yelp review platform on smartphone; online reviews Online review sites are a great opportunity to gather feedback and information from your customers. While some would argue that these sites are mostly used as a place for consumers to complain about their negative experiences with local businesses, that’s almost always not the case.

For example, on the reviews site Yelp, nearly 80 percent of the reviews are positive. Additionally, there are more five-star reviews than one, two, and three-star reviews combined. People turn to online review sites because they want to share the great experiences they had with others and let them know where to spend their hard-earned money.

Review sites are not just for consumers, though! They also provide an opportunity for businesses to insert themselves into the conversation by responding to reviews and expanding on the goods, services, and offerings their businesses provide.

For many consumers, online review sites are a reference point rather than a place to contribute their opinions. A 2016 Bright Local study found that 92 percent of consumers read online reviews to determine if a local business is a good business, and 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

In the digital world we live in today, there is more visibility into consumer experiences and emotions through review sites and social media channels. Consumers also do more research before they make a purchase. Instead of simply asking a friend or choosing the closest business to their home or work, people want to research their options and make the best choice for them. Review sites are where they start that search.

Maybe the idea of a virtual comment box or another place where you need to maintain your image and boost brand recognition seems stressful, or like a drain on time or a roadblock in day-to-day responsibilities. But it can actually be an opportunity to amplify your exceptional customer service practices and increase consumer trust.

The concept of amplifying your customer service and expanding your brand image through review response is outlined and supported by Jay Baer in his book, “Hug Your Haters.” Baer worked with Edison Research to look at the expectations of consumers on review responses.

What he found was shocking; 53 percent of customers expect a reply when they write an online review. What’s more is that businesses who answer complaints on review sites see those customers become bigger advocates for their brand and more likely to recommend the business to friends, family, colleagues, and so on. According to Baer, the average is a 16 percent boost in customer advocacy from answered complaints on reviews sites. Meanwhile, businesses that ignore complaints on review sites experience a 37 percent decline in customer advocacy from their consumer base.

This study shows the incredible upside to responding to a review, especially within 24 hours, but also emphasizes the potential negative effects of not responding at all. Similarly, Yelp’s Data Science team found that Yelp users are 33 percent more likely to upgrade their review if a business responds with a personalized message within a day.

The same study also found that businesses that respond to reviews get a 5 percent increase in review count. Added bonus: This increase in review volume helps attract organic traffic to business pages on Yelp. In other words, more potential customers in need of the goods or services you provide looking at your business as an option.

Think of it this way: A customer walks into your store (happy or not), and decides to announce in front of 20 other potential customers of your business how their experience was. Would you respond to them or simply stare blankly until they walked away? Of course you would respond! So how can do you implement those same practices on social media and review sites such as Yelp?

Always respond to reviews—and here’s how:

The positive review

Respond! These customers took time out of their day to give you positive feedback online. Sending a direct message within 24 hours is a fast and effective way to let those happy customers know you appreciate their feedback and their business.

Now and then, respond to those stellar five-star reviews publicly so potential customers know that you care and pay attention to your feedback.

The negative review

Take this as an opportunity to grow. It’s easy to get upset, but successful business owners remain calm, cool, and collected. If you need to give yourself 24 hours to cool off, feel free! Then it’s time to respond and outline a plan to fix this situation.

Step 1: Respond privately to the reviewer. Try to dig in a bit and get more information about what happened. Thank them for reaching out to you and give them a way to communicate with you directly to get things resolved, business to consumer.  

Step 2: Post a public response while you wait to hear back from the reviewer directly. This can be a generic message for the most part. Thank the reviewer for their feedback, outline steps you have taken to resolve the issue and urge them to contact you to talk further about what happened. This shows that you value feedback and want your customer experience to be exceptional. This public response is to showcase your business practices to all of your future customers. It’s not about trying to win that reviewer over.

Example response:

(Reviewer’s name), thank you so much for taking the time to review us.

I’m sorry you didn’t have an exceptional experience. We strive to ensure our guests have the best service, and feedback like this helps us to grow. We will continue to focus on ensuring prompt service (an example of a negative element to their experience they point out in their review).

I sent you a direct message to talk more about your experience and hope you will give us a chance to improve for you as our customer in the future.   

For more on how to respond to customers, check out our social media response flowchart.

How to encourage customers to leave reviews

These steps are important for how to respond to your customers once they’ve left you a review, but how do you build your online reputation up in the first place? How do you generate review content to be able to respond to?

It may surprise you to know that Yelp does not encourage business owners to ask for reviews. Gaining reviews and building up your online reputation doesn’t happen overnight, but it should happen naturally! The best way to get your customers talking is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs and amplify the positive reviews that you already have.

Step 1: Share your reviews on other platforms

When you receive a great review, what could be better than having as many people as possible see it? Current customers who see the review can be reminded of their past experience and how positive it was. It could prompt them to write a review of their own or visit you again for another positive experience!

Additionally, potential customers have a reason to choose you over a competitor when they see a great recommendation from an existing customer. Through Yelp, you can share your reviews directly to your Facebook account, Twitter account, or even embed the review into your website directly! This not only works as an advertisement for your business but also reminds your social audience that Yelp and other review sites are a channel that you’re paying attention to in terms of customer feedback. It subtly lets them know you’d love if they shared their experiences too.

Step 2: Direct people to your online presence

Beyond just telling your patrons they can find your business on Yelp, follow you on Facebook or tag you on Instagram, you’ll want to make your social platforms visible in your store, on your company vehicles, or on your website.

Link through to your social channels and Yelp listings in your email signature, customer newsletters or on your website. Get creative! Take your great reviews from online and make them visible in your business. Print out a few of your favorites and display them in your waiting room for your customers to see.

Consumers turn to online review sites to determine if a local business is a good business, and that can seem daunting. The first step is to commit to responding to your positive and negative reviews in a timely manner. Make yourself a part of the conversation your consumer base is having.

Consumers want to spend their money with people who care about their experience and by responding to your reviewers, positive and negative, you’re starting that public declaration of your dedication to great customer service.

Emily Washcovick is business outreach manager at Yelp. She works with local business owners interested in utilizing Yelp to help grow their business and hosts informational sessions with business owners across North America about best practices for navigating the world of online reviews.

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