Don’t Call People Names on Yelp and Other Tips

“Marketing Zen!” you say, “Someone said something rude and awful about my business on the Internet! What do I do about this?”

From Yelp to Google Places and many sites in between, consumers now have a variety of outlets to express their opinions about your establishment. This can be great for your online marketing – if you do everything perfect all the time. What if you messed up? Well, here are some tips for dealing with that unpleasant predicament.

Keep your emotions out of it.

Yeah, we get it. It sucks to put all your effort into something, only to see people trash it on the Internet. For an example from the publishing industry, take independent author Jacqueline Howett, whose defensive replies to a two-star review of her book went viral (although many of her comments have since been removed – probably because she realized in hindsight that responding wasn’t such a great idea to begin with).

People aren’t always going to like what you’ve created as much as you like it. That’s just how it works. If you get too emotional when people offer criticism, you’re probably not the right person to be monitoring what people are saying. Find a level-headed person whose judgment you trust and delegate the responsibility to them.

When people criticize you, don’t call them insane.

In summer 2010, a man named Joel went out for pizza in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then he wrote a one-star review of the experience on Yelp. Then the restaurant owner replied to let him know that their food was great and he was a moron. A little more research reveals that this restaurant owner has a pretty full history of poor Internet etiquette.

The “fake review” the owner refers to actually contained some pretty constructive criticism, had he bothered to pay attention. The reviewer thought the portions were small for the price she paid, and that the service was a little slow and inattentive. Which brings us to…

Do try to fix what’s wrong.

Negative reviews can hurt, especially if they’re anonymous negative reviews – those are the ones where people tend to be more rude, since no identity is attached. But take a step back for a second. Then ask yourself this question: Where’s the truth in what this person is saying?* Does my receptionist have a bad attitude? Does the decor really look that shabby? What’s going on that you may have not noticed? You may be doing something to turn away customers that you didn’t even realize you were doing.

*Note: If someone leaves you a review saying, “I’d rather drink expired milk every day for the rest of my life than go back to (your business),” do not try to find the truth in that. Just leave it alone.


So a person has indicated that they’re really disappointed and absolutely never going to return to your establishment again. Don’t just leave them alone to be angry. Here’s an example of how you could respond:

Hello (name of reviewer),

I am very concerned about your observations/experiences concerning (thing they did not like). We appreciate your feedback and can assure you (thing you did to fix it). I’d like to invite you back for a (discount/free item) so you can see how great we really are! Please email me at (email address) so we can work out the details.

We hope to see you again soon!

(Your name)

Do you have any tips?

How have you previously dealt with negative online reviews? Leave us a comment to let us know!

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  1. Good tips! Question about the apology: private or public? I see pros and cons to both. Private: others don’t see how responsive you are. Public: freeloaders post fake criticisms to get freebies/discounts. Your thoughts?

    • It really depends on which site the criticism came from. On many sites, there’s not a means of contacting users directly which means that the apology has to be public. If you have a choice between a public and a private apology? I would post a public one, to show that you’ve handled the situation. I would also contact the person directly to ensure they actually saw your message. Something along the lines of “I responded to your review, but I wasn’t sure if you saw it so I just wanted to reiterate…” so on and so forth. It’s actually against the terms of service of sites like Yelp and Google Places to post fake criticisms, and there are means of reporting reviews you think might be fabricated. However, most people using these sites have pure intentions: they liked something or they didn’t like it, and they just want to pass along that knowledge to help other people.

  2. I’ve never received a bad review but I’ve written a couple. I always stick to the facts, and have pictures to back up what I’m talking about. The responses I got from each was interesting.

    The first one got almost no response except I heard through the grapevine that instead of addressing my main issue in a positive way he decided to dodge the issue by decreasing his value of the product. The second got me an email from the vice president of the organization, and as it’s a national company that stunned me, apologizing and having the district manager follow up with me on all the problems I saw; that was nice.

    I was obviously left with a better impression of the second company than the first, and will give them a second try because of it.

  3. I am reading lots of articles before actually start my own reviews and I want to thank you for this informative read!
    Thanks again!

  4. We just started what can be considered an online complaint service. Allowing customers to write a review and rate businesses at the point of sale. Businesses can decide to either keep the input to themselves or publish it. This lets the company learn where they may need to improve and gives customers the option to complain directly to the business, rather than going to the internet where the business will probably never see the complaint. I’m not sure i can post a link here but it’s worth a try is a service that effects change. If customers are unhappy about the service, product or treatment then what needs to happen is change and posting on facebook or poor mouthing on review sites about the business in question will not do anything to rectify the situation. People should get what the pay for and companies need to be help responsible when this doesn’t happen, but they also need to know about it. A business should not lose 10% because the housekeeper forgot to leave anew bar of soap, or because the master chef was out sick. Online reviews sites are great and give consumers great power but with great power, you know the rest.

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