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10 ways to use online reviews to beat the competition

Photo by Petr Sevcovic

1. Update your Yelp Page

Start by claiming your business on Yelp and updating your page.

Make sure essential information is correct so customers can easily find you. This includes your website, phone number, and hours of operation.

Other information to keep updated includes:

  • Restaurant menus
  • Service or delivery areas
  • Business or trade licenses

That last one can have a big impact. A study by SurveyMonkey found that 75% of prospective customers valued seeing a license on a Yelp Page.

2. Respond to every review

When choosing a local business, 78% of customers feel that an owner or manager responding to reviews is an important factor (BrightLocal).

Your response isn’t just for the reviewer. It’s a message that prospective customers will see when they are considering your business. A polite and helpful response is a signal that you appreciate happy customers and take negative feedback seriously.

3. Personalize your responses

Make review responses stand out by personalizing them. Pick something specific from each review to call out in your response.

Imagine a customer raves about fast service. You might respond with, “We’re so glad we were able to serve you quickly! Fast service is something we’re obsessed with.”

Personalization shows prospective customers that you read each review and truly care about providing a great product, service, or experience.

4. Reply to negative reviews

Don’t shy away from responding to negative reviews. Customers typically don’t trust a perfect 5-star overall rating, so a negative review can actually help you earn more business.

An analysis by Womply found that businesses earn the most revenue when they maintain a 3.5- to 4.5-star average. Compared to those with just a few negative reviews, businesses earn 13% more revenue when 15-20% of its reviews are negative.

Many prospective customers read negative reviews to see what upset customers have to say and how you respond. Let’s say a customer complains about a long wait. You might respond with:

“Thanks for sharing your feedback! We take pride in serving customers quickly and have recently made several improvements to get better. We hope you’ll give us another chance to see the difference!”

That response tells other customers you really care and are working to address the problem.

5. Be polite when responding to unreasonable reviews

It can be difficult to keep your cool when writing a response to a 1-star review that’s full of errors and exaggerations, but a scathing response can be a turn off for prospective customers. You’ll earn more business by responding politely and professionally.

A study published in the Journal of Service Research found that people are more likely to empathize with you when you respond politely to a rude customer. Rather than getting defensive, tactfully offer helpful advice to anyone else who might be reading the review.

For example, a customer left a 1-star review for a carpet and flooring company, claiming they had called to get an estimate, but nobody had called them back. The owner politely responded, saying she double-checked her phone records and could not find the message. The owner added that it was unintentional if she missed the customer’s call and was sorry if they let the prospective customer down.

The owner’s response gave other customers confidence that a missed call was not a chronic problem, and the flooring company’s 4-star overall rating was justified.

6. Fix problems

Reviews contain useful feedback that can help you improve the customer experience—even positive reviews can include insightful, constructive criticism.

A popular restaurant with a 4.5-star rating received three reviews in a two-week span that mentioned dirt or hair in items served. The reviews ranged from two to four stars, and each reviewer complimented the restaurant for friendly service.

This wasn’t a vindictive review from a single upset customer. It was feedback that signaled a potential problem that should be investigated and fixed.

7. Discover your unique advantage

Online reviews can help you discover what makes your business special.

A great example is a wine bar in Portland, Oregon called Oregon Wines on Broadway. It has a 3.5-star Yelp rating, but look closely and you’ll find some very consistent themes. People who love it mention a great selection of Oregon Pinot Noir, knowledgeable employees, and a great place to engage in conversation. Customers who don’t like it mention a loud, boisterous atmosphere and rude staff. How can both be true?

Because Oregon Wines on Broadway is a great place to go when you want to discover great wine and meet some locals. The atmosphere is boisterous and the employees are pretty salty, which can make it a lot of fun if that’s what you’re prepared for. But it’s definitely not the place to go for a quiet, romantic date.

8. Don’t solicit reviews

Yelp prohibits businesses from asking customers for reviews, but there’s another reason why soliciting reviews is a bad idea.

A customer’s last experience with a business tends to be one of the most memorable. When you ask for a review, you’ve just made your request the last thing customers remember, rather than their great experience.

Here’s an example: A landscaper installed a new front lawn at a customer’s home. When the homeowner mentioned how much he loved his new lawn, the landscaper asked him to write a Yelp review.

In that moment, the customer was elated about his new lawn but worried about keeping it that way. This was a perfect opportunity for the landscaper to reassure the customer with some lawn care tips. Instead, the landscaper shifted the conversation from the new lawn to asking the customer for a favor (and failed to earn the review).

9. Be proactive and address issues early

The best way to avoid negative reviews (and earn positive ones) is to detect and address problems immediately.

A restaurant server asked a table the standard, “How is everything?” question. When one guest hesitantly replied, “It’s alright,” the server sensed something was wrong. He asked a few more questions and learned the guest didn’t care for the lasagna.

The guest’s feedback was shared with the chef, who discovered a new line cook hadn’t fully mastered the lasagna recipe. The issue was quickly resolved, and the server invited the guest to come back and enjoy another order of lasagna on the house.

Listening and acting on direct customer feedback prevented a negative review and earned the customer’s repeat business.

10. Inspire your employees

Share reviews with employees on a regular basis. Positive reviews feel great and can inspire employees to work even harder to serve customers. Negative reviews can also be motivational if you use them constructively as ways to improve.

Just be careful to approach negative reviews constructively, especially if the customer exaggerates or is unreasonable. Employees are more loyal to a business when they know their boss supports them.


Hear more from Jeff on these topics:




Jeff Toister is an author, consultant, and trainer who helps companies develop customer-focused cultures.

He’s written four books including The Guaranteed Customer Experience. Thousands of customer service professionals around the world subscribe to Jeff’s Customer Service Tip of the Week email. More than 500,000 people on six continents have taken one of his video-based training courses on LinkedIn Learning.

Jeff has been recognized as a top influencer by many organizations:

  • Top 30 customer service professional in the world (Global Gurus)
  • Top customer experience influencer (Unymira and Panviva)
  • Top contact center influencer (ICMI and ProcedureFlow)

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.