This is a public service message: Yelp is not a public service.
Now, I don’t think it has always been this way. I believe Yelp was founded to be of great service to consumers, which in turn would be of great service to full-service restaurant operators. Full disclosure: I used to use it frequently on business trips to find a good place eat. It worked very well back then.
But lately, Yelp has changed. Now it seems to exist primarily to deliver profits back to its shareholders. This became obvious last month when Yelp received court permission to change business ratings for money—which is ironic, by the way, given that Yelp spent so many of its early years fighting to establish the credibility of the ratings. San Francisco restaurant Botto Bistro is so fed up with Yelp’s tactics that it’s aiming to be the worst-rated restaurant on the site.
The bottom line is that both consumers and restaurant operators need to take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt. In fact, the situation is so dire that it has pit restaurants against consumers instead of bringing them together. Did you know that there is now a reverse Yelp, where restaurants can rate consumers right back?
With this in mind, I thought it the perfect time to look at three ways to better connect with your customers and/or ease your Yelp pain:
Reframe What Yelp Means to You
Yelp is just one advertising/marketing tactic among many. Not the one. Moreover, consumers are losing trust in Yelp. In fact, even their shareholders are losing trust—they’ve filed a lawsuit accusing Yelp of misleading them on the quality of its consumer reviews.
Note: Facebook is now the most trusted source for consumers.
So should you engage with your customers on Yelp? Absolutely. But should you let Yelp bully you into advertising with them? Not anymore.
Here’s a few ideas for how to engage with your customers on Yelp after one of them leaves a review:
Add the reviewer as a friend
Send the reviewer a message
Respond to the review (which you should do for all Yelp reviews anyway)
Vote the review as “Useful” or “Funny” or both
Channel Customer Feedback Into Your Organization
I often get asked how customer feedback surveys are different from Yelp. The answer is simple: they have completely different goals. The goal of Yelp is to refer consumers to local businesses. The goals of a customer feedback survey program are consistent execution and performance improvement.
One of the nice by-products of a customer feedback survey program is that it channels upset customers away from Yelp and into your organization. That way, you can rescue the customer and fix the problem internally rather than out in the public eye.
Here are a few ways to ensure you channel as much feedback as possible into your organization:
Offer a good incentive. Your customer’s time is worth it. And the ROI of a well-executed customer feedback program is well worth it for you. Plus, a better incentive means more feedback channeled directly to you versus Yelp.
Provide numerous ways for customers to find out about the survey. Print the invitation on your receipts. Advertise the survey on inserts in the guest check. Integrate with mobile payments and/or reservation platform. Use tablets to survey customers while still on premise.
Be mobile. About 50 percent of all surveys are taken on a mobile device. Your survey must be optimized for mobile.
Turn Your Customers Into Advocates
Recognize that positive Yelp reviews come from great experiences. The more you have, the better off you'll be in the long run. So it’s important that you execute on your brand promise on every visit. As I said above, that’s one of the main goals of a customer feedback survey program. But there are other great, secondary benefits.
Your customer feedback survey is also a marketing tool. Not only does it channel upset customers into your organization, but it allows you to activate happy customers and turn them into advocates.
It’s time to change the way you think about Yelp. It’s time to seize control of your online presence. As Lincoln famously said, “As our case is new, we must think and act anew.”
I’m interested to hear what you think. What are some other ways full-service restaurants can better connect with customers and ease their Yelp pain?
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.