Customer Service Lessons from Yelp

John Krautzel
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For small businesses, Yelp customer service reviews are a big deal. An academic study of Yelp's effect on the restaurant industry in Seattle found that every star in a business' review translates to a 5 to 9 percent increase in sales. Yelp is redefining the concept of word-of-mouth advertising, and Yelp customer service is redefining the way people interact with businesses. Yelp's own research has revealed that the quality of a business's customer service is the most important single factor contributing to a good review. This suggests a number of useful customer service tips you'll want to incorporate into your model.

Yelp customer service research makes it clear that you absolutely must take customer service seriously. A Yelp customer service review that praises the service of a business' staff is more than five times as likely to have an overall positive star rating, while a full 70 percent of customers who have complaints about customer service wind up leaving a one-star review. Each of those stars is worth real money to a small business, so it makes sense to invest heavily in improving your customer service wherever you can.

Yelp's research also uncovers a number of specific customer service tips you can apply. When Yelp customer service reviews were run through a word cloud program, some of the most commonly found words in positive reviews were "friendly," "helpful," and "nice." These are specific attributes of successful customer service professionals, and they relate more to the attitude of employees than to any specific knowledge or training. Therefore, if you're working to build a reputation for good customer service, it may be more important to retain employees with good attitudes than those with knowledge that lack interpersonal skills.

Finally, Yelp customer service reviews have taught businesses to be extremely careful with how they present themselves to the public. When a rumor started on Yelp that a bagel shop in Davis, CA, had refused service to a member of the military for political reasons, the reaction—based entirely on an anonymous review—was swift and decisive. The day after the review posted, Posh Bagels saw a huge reduction in customers. The reviewer remained anonymous and the review was swiftly taken down, but the damage had already been done. The lessons are to pay close attention to the comments and feedback your business gets on Yelp and proactively build a solid brand as a buffer against this type of rumor-fueled harm.

Yelp has changed the way small businesses approach customer service, and most of the changes are for the better. Even the changes that aren't necessarily positive have taught local businesses valuable lessons. Monitoring Yelp customer service reviews needs to be a part of your small business plan.


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