How To Respond To Bad Yelp Reviews

How to respond to negative Yelp reviews

Do you hate or love Yelp?

If mentioning the most popular Internet review website makes your teeth grind, your heart beat faster and your body tense, it’s probably because you own a local business. How do I know this? Because I’m a small business owner who has had to answer to the brutally insensitive feedback Yelpers shout to the world with no thought of repercussion.

I still remember the first negative review my business received, and how it felt extremely personal. I literally stopped monitoring my business listing on Yelp because the thought of negative one-star reviews made me anxious. I wish I was exaggerating!

Fast forward to today, and I can confidently say I love Yelp. Not because I have more reviews than any of my competitors, or because I rank No. 1 in Yelp for my industry, and not even because I have a strong 4.5 out of 5-star rating.

I love Yelp because it allows me to shine as a business owner and the most qualified cheerleader to spread my message to potential prospects who view my Yelp business listing.

Let me share with you the secrets I learned to overcome my fear of Yelp and how I turned Yelp into one of my best marketing assets.

No. 1 Tidy Up Your Business. From business owner to business owner, I’m not gonna sugarcoat this first point because it’s absolutely true. If your business model, operations, customer support, product or service sucks … stop reading this post and concentrate on fixing the problems. Please don’t take my tone offensive because I actually care about you and relate to you better than most people. I want you to succeed! If you have 10 Yelp reviews and they are all negative with no positive feedback, then that’s a strong signal that something is broken and needs immediate attention.

Responding to negative Yelp reviews

No. 2 Remove Your Emotions. The problem with the Internet is that anyone can say anything about another person or business with little to no self repercussion. Take a scathing negative review left by Bob about company XYZ. I wonder, if Bob had the chance to speak face to face with the owner of XYZ, would Bob still say the same things he left on the Yelp page? I doubt it. As a business owner, know this, take a deep breath and move on to the next tip. It’s not personal.

No. 3 Executive Presence. As CEO, President, the Boss, you know more than anyone else how important it is to stay calm when everyone else is freaking out around you. Your employees, vendors and customers rely on your executive presence to keep people from jumping out the window during those times that actually merit jumping out the window. When responding to negative Yelp reviews, carry over that same executive presence from the office to the Internet.

No. 4 It’s Feedback. Despite the colorful words, inappropriate metaphors, misinformation, declaration to never use your company in a negative one star review, somewhere in there is valuable feedback. When responding to what may seem like a horrendous review, ignore the noise, find the true message and only respond to the feedback.

No. 5 It’s Opportunity. In our conference room here at OTT lies a rock with a quote from Albert Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” I love that quote and I try to apply it whenever possible. When someone leaves a negative Yelp review, it’s the perfect opportunity to: 1) Take a dissatisfied customer and turn him into a raving fan, 2) Clear up misinformation about your company, 3) Show people reading your reviews that you care about your business and your customer’s satisfaction. Winning!

No. 6 Expectations. Consumers expect a company to have negative Yelp reviews. In fact, having negative reviews makes all your positive reviews look real. Meaning, a company with all glowing reviews and not a single bad review looks fake and raises red flags. As long as your total rating is close to 4 stars, and you respond to all negative reviews, your biz is looking strong!

No. 7 Know Yelp’s Guidelines. Here is a link to Yelp’s Content Guidelines. If your business has a review that violates Yelp’s terms, report it and have it removed. I’ve done this successfully once or twice.

No. 8 Don’t Give Away the Kitchen Sink. When a customer has a less-than-stellar experience with your business and Yelps the world about it, do not rectify the situation by offering a refund or free service. At least not publicly in your response. I see businesses make this mistake all the time. Giving away the kitchen sink publicly may encourage others to leave negative reviews for the sole purpose of receiving free services or products. Instead, your response should 1) Acknowledge the customer’s feelings, 2) Thank them for their valuable feedback, 3) Request that they visit you or a manager to see how their experience can be turned around.

No. 9 Be Understanding, Not Defensive. If you are a defensive person, you may want to assign responding to negative Yelp reviews to a manager. Seriously. The last thing you want is an Internet war between your company and a customer. You will not win. Empathy and understanding go a long way, and you don’t necessarily need to admit fault (because it may not be).

For example, if a customer is berating your company on Yelp because they drove two hours in traffic with a screaming baby in the back seat, only to be turned away from service because they arrived five minutes after your business closed, it isn’t your fault or your staff’s fault. Here’s a multiple choice question for you; which is the appropriate response?

Bob, what are you complaining about? We close at 7pm. Next time be on time.

Bob, so sorry we were not able to provide our service to you. We have a strict policy that doors are to be shut and locked at 7 p.m. for various reasons. I’ll double-check to make sure that message is on our website and phone recordings. Again, we are sorry you had such a stressful time trying to make it in. Ask for me next time you visit us. Thanks again for your feedback.

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Adam Campos joined Over The Top Marketing in its infancy in 2009 shipping boxes. During downtime Adam studied SEO, link building and content creation to improve search results for OTT's eCommerce websites. Today Adam is Vice President of OTT and is also a small business owner. Read Adam's full bio on his personal blog,