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Who Knows Your Business Best: Yelp, TripAdvisor, Or You?

People Hate Us On Yelp Image  Micah Solomon

                    Image © Micah Solomon, Four Aces Inc.

Yelp, TripAdvisor, Chowhound, and other user-generated review sites are curious beasts.  What these sites mean for your business falls into three categories:

• The Good: Feedback from these sites that helps your business improve

• The Bad: How that feedback is delivered on these sites

• The Unclear: Irrelevant or wrongheaded feedback that may lead your business completely astray

Most of the questions I get about review sites focus on the negative: businesses in the hospitality, food service, and retail sectors were affected first, but now I hear concerns from medical practices, healthcare institutions, and professional and service practitioners of many stripes. (Even my beloved tailor, after 50 successful years in business, has been asking me questions about his Yelp reviews.)

So, I end up spending a chunk of my time as a customer service consultant and speaker helping clients navigate and mitigate the negative implications. Nonetheless, I think the good and the unclear implications are actually the most interesting.  Let’s go through all three.

The Good: User-generated reviews give you honest feedback (most of the time), much of which is feedback that you really need to hear. Among the businesses I hear from, some are sincerely convinced that it’s their competitors who are writing all the negative reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. I would have to say, most of the time, they’re not.  Sorry.  Those are your customers writing those reviews.

Now, why is this generally-honest feedback so valuable?  Because most businesses are in business to stay in business.  And most customers won’t ever tell you to your face what you’re doing wrong.  They may give you a surreptitious stink eye or leave a smaller tip — my Canadian friends passive-aggressively leave a carefully meted out 14% instead of their usual 15%; any louder expression of displeasure simply wouldn’t happen — but they won’t be back.  And there’s nothing more destructive to a business than to never find out why.

The Bad: You’re getting the feedback in public.  There’s not a sane businessperson in the world who would prefer it to be this way, yet that’s about the size of it. You’ll hear about a problem (sorry: a “challenge”) with your service or product at the exact same moment that the rest of the world does.  So, even businesses with glowing reviews are understandably freaked out about the day when the crowd might turn on them.

The Unclear: Are the reviewers criticizing (or praising) your business based on the right criteria? Do their criteria match where you’re trying to go with your business?   These aren’t questions with easy answers, but they’re questions you need to be asking. Knee-jerk rejection of feedback (assuming that all bad reviews are written by idiots, or by your conniving competitors) is dumb, but blindly accepting feedback from reviewers with different criteria than you can also lead you down a rabbit hole filled with mad (and maddening) hatters you don’t really want as customers.

English: Barbecue sauce Italiano: Salsa Barbecue

(Not the actual BBQ sauce in question.)

Like Ketchup — But Sweeter!”

To wit: My son and I were eating barbecue together recently.  The restaurant in question is one of those excruciatingly cheerful, homogenized theme restaurants.  Not my cup of cuisine, to say the least. My son, however, is (please don’t say this to his face), just a little kid. With taste buds to match.

His take on the barbecue sauce?

“This sauce is great!  It’s like ketchup–only sweeter!”

Now, my son is some years away from writing his first Yelp review (I hope), but I take this episode as a reminder to all of us in business: Don’t just consider the feedback customers give, but also the criteria on which the feedback is based. Do the expectations of the critic match the criteria of the market your business has targeted?  And, if not, does it make more sense to double down in exclusivity, or to broaden or re-focus your target market? In my son’s case, his positive review of the more-saccharine-than-Celine-Dion barbecue sauce may be a good match for the barbecue chain’s homogenous aspirations.  But maybe not for the authentic joint you’ve lovingly built from scratch.


About the author

Mystic Maggie

All of the Mystic Maggie Posts are RSS Reader Feeds from around the web. All copyright remains with the original publisher. No copyright is claimed or intended. Where supplied, links back to the original article are included.

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