Whether you like them or not, online reviews are here to stay. The internet can be credited with the democratization of information, and along with that comes the ability of consumers to say whatever they want about a business — whenever they want to.
From a business standpoint, it isn’t fun to hop online and see that a disgruntled customer has left a scathing review of your company on such a public forum. But since sites featuring online consumer reviews aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, it’s better to learn how to work with them than to rail against them. Here’s everything you need to know about one popular consumer review site, Yelp.
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Question: How did my business wind up on Yelp in the first place? I didn’t sign up for this!
For many business owners, the fact that Yelp profiles exist for their companies comes as a bit of a surprise. However, Yelp profiles aren’t created by businesses — they’re generated by the review company itself based on data licensed from third-party providers.
So not only do you not play a role in creating the profile, you don’t have a say in taking it down. Because the company believes that consumers should be free to discuss the businesses they interact with, it refuses to delete company listings. Long story short — if you’ve got a Yelp profile out there, you’re stuck with it!
Question: My business got a bad review — how can I take it down?
Again, I’ve got bad news for you. Yelp reviews can’t be removed unless they clearly violate the company’s Content Guidelines. These guidelines specify six criteria that could lead to review removal:
- Inappropriate content — Reviews containing threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech and other types of bigotry may be eligible for removal.
- Conflicts of interest — Reviews left by family members, friends or customers that have been explicitly asked to leave reviews could lead to removal.
- Promotional content — Posts or reviews that contain what Yelp calls “commercial noise” violate the company’s guidelines.
- Relevance — Yelp specifies that rants about employment practices, political ideologies, extraordinary circumstances or other matters that don’t address the consumer experience aren’t appropriate review fodder.
- Privacy — Any reviews that include full names or close-up photos without the consent of the subject may be reviewed.
- Intellectual property — Reviews that steal another business’s content may be taken down by Yelp.
Unfortunately, as you might have noticed, reviews left by angry customers don’t fall under this category — whether or not you think their anger was justified. Companies that offer “reputation management” or “reputation recovery” services won’t have any more success fighting these guidelines than you will, so avoid wasting money on their offerings.
And lest you think that a defamation suit will be the end of your online review troubles, Yelp offers this warning:
“Nobody likes to get a negative review, and it’s even worse if you think it violates your legal rights. But a good lawyer will tell you the truth: defamation suits are notoriously expensive and difficult to win. Worse, they are very public. We can point to countless examples of ill-advised lawsuits that hurt the business far more than it ever helped. Nor will you get far by bringing Yelp into the dispute since Yelp merely acts as a forum like any other where people can share their views. (The law is well settled on this point, but you are welcome to ask your neighborhood internet attorney to confirm.) There may be rare cases when it’s appropriate to take legal action, but in most cases, you won’t get what you are looking for by suing someone who gives you a bad review.”
Question: Why are some of my reviews hidden?
Another sore spot for small business owners is the fact that Yelp doesn’t always display all the reviews a company receives. Although the bulk of a company’s reviews appear on its main business listing, a small handful are shunted off to a separate section that can only be viewed by clicking the “Reviews that are not currently recommended” link near the bottom of the page.
Initially, many business owners complained that these reviews only became active once the company joined Yelp’s paid advertising. However, this has never been the case. A select number of reviews have always been filtered out based on Yelp’s ranking algorithms.
Essentially, Yelp applies a number of different filters to each review it receives to determine whether or not the review can be considered “trustworthy.” As a result, it might prioritize a review from a user who’s left dozens of other reviews and is highly regarded within the community over a message that represents the only review left by a new user. Or, it might opt to hide multiple reviews left for the same business from a single computer, as this might be indicative of fraud.
To learn more about how Yelp decides which reviews to show and which ones to hide, check out the following video:
And if you do have reviewers who contact you to voice their frustrations that their reviews have been hidden, encourage them to make their Yelp profiles more active. By leaving additional reviews and connecting with other Yelp users, their reviews may make the leap back to your profile’s main page.
(Note — Yelp explicitly states that businesses should not ask customers for reviews. For this reason, we don’t encourage you to reach out directly to customers whose positive reviews are hidden beneath the “recommended” filter in order to urge them to be more active on the site.)
Question: What should I do if I get a bad review?
So if you can’t have a review taken down — and you can’t guarantee that all your good reviews will be seen — what should you do if your funeral home receives a negative review?
First of all, give yourself a break. Seeing negative feedback can sting, and it can make you feel sad, hurt or angry. Don’t worry — these are all natural responses. What matters, however, is how you handle these feelings.
Whenever you receive negative feedback, you need to respond to it. Ignoring it won’t make the problem go away, and it’ll only make your business look out-of-touch and uncaring about the welfare of its customers. But if you’re feeling too angry to compose a polite response, step away from your desk for a few minutes until you’ve calmed down enough to respond in a mature fashion.
Once you’re calm, pen a response that includes three parts: a sincere apology, an acknowledgment of the problem and any proposed solutions you’re able to offer. The apology and acknowledgment will make upset customers feel that their problems have been heard and understood, while any recompense you can offer shows that your business is engaged (and that future customers shouldn’t stay away).
As an example, imagine that you’ve received a negative review from a customer that was shorted a few thank-you cards following her service. Think about how the two sample responses might be interpreted by both the customer and any members of the public-at-large reading your comments…
“First of all, we sent the exact number of Thank You cards you ordered — if you came up short, it’s your own fault for ordering wrong. And second, if you have a problem with us, contact us directly. It’s pretty low to leave a negative review on a public site where we get knocked down for your mistakes!”
“First of all, we are so sorry for the misunderstanding surrounding your thank-you cards and for the recent loss of your loved one. We have sent an additional 25 cards to your home via FedEx overnight shipping. If you still need more, please contact us directly. We appreciate your business and hope you find the extra cards helpful as you recognize those who have supported you during this difficult time.”
To be fair, these are some pretty “Goofus and Gallant” examples. Most business owners know to avoid responses like the first one and the second might be over-the-top for what your company is able to do. But consider this… Anything you put out there in response to negative reviews will be read over and over again by potential customers who are thinking about doing business with you. Take the time to impress them, or you might not get another chance!
How has your funeral home dealt with Yelp reviews? Share any tips or tricks you’ve picked up in the comments section below!