Have you heard of Yelp? According to the Yelp site,  Yelp is an online urban city guide that helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, based on the informed opinions of a vibrant and active community of locals in the know. It is advertised as a  the fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what’s great – and not so great, in your area. It can boost your customer satisfaction ratings or it can destroy them.

It is a complaint and compliment site on steroids for local service businesses, started in San Francisco, spreading across the US and into other countries (Canada, Ireland and UK) and according to a New York Times article, is has 30 million monthly readers, 15 Million businesses and about 10 million reviews. (Article dated Mar 24, 2010)

Why should you care about Yelp?

Yelp can impact customer satisfaction,  sales and customer acquisition in both a positive or negative way and it can be done quickly. Users can post can post a positive or negative review on the Yelp Site that can be read by others.  Users can post reviews using their PC; find them using an iPhone app, or  Tweet about them on Twitter.

Yelp  is targeted at local businesses as it is rolled out by city. See http://www.yelp.com. According to Inc magazine, Yelp is one of the most popular review websites in the world. Most reviews are very positive but some are negative and can damage reputations of small business owners.

On the positive side, Yelp can help spread good ratings about your business and provides tools to measure local’ word of mouth’. Owners can find out who is spreading negative word of mouth, why and address the problem, both with the user and the community. Owners can also use the site to promote specials, and events with locals.

What is Yelp?

Yelp’s home page allows  consumers to pick their location  (city) and then Yelp presents them with a page of information to browse and a place to sign up to become a reviewer and enter their own reviews. Here’s a list of information available to browse.

1. A selection of reviews by category: eg  On the Miami, Fl site, there were 22 categories, Restaurants, Shopping, Food, Hotels and Travel had the most number of reviews.

2. The Best of Yelp: Restaurants, Shopping, Nightlife, Beauty and Spas

3. The Review of the Day: A site reviewed by one of the local members, as voted by members

4. Sales and Offers near you

5. Fresh Lists: The newest of users favorites

6. Hot on Yelp: Hottest in the past month, based on bookmarks

7. Today in Talk: This seems to be akin to a Twitter feed on a particular topic.

8. Popular Events this week: A place for local businesses hosting an event, or local businesses or groups of businesses to publicize upcoming events in the selected location

9. Featured Yelpers: This section shows profiles of local reviewers, along with their recent reviews, and a list of friends on the system, and whether others agreed or disagreed with their reviews.

10. New Reviews near you: This section of the website is devoted to the most recent reviews that have come in.

How can a business owner / manager use Yelp to improve Customer Satisfaction?

1. Be aware that consumers may be using Yelp to rate you (personally), your staff or your products and services.Yelp is something every local business owner needs to be aware of.

2. Sign up for your free business page. You have access to tools to monitor usage, announce events, specials and respond to reviewers, both publically and privately.

3. Respond to customers, both positive and negative. This may be time consuming but has the benefit of allowing the owner to address every dissatisfied customer to turn around and become satisfied. It also allows the owner to have a dialogue with satisfied customers and increase customer loyalty. Here’s a helpful video:

4. Respond to the satisfied customers in a way that lets them know you read their review. Offer the ability to meet the owner personally next time the consumer visits and ask for comments and suggestions on how to improve. Fans of your business may have excellent suggestions to improve your offering and increase customer loyalty.

5. Respond to consumers with negative comments in a way that lets them know you have read their comments. Acknowledge if you are at fault  and describe what you are doing to fix the problem. Offer to explain if there is a misunderstanding. Ask for suggestions, and comments to make things better.

6 Get your ‘People Love us on Yelp to display on your premises and website. If you have received good reviews, you can get a red Decal to post in your establishment that says: ‘People Love us on Yelp’. Yelp sends them out quarterly to those businesses that have a bunch of reviews on Yelp and an average of 3 1/2 stars.  The business owner can also access the red decal from the business page when the right level of reviews is reached.

These efforts will improve customer satisfaction for Local Business Owners.

Caveat Emptor:

After a small business unlocks their free business page, there is an option to buy a $300 Sponsorship to get paid advertising on other places other than its own page. Some sales people have been accused of being overly aggressive. According to an article by Inc “The rumblings came to the surface in a 2009 article that appeared in the East Bay Express, a weekly newspaper in Oakland, California. The article, “Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0,” suggested that Yelp salespeople, like Mafia foot soldiers, were threatening businesses with bad reviews if they did not buy a sponsorship package.”

A NY Times article claims that Yelp is the subject of 3 class action suits. The suits claim that Yelp employees call businesses demanding monthly payments, in the guise of ‘advertising contracts,’ in exchange for removing or modifying negative reviews appearing on the Web site.” These suits are being vigorously denied by Yelp. According to the co-founder this reaction is due to anger that this public accountability offers consumers and the feeling of powerlessness by the business owner. The advertising offer (according to the owners) is strictly for advertising.

What to do next?

1. Learn more about Yelp for Business Owners: Go to this site.

2. Unlock your business page.

3. Watch for conversations about your organization / brand

4. Use customer satisfaction techniques to fix individual customer problems, enhance customer relationships and find and fix root causes that could impact multiple customers.


Yelp can be a nightmare or can boost customer satisfaction. Have you had any experiences with Yelp!


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

4 Responses to “Yelp: Local Business Headache or Customer Satisfaction Help?”

  1. Frank Brinkman Says:

    Adele, The quality of Yelp in certain places in the U.S. is not good. Yet, you are absolutely right. Business need to pay attention to any entries about their business.

    Someone is going to develop a spider / application or may have developed that program already to help businesses find any remarks about their business. Then keeping a database record of past entries, display only the new results so business do not waste time responding to old entries.

    Business with negative comments need to quickly respond. Once the comment is on the internet it takes on a life of it’s own.

    Business with positive comments have received gold to be used in validating the value of their products.

    So either way businesses need to mine this data for their own health.

  2. Adele Says:

    Frank, Thanks for your comments.

    There are techniques for companies to monitor what is being said about them on the web. Some tools are free and some are fee with varying levels of costs / capabilities.

    I wrote two other articles on this subject:

    Social Media Monitoring and Sentiment Analysis http://bit.ly/6KyOzK.

    I hope these are helpful as starting points.

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