When we first started this podcast, our aim was to dig deeper into the business lessons that can be discovered on both ends of a Yelp review. As 2021 comes to a close, we’re bringing you something a little different for this week’s Behind the Review: a collection of our favorite insights from guests featured over the past year.
We’ve heard from business owners across the country in all areas of expertise on why reviews matter to them. For Keene Addington, owner of fine-dining restaurant Tortoise Supper Club in Chicago, they’re about staying true to his core audience. “I don’t care what business you’re in—whether it’s Yelp… or a hardware store down the street—you have to stay in touch with your guests,” he said in a September 2021 episode. “And if you lose that, you potentially lose everything that is special about whatever it is you’re offering.”
Other business owners shared how they put this feedback to work. “Every time we get a bad review, we sit down and say, ‘What happened here?’” Nahuel Hilal, owner and founder of Miami’s Iris Tattoo, told host Emily Washcovick in April. We look into the case. We call the person. We make sure that we learn from our process and we make sure that we make it right.”
And what if there’s nothing to fix? Many business owners also look to Yelp to connect with customers and let them know their voice matters. “On every platform, I comment back on every review: good, bad, or ugly,” said Vadim Nayman, owner of Bagel Master in Syosset, New York in September. “You have to reach out to the people that took their time to give you a positive review and let them know that you appreciate them.”
In a turbulent year that saw new highs and lows for business owners, reviews are a reminder that small businesses are an integral part of their community. Jami Stigliano, owner and founder of dance studio franchise DivaDance, chooses to highlight customer stories to inspire the team. “I share those stories with our folks all across the brand because I want them to just remember that what they’re doing matters,” she said on a March episode. “Every little piece matters. It makes a difference to someone. And don’t just take my word for it—here’s someone telling you in a public forum.”
Of course, business owners represent just one side of a review. We’ve also spoken to reviewers about what they look for in a business, what motivates them to review, and how they approach giving feedback. While each customer brings their own values and perspective to a review, Yelp data shows that the majority of users display a desire to support their local community and help other consumers make informed decisions.
According to reviewer Marla F., who was featured on the very first episode of Behind the Review, “If I want local businesses to continue to thrive around me, and if I want to continue to live in a city that is full of 5-star businesses, I need to reward them and give them that feedback.”
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from these business owners, reviewers, and more, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more episodes every Thursday.
Behind the Review, episode 50 transcript
The best advice from year one
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions. This week I’m taking us on a trip down memory lane and sharing the best advice from our first year of episodes.
This show is all about online reviews, customer service, and the connection between a business and the community and customers it serves. When I sit down with my reviewers, we talk a lot about why they review: what motivates them and what types of things they think are important to include.
When I talk to my business owners, it can get emotional. Reviews can make you feel incredible when they’re positive. They can be full of insights into things your customers think or feel that you might not otherwise be aware of. And they can hurt when they’re negative or critical. But they’re all a form of marketing—a reflection of your business. And I firmly believe that if you have a plan in place to leverage and engage with your online reviews, you’ll find great success. So let’s jump right in.
KEENE: I don’t care what business you’re in—whether it’s Yelp, your business, which is a huge company, or whether you’re a small, you know, hardware store down the street, or if you’re a national tire company—you have to stay in touch with your guests. And if you lose that, you potentially lose everything that is special about whatever it is you’re offering.
EMILY: That’s Keene. He’s sharing the importance of keeping a pulse on your customers. This sentiment is shared by many business owners in my network. Chris Goode says it well.
CHRIS: Customers will always be the middle point between success and failure. And so if you’re not attached to that person’s voice authentically, I think you’ll miss the mark every single time. So I know that it’s necessary, but it also for me is helpful because it can steer our business further into the future. Because typically if one customer is feeling something or thinking something, there’s more to come.
EMILY: If one customer is feeling something or thinking something, there’s more to come. I think that’s a good way to look at feedback. And ultimately you have two choices, right? Acknowledge it or ignore it.
