Yelp reviews can be the bane of businesses of any size. They tend to attract two types of customers -- very happy ones and very angry ones.

In my role as a digital marketing consultant for the hospitality and tourism industries, I've helped clients of all sizes -- from mom and pop restaurants to one of Chicago's most popular tourist destinations -- deal with all kinds of reviews on Yelp. In this blog post, I'll share my best tips for turning happy customers into evangelists and winning back unhappy customers by responding to Yelp reviews.

Who Should Respond to Yelp Reviews

First, you have to decide who will be responding to customers who leave Yelp reviews. This will vary depending on the size of your business.

Best Practices for Startups

At a small business or a startup, the founder or owner may the best person to respond to Yelp reviews. The person in charge will best know the company's voice and what is going on on the inside. Seeing customers' feedback will also help the founder implement changes to the product or service.

As the business grows, the founder will likely not have enough time to personally respond to every Yelp review. In this case, have an intern or junior member of the team shadow you and practice responding on your behalf before taking over. Have them flag and pass along any questions they can't answer.

Best Practices for Medium to Large Companies

If you are at a larger company, you may want to assign responding to Yelp reviews to one of three teams:

  1. Customer Success -- Your customer success team already knows how to solve problems for your customers, understands the brand voice, and has a protocol for reporting customer feedback to someone who can improve the product/service your company offers. With little extra training, your customer success team can add managing your company's Yelp profile to their duties.
  2. Marketing or Communications: Your marketing or communications team knows how to speak on behalf of your brand, and they may already be responding to questions and reviews that come in through social media. Train them on FAQs about your product to ensure that they have all of the information they need to engage with customers through their Yelp reviews.
  3. An External Agency: Digital marketing agencies specializing in reputation management can be a great solution for taking care of your online reviews when you need to outsource. Marketing agencies are adept at mastering their clients' voice, can handle a high volume of reviews, and can be more objective while responding to negative reviews.

Whatever the size of your company, you will want someone with proper training in your brand voice, your product, and FAQs responding to Yelp reviews.

How to Establish a Yelp Review Response Protocol

Successful reputation management for your business requires having a system in place to ensure that the reviews get read and responded to, and that feedback gets to the right place. Here's how to set up a protocol for responding to Yelp reviews at your company.

  1. First, decide who will be responsible for responding to your company's Yelp reviews (see above for help).
  2. If your company doesn't already have a style guide, create one.
  3. If the team responding to reviews does not work closely with your product, make sure they have everything they need to answer questions about the product by creating a knowledge base or FAQs for your team to use and add to.
  4. Create response templates that address common issues, questions or problems. Copying and pasting canned responses will become apparent to anyone who reads more than one review on your Yelp profile. I recommend pasting response templates into your response box on Yelp and then using slightly different wording each time.
  5. Create a system for reporting feedback from Yelp reviews to decision-makers at your company.

After you've implemented a system for responding to Yelp reviews, you're ready to start responding to those reviews.

How to Respond to Positive Yelp Reviews

You may be wondering why you should bother responding to positive reviews on Yelp. Isn't your time better spent recovering angry customers? Alas, even Yelp will question your decision to respond to a review rated three stars or higher with a pop-up alert. If you are short on resources and can only respond to one kind of review, you should focus on negative reviews. However, responding to positive Yelp reviews can benefit your company tremendously by strengthening your relationships with customers you already have.

Why You Should Respond to Positive Yelp Reviews

Here's why you should publicly reply to reviews from happy customers on Yelp.

1. It builds brand loyalty.

Responding to glowing reviews on Yelp can help you foster your relationship with happy customers. By acknowledging customers who are taking time out of their busy lives to help boost your business, you are building customer loyalty. When you leave even a simple response to a positive Yelp review, you make your customers feel heard and appreciated.

Think about the last time you left a positive comment on a brand's social media post and they took the time to respond. You probably felt like the brand (or the people behind the account) cared about you, which led to increased good feelings about the company. This same theory applies to acknowledging customers who review you on Yelp. Happy reviewers who get a response from a business will feel delighted and will turn into brand evangelists who will spread the word about your business to their friends and colleagues.

2. It attracts new customers.

In addition to building customer loyalty by responding to positive reviews from customers through Yelp, you can also attract new customers using this customer care technique. Any digital interaction you have with a customer is public and represents your brand's personality. Your brand can delight customers, or it can just feel corporate and impersonal.

If you work in the hospitality industry like I do, you know that many people check Yelp and other review sites before trying new restaurants, salons and other service and hospitality businesses. If you're looking for sushi restaurants in Boston and come across two with identical ratings, similar menus, and similar caliber reviews, seeing how the business responds to other reviews may help you decide where you're getting dinner. A restaurant that ignores positive reviews may come off as unappreciative to have your business. A restaurant that responds to positive reviews may come off as charming. Which restaurant would you choose?

