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A strong reputation on Yelp is more important now than ever. A recent study from UC Berkeley found that for restaurants, Yelp ratings have a direct impact on the number of customers and reservation bookings. Even an extra half-star rating can make a 19% difference. This is especially true when alternative information, like a business website or social media page, isn’t available, and Yelp becomes the main source of information for potential customers. And now, Yelp is tied to iPhone maps, sharing information from the review site when mobile users search for nearby establishments. For restaurants and small local businesses, it’s clear that Yelp can make or break your success. The secret to finding success on Yelp is no secret: claim your business profile and get great reviews. Sounds simple, but building a strong star rating is a sometimes difficult goal that should be actively pursued and maintained. We know that fake reviews are a really bad idea for a variety of reasons, including the threat of legal action. What can you do to legitimately build a positive Yelp reputation and encourage potential customers to patronize your business?

Rich and Tom, the owners of Otto pizzeria in London boast a 4 1/2 star Yelp profile, and have made the review site a key part of their business strategy. For these business owners, a strong reputation on Yelp has less to do with focusing on good reviews, and more to do with building a great reputation overall.

“We just try and make sure that people walk away happy and then if they choose to write reviews, the feedback will be good.”

percentage of reviews on yelp

percentage of reviews on yelp

This strategy of great customer service lines up with what official Yelp research has found, and what the site recommends. Yelp advises businesses to focus on great customer service rather than a push for reviews. In studying metrics, Yelp has found that good customer service is crucial to earning a strong rating. Yelpers who mentioned good customer service are more than five times likely to offer a five star review than a one star. And on the flip side, 70% of bad customer service experiences result in a painful one star rating. But reviews on the site are overwhelmingly in the favor of businesses: 66% of reviews are four stars or higher.

Give customers a positive experience, and they’ll reward you for it. Sounds simple enough. What’s really important to Yelpers who appreciate customer service? Yelp gathered all of the words that often show up in positive customer service reviews, and the most important ones were:

  • “Friendly”
  • “Helpful”
  • “Nice”
  • “Always”

Be nice to your customers, be there when they need your help, and do it consistently. That seems to be the message that Yelpers are sharing.

But what if your customer service has fallen short of expectations, and you receive a negative review? First: relax, and understand that bad reviews happen even to good businesses. The owners of Otto encourage others to pay attention to criticism or feedback, and if there’s genuine room for improvement, take it to heart. But understand that not every complaint is a teachable moment.

“Try to distinguish between when people have genuine concerns and issues that you need to work on and when you should accept that you’re not necessarily doing the wrong thing, it’s just not a great fit for some people.”

If you’ve received a hard-hitting negative review, the best approach is a direct one. Connect with the customer directly and privately, offering an apology and an incentive to come back and try again. If they give you another chance, make the necessary changes and roll out the red carpet to show them you can do better. Prove that their happiness is valuable to you, because it is: that bad review is likely to cost you real dollars and cents in lost business. Once you’ve properly knocked their socks off, politely request that they revise their review.

Smoothing things over after a negative review is a good idea. Bad ideas include responding negatively, or even launching a lawsuit. Both will reflect poorly on your business and do more harm than good. A negative response may make you seem bitter or unwilling to work with customers. A lawsuit is even worse, and is likely to end up a PR disaster.

If you’re unable to make good with a customer who has left a negative review, simply move on and resolve to do better next time. Though bad reviews may live on forever, they can be buried with good ones. Offer a great experience to customers and gently suggest that they leave a review, especially if you’re actively campaigning to drown out negative feedback. Small incentives, like a discount or a freebie with proof of review can be helpful, but be careful not to insist on positive reviews. It’s in bad taste, and most people won’t have the gall to deliver a scathing review to you personally for a discount anyway. Even if they do, it’s an opportunity to apologize and directly discuss what you might be able to improve in the future.

The secret to a great Yelp reputation is as basic as it comes: earn it. Give a great product, give even better service, and go to great lengths to encourage a positive experience for your customers. The reviews will follow.

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

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