What (not) to do when your business receives a bad Yelp review

In the age of the Internet, the famous saying that the “customer is always right” rings true. We turn to Yelp and other online reviews for guidance, so one bad review (or several) can pose problems for businesses. Hopefully, they don’t follow the Union Street Guest House’s lead.

As you may know, the Union Street Guest House stated in its official policies that it reserved the right to charge guests a $500 fine if members of a wedding party posted a harsh review of the hotel online. The policy unsurprisingly blew up, becoming a viral sensation. While the Volokh Conspiracy weighed in saying the hotel’s difficult-to-enforce provision was likely not illegal, it was not the first time a business had attempted to quell online criticism. Business owners need to learn that fighting the customer isn’t the solution – snide news articles can be avoided by simply listening to what the customer wants.

Here are some basic rules for responding to criticism:

  1. Be humble. Don’t claim your policy is a joke, like the owner of the Union Street Guest House did.
  2. Admit any wrongdoing and try to fix the problem as soon as possible. Don’t dismiss the problem or offer a cheap refund, or else you’ve earned that bad Yelp review. Reimburse in full. Always!
  3. Follow up. Cultivating customer relationships is important, and acknowledging that the situation warranted multiple check-ins is a good first step.
  4. Don’t threaten legal action for something insignificant. Do everything you can before making such a costly move that could snowball into even more bad press if it’s regarding a petty issue.
  5. Don’t retaliate by spamming Yelp with fake 5 star reviews. Customers see through these glowing, over-the-top reviews, which can jeopardize your business’s standing on Yelp.


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