How do I respond to a good Yelp review?

"But I run a house cleaning service, not a restaurant."

"My company sells SaaS ... how do I respond to my customers?"

These dos and don'ts will help you write a stellar response to a stellar Yelp review no matter what kind of business you run or work for.

1. Read the entire review. You may be tempted to skim over four- or five-star reviews, especially if they're long, but don't be hasty when reading Yelp reviews. Sometimes a customer will give your company a high rating but address a real concern at the end of the review. Make them feel heard by addressing valid problems.

2. Don't copy and paste the same response. Your customers (hopefully) aren't copying and pasting the same review they wrote for the nail salon down the street for your day spa. Using a response template your team has created is totally okay, but don't forget to customize them to make your customers feel special.

3. Always offer to do more. Even though the customer is clearly happy with your business or your service, it's a nice touch to include in your reply an offer to do more for the customer. Make it clear that you welcome their feedback anytime and take it seriously.

4. Surprise and delight. To go above and beyond, your reply could also offer to get in touch with the customer offline to send them swag, treats, or a discount offer.

Now you should be a pro at responding to glowing Yelp reviews, which will make your customers have warm and fuzzy feelings about your company. It's time to move on to what keeps every reputation manager up at night: negative Yelp reviews.

How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews

Responding to negative Yelp reviews requires tact, training, and discipline. In the best case, your response to a negative online review could turn a one-star rating into a five-star rating, win back a customer who's written off your business, and show potential customers how you solve problems. A defensive or poorly thought out response to a bad review could keep away the unhappy reviewer, and scare away potential customers. These tips will equip those at your company responsible for reputation management to win over initially disgruntled customers.

First, you may be wondering whether or not you should address negative reviews. Yelp reviewers are notorious for being one of two things: people who think they're professional critics, or unreasonable customers with a bone to pick. Online critics may be tough, but they can provide your company with valuable feedback.

Why You Should Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews

Here are some things to think about when considering responding to negative Yelp reviews.

1. It's an opportunity for customer recovery.

Engaging with customers who had a poor experience with your business on Yelp is an opportunity for customer recovery. It's your chance to turn a negative experience into a positive one. Sometimes customers don't speak up about problems in person to give your business the chance to make it right, and they find comfort in confronting your business about it relatively anonymously on Yelp. You can find out about customer complaints on Yelp and solve them by following up with the unhappy customer. Doing this could lead to revenue-generating benefits for your business.

An upset customer could edit their rating of your business after you follow up with him or her to solve the problem. According to Harvard Business School, even a one-star rating increase on Yelp can generate 5-9 percent more revenue for your business.

2. It's a chance to win over new customers.

Responding to less-than-stellar reviews on Yelp is also an opportunity to win over new customers. If a customer reads a bad review but sees through your reply that you've gone above and beyond to fix the problem and show the customer you care, potential customers will see how you would resolve a similar situation if it happened to them. Put yourself in the customer's shoes -- wouldn't you rather see a bad review on Yelp with a resolution than an unanswered complaint?

It's important to note, however, that responding to negative reviews on Yelp could have some downstream negative effects.

3. Responding could highlight negative reviews.

Reviews on Yelp are sorted not in chronological order, but by "Yelp sort," which sorts reviews in an order that is supposed to help users make the most informed decision. "The order is determined by recency, user voting, and other review quality factors, which is why an older review may appear before a newer one," according to Yelp. Responding to a negative review might affect Yelp's sorting algorithm and could potentially show a negative review higher on the page. However, responding to positive reviews should counterbalance this.

4. Responding could be a waste of time on unproductive or fake complaints.

Sometimes unhappy customers can be petty online and try to pick a fight with you to get an undeserved refund. While most complaints by customers are legitimate, be wary of customers who will try to waste your time for a few dollars.

Overall, though, companies that respond to negative reviews on Yelp are perceived as transparent and open to receiving customer feedback

In my marketing career serving the hospitality and tourism industries, I've dealt with many online reviews. These are the best practices for responding to negative reviews based on my personal experience and Yelp's best practices.

1. Be timely. Follow up with the customer as soon as possible so that an unhappy customer doesn't write off your business completely and so that potential customers don't see an unresolved issue.

2. Address the reviewer by name. This will let your customers know that they are important to you.

3. Mention something positive from their review (if anything). This will show the reviewer that you carefully read the review, and will also help bury what they are complaining about so that it's not the first thing potential customers notice when reading your response.

