8 Tips For Recovering From Bad Yelp Reviews

This post was originally published on HospitalityDefender.com.

By Jay Skowron, Founder & Principal, HospitalityDefender.com

We’re going to discuss something controversial today: online reviews and how to respond to them. TripAdvisor reviews, Facebook reviews. Google My Business reviews (or is it Google+ Local? Google Places? Who knows these days, amiright?).

How about Yelp reviews? There, I said it. Is your heart racing all of a sudden? Blood pressure up? Face red? Good. Now settle down and take a breath. We’re going to get through this together. We’ll focus on Yelp today, but what I’m going to say translates to all review sites.

I know, some of you hate Yelp. Restaurateurs, hoteliers… many small businesses hate Yelp. I get it. Many restaurants we talk to want to simply ignore Yelp. But consider the following:

Some statistics

Between 65% and 90% of consumers, depending on which study you read, are influenced by online reviews. For Yelp alone, as of March 2016, there are an average of 167 million unique visitors per month. Seventy-two percent of consumers say positive reviews make them trust a business more, and 90% say positive reviews directly influence their buying decisions. And guess what? People are more likely to share a negative experience than a positive one. Common sense? Of course. 

Okay, enough statistics. So what does all that tell us? 

It tells us that the opposite is also true. Negative reviews influence people. It also tells us that your customers and potential customers probably use Yelp

You probably even use Yelp yourself to find a restaurant, or a new barber, or any number of businesses you need to look up. You might even take a peek at your own reviews once in awhile. (You know it’s true. No judgment here.)

Can you afford to risk 65% to 90% of your potential customers reading your negative reviews and you pretending they don’t exist?

You said “NO,” right? Good, we can continue.

The Problem

There are 1000 ways you can drop the ball with your reviews. The food can be cold, a mistake can be made with the order, or maybe even a hair or foreign object can find its way into a dish. More likely, though, (and we have internal statistics that prove this) it’s your employees keeping a guest waiting too long without communicating, or being perceived as rude or dismissive. 

I know, your employees would never be rude or dismissive. But two things: 

  1. Perception is reality for customers.
  2. Your employees absolutely can be rude or dismissive. It happens.

Like the title says, the customer isn’t always right. Perception is reality. And they are always the customer. You want to keep their business, right? Get their friends to come in? Be busy every shift of the week? You need to fix your negative reviews. 

So, here it is: our best practice strategy.

How to handle negative reviews (aka “guest recovery”)

1. Respond as quickly as possible. When Hospitality Defender works on behalf of our clients, we respond within three hours of a posted review. But certainly, strive for less than 24.

2. Respond publicly. First, apologize! Be humble. Show the public that you care about your reviews, that you welcome the feedback, and that you want to fix any problems. Keep it cordial, professional, non-argumentative. If the review is particularly egregious, you can sometimes mention one or two facts to set the record straight. But this is delicate! Avoid being too matter-of-fact or passive-aggressive. Don’t get into an argument and avoid making the customer even angrier. Tread lightly here. I know, it’s tough to back down when a bad review is posted, especially an unfair one. 

3. Get the guest to communicate offline with you. Ask them to send you an email, call you, stop by in person, or even send them a private Yelp message. But make every effort to keep the conversation going.

4. Offer some kind of incentive for your customer to come back. Maybe a free appetizer, entrée, a gift card, anything! Compensate them somehow for their inconvenience.

5. Ask them to speak to you personally next time they come in. Do a meet & greet and roll the red carpet out for them. Make sure their return visit is as close to perfect as it can be. Tell them you want them to have a 5-star experience. Yes, it’s a little subconscious trick but often helps.

Bonus Tip: Is a manager or shift lead touching every table, every time? Usually this can help diffuse any negative situation and can turn a potential negative review into a positive one.

Bonus Tip #2: Yelp allows you to flag reviews. Sometimes a review will be taken down by Yelp if you can make a good case that it doesn’t represent a personal consumer experience, or perhaps it was written by a current/ex-employee or a competitor.

Example: “My friend came here and he said it sucked so I don’t plan on going,” or “I used to work here and the GM was a jerk,” or “I work at the restaurant across the street and I agree with the last guy: the GM is a jerk.”

You can’t flag a review for “factual disputes.” Yelp doesn’t care. That’s what the public comments are for.

Bonus Tip #3: Yelp sometimes “hides” reviews. They use a secret algorithm that helps to detect fake reviews. It’s even more secret than the recipe for Classic Coke. So some negative reviews will be hidde. This used to be called “filtered” – now they call it “reviews that are not recommended.”

Some positive reviews will also be hidden – a good reason not to ask for positive reviews, besides being against Yelp’s terms of service. These hidden reviews don’t factor into your score. But you should still respond to them.

Real Results

We’ve seen two important outcomes from clients who follow the above. 

First, often the customer will update their review and add additional stars. Awesome! 

Second, customers who have been recovered using these techniques often become extremely loyal fans of the business, sometimes even more so than if they had a good experience to start with. Super awesome! Going the extra mile and showing the attention makes a big difference.

A recent study showed that a one-star increase in a business’ Yelp score translates into substantial revenue increases – as much as 9%. You may hate Yelp, but you can’t afford to ignore it. So take your head out of the sand, swallow your pride, and win back a guest!

Jay Skowron, Hospitality Defender, Founder

About the author:
Jay Skowron is the founder and principal of Hospitality Defender LLC, a company focused on online review site management, guest experience, and social media marketing for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Having spent almost two decades in the industry, he has transitioned to helping businesses in the restaurant and hospitality space establish and maintain their online presence and help ensure their guests' satisfaction. Jay was quoted numerous times in the 2014 book The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at jay@hospitalitydefender.com.