CHRIS: You gotta listen. You gotta listen because what you can’t be is a know-it-all, right? And if you have people that have spent their money at your business and like they’re giving you real-time feedback, you need to listen. You need to listen. And then sometimes it hurts to listen. I’m not gonna lie to you sometimes. It’s like, ah, you could have been a little nicer, but you’re right (laughing) you know, so yeah.
EMILY: That is the TRUTH! Sometimes people could be a little nicer or maybe even tell you in-person instead of through an online review. Rather than be frustrated at how you got the feedback though, it’s important to simply recognize it as feedback.
JEFF: Even the most unreasonable Yelp reviews, there’s some sort of kernel of truth that tells you, you know what? We can learn from this experience. We might get this type of customer again. How can we avoid the situation and do even better the next time around?
EMILY: I personally love this approach that Iris Tattoo takes.
NAHUEL: Every time we get a bad review, we sit down and say, ‘What happened here?’ We look into the case. We call the person. We make sure that we learn from our process and we make sure that we make it right. And then they go and change it. So it’s also a great tool for not falling asleep and keeping us on our toes.
EMILY: And when necessary, you have to acknowledge if things were the fault of your business or your team.
TOM: My methodology of processing that is that number one, I take ownership of any legitimate problem that surfaced from the one-star review. First and foremost, it needs to be a learning opportunity for the organization. If we messed up somehow, we gotta own it and we’ve got to fix it. And then we have to post a response that lets them know in the general community that we are committed to fixing any problems.
EMILY: But we can’t ever forget that sometimes you didn’t do anything wrong or the criticism is subjective.
DENNIS: 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.
EMILY: Responding is so powerful. And not necessarily to win over the reviewer or get into a back-and-forth argument with them about what went wrong and all the specifics. By responding to critical reviews, you can show all future customers that you prioritize feedback and care about the customer experience.
VADIM: On every platform, I comment back on every review. Good, bad, or ugly. Because I think it’s very important. Because why would you only respond to the negative? You have to reach out to the people that took their time to give you a positive review and let them know that you appreciate them. I think it’s super important to do that.
EMILY: Vadim brings up an incredible point. You can’t just respond to criticism! You have to respond to the positive as well. It’s an opportunity to create a connection with someone who loves you. Reviews are also a great way to connect internally with the team.
JAMI: I share those stories with our folks all across the brand because I want them to just remember that what they’re doing matters. Every little piece matters. It makes a difference to someone. And don’t just take my word for it—here’s someone telling you in a public forum.
EMILY: Positive reviews can remind you of your why. They can affirm what you’re doing well and highlight what stands out about you to your customer base.
JEFF: But when you look at what customers consistently talk about, it tells you they’ve understood what their advantage is and they are highlighting that advantage. So they’re using that intel to say, ‘Well, what can we be good at? And let’s be really good at that.’
EMILY: Reviews provide insights. They let you into the mind of a consumer and show you your business through someone else’s perspective. Sometimes that feels great! Sometimes that feels unfair. But every time, you have the opportunity to engage and respond. Just remember: You want to keep it professional while also being authentic. There’s no need to make it long, but take the time to acknowledge and thank them for the feedback. Then address something they mentioned and then take the conversation offline. By giving them a way to get in touch or sending a direct message, you may be able to continue the conversation and learn more.
If they don’t reply back, it’s okay! Your response is a reflection of your business and your customer service practices.
NIC: With a lot of sincerity, I’m going to say something like, ‘I wish I could turn the clock back and make this right in your experience the first time.’ At that point, to be honest, I’m not concerned about getting the person to change the hypothetical one-star review to a two-star review or a five-star review. I’m not looking for more stars, okay? I’m looking to express sincerity. I’m looking to express care and I’m looking to express, ‘What can we do to make this right?’ We will always close with something similar to: ‘Along with my apologies, I would like to express to you that whatever it is that would make the situation right, please let me know, and I will follow your lead.’
