Whether they’re complaining that the red velvet cupcakes aren’t red enough or complimenting the cleanliness of the men’s bathroom, Cupcrazed Cakery owner Heather McDonnell has found that customers have plenty to say on Yelp.
The popular social networking site allows customers to rate businesses – usually restaurants – and leave lengthy comments.
While large chains and corporations likely worry less about online customer opinions, internet reviews – on Yelp in particular – can make a difference for small businesses, entrepreneurs say. That’s why McDonnell maintains an active presence on Yelp and frequently responds to positive and negative comments.
McDonnell, whose cupcakery is in Fort Mill, said she often uses Yelp to scout out businesses when she travels. “I love Yelp,” she said, “but as a business owner you have to use it the right way.”
That means carefully choosing which comments to respond to and keeping control of the tone of the response.
The first thing businesses must keep in mind is that Yelp reviews and responses are not private conversations, said Randy Mitchell, coach at The Entrepreneur’s Source in Matthews.
“When they write a response, they are not responding to that reviewer,” he said. “They are writing something for everybody to read, possibly for years to come.”
Customer reviews come in several different forms. Some praise the business. Others comment negatively on a single experience, while others criticize an aspect of the business (the lack of toilet paper, for example) that is not related to the business’ purpose.
Many business owners don’t have time to respond to every comment, nor should they, Mitchell said. When replying to select negative reviews, he recommends that business owners make sure their tone is not defensive or petty.
Or, as McDonnell says, don’t “sound like a jerk.”
“If you have an unhappy customer, you want to make it right,” McDonnell adds, noting that it’s best to allow some time to pass between bad review and response to avoid a hot-headed reply.
In response to a Yelp reviewer who liked the Cupcrazed bathroom but described the cupcakes as “very dry and heavy,” McDonnell wrote: “Sorry you feel that way. What cupcakes did you try? Details help us improve! Thanks!”
Mitchell recommends taking a humble approach by acknowledging the customer’s complaint, apologizing and asking the customer to come back and give the business another try.
Yelp also allows business owners to communicate with reviewers over a private message system if a specific complaint is better addressed out of the public forum.
Offering a quick response to positive reviews can show potential customers that the business is engaged with and appreciative of its customers.
McDonnell has replied to positive reviews with a “thanks” and sometimes offers more details about her business to answer customers’ questions or comments.
Replies don’t go unnoticed on Yelp. One Cupcrazed reviewer wrote that social media fans “love rewarding great businesses who embrace social media and communicate regularly with their fans. (other businesses take note!)”
Strategic replies to Yelp comments help build a good online reputation for a small business.
“It (could) create a positive impression when there’s some interaction with the owner,” Mitchell said. “That acknowledgement shows that you care what people think about you.”
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