to tell strangers how cool we are. And that just makes my day.
If someone is taking the time out of their day to write a review for you, the least thing you can do is acknowledge them. The least you can do is say ‘thank you.’ I always like to talk to them about their experience and how much we appreciate them. If the customer gets back on, they’re going to see that I responded. And if someone else is looking for our business, then they’re going to see how we responded as well.
It’s all about how people are going to treat your business and see your business. And if you’re just letting things sit there with no response, [as a customer,] I’m more likely to go to a business that acknowledges me and says, ‘Thank you for taking the time to write a review.’ Because no one has to do it. And for them to do that means a lot.
Turning negative reviews into positive outcomes
Negative reviews don’t feel great in the moment—but how you react to (and implement) them can help you improve customer service, identify new business opportunities, and strengthen your reputation.
If you have something good to say, say it right away. If you don’t, take a deep breath. I reply to all the negative reviews personally, and the write back is never immediate. I let it sit for a day or two. 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 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 and address their disappointment. We hope to be able to make amends. 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.
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.’
I got one 1-star review once. It was 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. So I could only be pre-order and couldn’t afford to hire people. It said everywhere that we were pre-order only online.
I responded to the review and 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. That was our service model all the way, and we actually were never going to be walk-up. The only reason we [started to offer] walk-up was because of this 1-star review.
[Reviewers] want people to listen. I’ll listen to them, and I’ll be like, ‘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. You’re a layer of accountability for me to build a better business.’
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from these businesses and more, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.