Word of mouth used to be defined solely as a chat between friends. While it would be impossible (and downright odd) for restaurant owners to follow every single customer around, hoping to hear a bit of conversation about an experience at their establishment, you can understand why they’d want to do so. This is incredibly useful feedback. Today, however, businesses have an even more valuable opportunity. Through social media platforms and websites like Yelp, word of mouth about restaurants and other businesses now spreads to millions of people online in the blink of an eye. When someone chooses to share their experience online, it gives business owners the opportunity to hear that feedback, respond, and ultimately make improvements to their business for an even better customer experience in the future.

When a new review of your restaurant appears on Yelp, consider these three easy tips for responding:

1) Determine if the review warrants a response. A new review has been posted to your restaurant’s Yelp listing. Now what? For starters, determine if the review is positive, constructive criticism, or downright negative. If it’s entirely negative, it might be best to leave it alone. It’s impossible to please 100 percent of your customers 100 percent of the time, and attempting to engage in conversation with a customer that appears difficult-to-please may only add fuel to their fire. Since about 80 percent of reviews on Yelp are 3 stars or higher, however, more often than not your reviews will seem positive to neutral or constructive in tone. In those instances, they will be worth a response from you.

2) Choose the tool best suited for the job. Once you claim your free Business Account on Yelp, you will have a suite of free tools available, including private and public messaging tools, to connect with consumers who have written reviews about your restaurant.

Sending a private message is much like sending someone a personal email and is visible only to the reviewer. This tool is best used to thank patrons for writing a positive review and is also a good first step to get more information from a customer about a less-than-positive experience.

You can also post public comments. When used properly, they can be your greatest PR tool. While you still want to address the reviewer directly, a public comment will appear right underneath the review you’re responding to, for all consumers to see. This tool is most effective when you respond diplomatically, thank the reviewer for their feedback, and state your policy or clarify any inaccuracies in the consumer’s review. Sometimes, customers will even update their review after being approached by a business owner that uses Yelp’s messaging tools properly. One example of a review update resulted shortly after San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant posted a public comment in response to a consumer’s 1-star Yelp review.

3) Craft a response anyone would be proud to call their own. We realize it can be hard to receive critical feedback, but we recommend that business owners respond professionally. Some find it helpful to have someone else read over their response before hitting the “send” button. Restaurant owners should keep in mind that consumers are looking at the BIG picture about how a restaurant is being perceived, so we recommend trying not to focus on or obsess over a single review. It’s also great to pay some attention to happy customers by sending them a quick message thanking them for taking the time to write a positive review, much like what The Trails Eatery does here.

Businesses that are diligent in monitoring and responding diplomatically to their reviews will reap the benefits. Not only will they have the best insight as to where they can improve based on the constructive criticism they receive, they’ll also be viewed by their customers as a business that cares about their clients’ feedback.

Expert Takes, Feature