In 2008 Yelp first did a massive clean sweep, claiming to delete spammers accounts. I got swept up in the mess. I’m not a spammer. I never wrote a review for a product or service I didn’t use. And every review I received for my business was from a very well satisfied client. But the truth didn’t matter. The almighty Jeremy Stoppleman, CEO and Founder of Yelp had his opinion and that was that. All my work writing reviews, all my work product (to which they had a license to use, not destroy) was gone. And in place of all the hundreds of links I had peppered all over the internet leading people to my profile on Yelp, was a page proclaiming me a spammer. When calls to the company and emails to the founder got me no relief, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
It took me about 5 minutes to launch YelpLawsuit.com and Yelp-Sucks.com (I would have bought YelpSucks.com but Yelp already owned it)! Within days we had national news coverage and thousands of registered businesses who wanted justice. And since then I’ve been waging a battle against the unfair business practices Yelp employs that has left so many honest local business on life support, or worse, in the morgue.
I haven’t spoken to Yelp‘s CEO since the clean sweep in 2008. I argued that I hadn’t violated any Terms of Service. Show me where! Show me the line item and what I did and I’ll back off! But he couldn’t. Because I didn’t. But that didn’t change how he characterized everyone they deleted, mostly members of Ladies Who Launch, eWomenNetwork and BNI. Networking groups where we see each other all the time. The point of these groups IS to do business with one another, so why would it be a violation of the Terms of Service to review the products and services we bought? Technically, it isn’t…
Here’s where Jeremy and I ultimately reached a sort of de-taunt. He gave me this scenario: I review a business for their great service. All is fabulous. Other people read my review and based on my recommendation, they buy the service. After a while, something happens with the service provider… drinking, drugs, divorce, something that significantly affects the quality of service. Because this person is someone I see every month, or week, would I be willing to recant my endorsement, or lower the rating. I acknowledged that would be a sticky situation and that this could present a “conflict of interest”. This is where we agreed. It’s a conflict of interest. Not a violation of the Terms of Service. And since I only review the best, I felt, in reality, while the above scenario was a possibility, it was seriously remote. And for 5 years I was right.
Today, I have to acknowledge that what Jeremy said could happen, has happened… sort of. While it wasn’t the direct result of actions by one of my networking connections, but she does work at the place I recommended after having fantastic over the top service. I was still telling everyone, months later (I have a big mouth and if I love you, everybody knows it). I loved my salesperson, it was the perfect transaction! I must have sent a couple dozen people there. And then the phone call yesterday…
The company had fired my salesperson because he wouldn’t do something that he knew is a felony. Turns out they do this a lot, and there is now going to be a class action suit against the business. So while my experience was AWESOME and I would stand behind the service I got from my salesperson, and my networking connection who brought me there is still amazing and fantastic, I can no longer recommend the business. As a customer, it was great, but knowing the behind the scenes drama, I want no part of it.
So here’s the sticky situation… My reviews get read. I have had many Review of the Day’s on Yelp leading to massive traffic for the business. Do I downgrade my review, delete my review, or leave it alone… This was the conflict of interest situation I really never thought I’d be in. The very situation Jeremy predicted.
In the end I deleted it because I know the massive lawsuit coming is going to say everything that needs saying. And this is where I have to give credit where it is due. This scenario never occurred to me, but it did to Jeremy. And I have to acknowledge his foresight. If we hadn’t had that conversation 5 years ago I wouldn’t have been prepared to handle this situation.
Yelp is a double edged sword. It has its place. A negative review from a customer that is willing to work it out can lead to a fair resolution with a company that might not be playing fair. But it also allows competitors to make false reviews unchecked and doesn’t account for the vengeful ex employee or hateful customers that just want to ruin you. There needs to be a balance to keep it fair, just, and useful. They aren’t there yet, and without a change in attitude I doubt they’ll ever see the black on the balance sheet.
Yelp.com’s couldn’t care less attitude drives over 30,000 unique visits a month to Yelp-Sucks.com, and every week I get calls from business owners who have been railroaded by Yelp. They call me because I answer the phone. Something Yelp.com should be doing to take care of their bread and butter revenue stream, business owners.
So, to everyone reviewing their friends… there may come a day when you have to recant. Are you going to do it publicly like Tom Antion did when he recinded every recommendation he ever made about James Malinchak? Will you confront the person, ask what’s going on and help them regain their former glory? Or will you simply delete your review and let nature take it’s course. Big decisions… I hope I made the right one…