Online reviews are continuing to grow in value as consumers are gaining trust in them. In fact, BrightLocal’s 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey found that 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo Business Listings, among others are some of the most popular sites, but social media channels including Facebook and Twitter are growing in value to become recommendation services for small to medium sized businesses.
As if there’s never a dull moment in the marketing world anyway, Yelp recently made an announcement that really shakes up the industry. The review site that was created to allow consumers to talk about businesses is now going to allow them to talk directly to the companies. In a blog post, Yelp said it would soon begin allowing individuals to message businesses as well.
The logic is that, apart from the written comments, photos, ratings, and some videos, there are some questions that still come up. For consumers that prefer to not pick up the phone, the messaging functionality will allow them to send their question or comments over to the business. In turn, the business will receive the message via email.
The feature also gives consumers insight into how long the response time is for the business they want to message. For example, the wait time could indicate immediate responses or up to a few or several days for replies.
Yelp cites Wade Lombard, founder of Square Cow Movers in Austin, TX, as he explains his experience with the new ability: “This feature is a conversation starter. Responding takes just a few minutes and it almost always leads to further correspondence or a phone conversation. We believe that responding quickly helps to show the client we deeply care about winning their business.”
The new feature is now rolling out for all businesses. However, businesses that do not wish to receive messages can simply disable the capability.
For businesses, this new feature is both exciting and challenging. On the exciting front, it provides a means to make a direct connection with target audiences. It also opens the door for longer and more meaningful conversations. Yelp is essentially adding a further human element to its offerings. The communication that results impacts not only the individual who sent the message, but it also provides valuable data that businesses can analyze and utilize to improve their products and services, which will ultimately better meet their target audience’s needs.
In spite of all the positive connections and relationships that could result from this new ability, there is also a challenging side. These challenges come since consumers’ expectations have now skyrocketed. For instance, consumers live in a real-time, Twitter-centric world, which means they expect answers immediately. Yes, your response time could be up to 2 days, but to be frank, many consumers may not care and choose to not give you business AND leave a bad review.
There is the point, of course, that businesses can turn this feature off, but it may be hard for them to dispel all the opportunities that come with leaving it intact. The fact of the matter is that, because the value is so great in the potential customers that may be built through this communication, it forces another layer to the every-growing marketing mix.
Time will tell what the true impact of this new Yelp feature will be, but we, as marketers, need to be proactive and make the proper adjustments to accommodate these types of features. This is just a hunch, but my guess is that many similar features are on the horizon.