4. Apologize for what went wrong. If necessary, explain your company's policy regarding the issue at hand.

5. Don't pick a fight. Maintain your professionalism and don't be argumentative with customers.

6. If appropriate, make the situation right. A warranted complaint deserves action, but make sure that your customer isn't trying to nickel and dime you to get an unjustified refund or concession. To address a real concern, follow up with the customer, but do so in a private message or ask them to email you. Make sure to mention that you are resolving this offline in your public comment so that potential customers don't read the review and think you ignored the problem.

7. Explain what went wrong and how it won't happen again. This shows potential customers that preventative measures are being taken to ensure this situation won't happen to them.

8. Make it clear what you did to resolve the issue. If you solved this problem in person (while the customer was at your place of business) but the reviewer didn't mention it online, address how you resolved the issue in your public reply to the Yelp review so that potential customers know that you followed through.

9. Track trends in feedback. If you notice any patterns in the negative reviews your company is receiving, listen to the feedback and see how you can change something in your business to create a better experience for your customers.

10. Don't take negative reviews personally. This is when it's good to have someone who is not the owner responding to reviews.

Now you're all set to tackle whatever concerns your customers raise on Yelp.

Customer Review Response Examples on Yelp

Positive Yelp Reviews

Now that we've established why you should be acknowledging happy customers by addressing their reviews on Yelp, here is my formula for responding to positive reviews.

  1. Personalize your response with the customer's name. Using your customer's name shows that you care about them.
  2. Mention something from their review so that they know you read it thoroughly. This also lets them know that this isn't a canned response.
  3. Thank them for taking the time to write a review.
  4. Thank them for being a customer and let them know you look forward to seeing them soon.

See how to put this formula into action with the following example.

Here's a made-up example of a positive review for a restaurant from Alex B. of Cambridge, MA.

Taco Time is my go-to spot lunch in Harvard Square. These are the most authentic tacos I've had since moving to the East Coast from L.A. Don't miss the carnitas and horchata!

Here's how Taco Time might respond to this Yelp review:

Hi Alex, we're delighted to hear that you're a fan of our carnitas! The recipe has been in our family for generations. Thanks so much for spreading the word and for writing a review. Our business depends on regulars like you! We hope to see you again soon, Alex!

Negative Yelp Reviews

Here are some fictional examples of negative reviews your business may encounter on Yelp, as well as examples of responses based on the above formula for responding to negative reviews on Yelp.

Brad D. of Seattle, WA left this 2-star review of a hotel in Hawaii.

My wife and I chose the Wailea Inn for our honeymoon. As a special surprise for my bride, I decided to splurge on the breakfast-in-bed package, which looked like a luxury experience based on what I saw on your website. We were both extremely disappointed when the breakfast arrived at our door in a brown paper bag and to-go containers instead of on a silver platter and china, as was shown in the pictures on your website. We tried not to let this ruin our stay, but it was quite disappointing. Besides this, everything else was as-pictured on the website, and we loved the private beach.

Here's how the Wailea Inn could respond to this Yelp review:

Hello Brad, thank you so much for choosing the Wailea Inn for your honeymoon. We are so glad that you enjoyed access to our private beach. We are sorry to hear that you felt our breakfast-in-bed service was not as described on our website. We work hard to ensure all of our guests have a fantastic experience while staying with us. We would like to make this right. We have sent you a direct message so that we can resolve this issue.

Here's another fictitious example:

Allison H. of New York, NY recently visited the New York Robotics Museum. Here's what her 1-star review on Yelp said:

I visited the museum last Saturday afternoon. After arriving at the museum with three hungry kids, I had to head straight to the cafeteria to appease their hunger. I was horrified to find a hair in my son's chicken nuggets. This was completely unacceptable. This was my first and last visit to this museum.

Here's an example of the Robotics Museum could respond to Allison's review:

Allison, thank you so much for choosing to spend your Saturday with us. Our cafeteria team takes hygiene very seriously, so we were both shocked and sorry to hear about your lunchtime experience. We are reviewing our kitchen's protocol to make sure that this does not happen again. We also spoke with our cafeteria manager, Rex, who informed us that his team replaced your family's meals for the inconvenience. We hope that you enjoyed the rest of your visit and that you would consider visiting us again.

Yelp helps your customers feel heard and appreciated. Responding to Yelp reviews is your way, as a business, to turn happy customers into evangelists and recover unhappy customers. Think of your Yelp page as an extension of your customer service team's efforts, and your business will reap the benefits.

To learn more, read our guide to responding to Google reviews next.

New Call-to-action 

Originally published Sep 11, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated September 12 2018

Topics:

Customer Reviews and Testimonials