Up Periscope

The Dish on Yelp

Alison Kawa - Saturday, June 25, 2011

For my entire life, I have always heard, "the customer is always right." This used to be a general saying meaning businesses would do what they could, within reason, to keep their customers happy and returning to their store. I don't know about you, but I have noticed lately that a lot of employees seem to know nothing about customer service. They are so far removed from the owners or management that the importance of customer loyalty means nothing.

Enter Yelp.

Yelp is a website that allows you, the consumer, to enter a review of a company. If Company A made you the happiest girl on earth, you can shout to the world that they made your day. If Company B gave you the worst service you've ever had, you can warn the masses to stay away from them. The hope is that enough honest reviews would be given so you could tell from the high number or good (or bad) reviews whether you should spend your money at that store.

Initially, Yelp did not allow store owners to respond to customer complaints on their site. Yelp would monitor postings to make sure that they were truly reviews, and not users fighting back and forth about whether a company actually was a good or bad place to shop. I did watch one of those fights go down once. My hair stylist's former landlord wrote some pretty nasty things on her personal Yelp listing once. A few users jumped in to defend the stylist. Yelp quickly removed all of the posts.

I have not had personal experience with what I am about to say, but I have had more than one person tell me a similar story so I believe it to be true. Some business owners claim that if they wanted to remove negative reviews from their listing, Yelp would tell them they had to pay a monthly fee. Business owners claimed it was extortion. A lawsuit seems to have changed how Yelp is doing business. Store owners are now more regularly responding to reviews. To most, it sounds like a great idea.

In my eyes, it opened up a whole new can of worms.

Last year, a group of friends and I went to a restaurant/bar for happy hour (we call ourselves the Mojito Girls). We usually meet up once a month for social hour after work. We often go to the same restaurant. They have 3-1/2 stars out of five on Yelp, with 462 reviews. To me, that's pretty good. They offer great specials, have delicious food and amazing drinks. This particular night, we had a terrible time. We started out on the wrong foot with the hostess and just continued downhill from there. I wrote them an email about our experience and did not receive a response (look here, businesses, if you're going to list an email address on your website, you really should monitor it and respond to emails). So I wrote a Yelp review -- a not so friendly one.

The owner responded pretty quickly and asked us to give them another chance. She offered a credit of $75 in food and drinks if we would return. So we did -- and we were treated like royalty. The chef sent out free samples of new recipes he was testing. The Bacardi girls were there and brought around free drinks to try. We received shirts and fun necklaces. It was a little over the top and we realized they were overcompensating because the entire staff knew we were "the complainers." But, by the end, we were happy campers. I thanked the owner for their hospitality and updated my review to let people know that we were again satisfied with their service.

A few months later, another restaurant gave us HORRIBLE service. I wrote a Yelp review and, within a week, I had $50 in gift certificates to that restaurant.

I realized I could be sitting on a GOLD MINE! If I wanted to go around writing bad reviews of restaurants, it looked like I could be eating free all the time! That kind of bothered me. I stopped writing bad reviews. I feel like Yelp is a great idea in theory, but I also recognize how easy it is for people to "buy" good reviews. I still read Yelp reviews, but I also take every review with a grain of salt. For most companies, you will find someone who loved them and someone who hated them. I usually scan the reviews, read a few one star reviews, read a few five star reviews, and then make my own choice. I recognize that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. I also hope that companies are checking out the profiles of those customers writing bad reviews to make sure they are not serial complainers before they offer up freebies in exchange for a better review. Otherwise, some might be eating well for free every night of the week.

lolorashel lives in the bay area, where she tweets, posts, and twirls about Twirly Girl Pole Fitness: women of all shapes, sizes and abilities can flourish, get their sweat on and still feel sexy!

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