And that—at that moment you’ve made a commitment. And when you’ve made a commitment, you better keep it. And once you’ve kept that commitment, your conscience is clear that you’ve done your best. You’ve addressed the situation in an empathetic way and you’ve used it as a teaching moment for your staff in your constant seeking of perfection.
EMILY: That genuine approach will speak to future customers more powerfully than the negative review itself. And remember: Your digital presence and online reputation should be a reflection of who you are and what you do. It doesn’t need to be perfect! In fact, studies show that consumers tend to have less trust in perfect five-star pages than, say, four and a half-, four-, or even three and a half-star pages. But part of that consumer trust is your response. Be yourself.
NAUHEL: We try to make sure that everything that you see through social media or even Yelp reviews or whatever—the moment you walk in, it’s not smoke and mirrors. It is the actual experience.
EMILY: In these final minutes, I wanted to share some of the voices of our featured reviewers and provide a bit of insight into what motivates them to review and how businesses can make an impact worth sharing. Also, we’re ALL consumers. So maybe this will motivate you to share an experience you’ve had with a business in an online review as well.
MARLA: If I want local businesses to continue to thrive around me and if I want to continue to live in a city that is full of five-star businesses, I need to reward them and give them that feedback. It’s my job to do that. And that’s how I feel as a consumer. So I feel like the more I share and the more input I give to businesses, the better they can grow—the better service that my friends and I are going to receive. And so I feel like that’s a big part of my job, and you know, it’s a job both ways. It’s a job to be a consumer, and it’s a job to be a business, and we’ve really got to work together. And I think reviews are a really big part of that.
SHELBY: The places I love reviewing are local, both positive reviews and negative reviews. So when I am absolutely blown out of the water, when I’m definitely coming again, when I know that this is going to be a staple for me, I need them to know.
EMILY: And I think it’s important to note: Critical reviews aren’t always malicious or consumers trying to cause you harm. In many cases, they’re actually trying to help!
SHELBY: For negative reviews, the type of feedback I offer or try to offer is: ‘Here’s what my expectations were and how they didn’t get met.’ Because if anything, you know, being in restaurants and retail for the years that I have, when people write reviews, they’re not telling you what’s wrong with you. They’re telling you about expectations that they had about your business that were somehow missed or not even met or not considered. And if you listen to them, you can tailor your business experience so that people know what to expect when they walk through the door and they get that experience and more—as opposed to not getting what they want or maybe even less, which is hard and sad.
MORLENE: Part of why I write a review is also to signal to the owner and the business owner what I appreciated about the business. If I have any constructive feedback—I want to help the business—I will often offer that.
EMILY: I can definitely understand how frustrating constructive feedback in the form of an online review can be though, so I don’t want to minimize that. If you’re a consumer, consider ways you can share feedback with businesses that’s helpful.
JES: I think always pointing out the good first. That’s just a good tactic in life in general if you have some type of criticism or critique. And so I always try to start with: What were the good things? What were the positive things? What did I enjoy? What did I like? What should they keep doing? And then, you know, point out something that could easily be changed to benefit or to better.
EMILY: Lastly, it’s extremely important that as a business owner, you don’t ask your customers to write you Yelp reviews. It’s against our terms of service and content guidelines to solicit or ask for reviews, and our recommendation software actively works to not recommend solicited reviews in order to protect the trust and safety of the site. So instead of asking, think of natural ways you can encourage your customers to share their experiences on any online platform of their choosing.
ATIYA: They never asked me to write a review, but I think one thing that does encourage reviews on a sort of subtle level is right behind the reception desk, they have a sign where they sort of blow up a review and they put, I think, it’s the review of the week. And it’s really cool to see other people have their reviews up there, and you’re like, ‘Wow, this place is doing for so many people what they’re doing for me.’ And then you also kind of want your review to be up there too. And so they never asked me to write a review, but every week I would go in there and I would see someone else’s review, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to write a review and I’m going to be on that wall to tell other people how amazing this place is.’
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