Marketing Just Got Smarter, Thanks to Yelp

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.

New Yelp Feature

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.

New Yelp Message Feature

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.

Marketing Impact

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.

Online Reviews: Why They Matter to You & to Search

Customer Reviews

With so much focus on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and whatever the latest buzz of the week is other social platforms often get lost in the shuffle. However, this does not mean they don’t matter. It’s these “other” networks that could be of most value to businesses. Online review sites are one area that fits into this category.

PeopleClaim, an online dispute resolution service, created an infographic back in 2012 that clearly depicts just how important these sites are:

PeopleClaim - The Review of Reviews

Though the information is somewhat dated, there are certain trends that are still true today:

– The majority of reviews posted on review sites are positive

– The majority of unhappy customers will come back if their issue is resolved quickly and efficiently

– The majority seeks reviews before purchasing and agrees that reviews make them more comfortable when buying a product or service

– The majority will more likely make a purchase on a website that has product ratings and reviews

A recent report from TravelDailyNews specifically about hotels also found that 66 percent of online hotel reviews were positive and a mere 10.28 percent were negative.

Beyond these facts, even if the review is negative, if you handle it properly, you have the opportunity to change the customer experience for the better. Last year, Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro provides a perfect example of what not to do in this scenario. In case you missed the drama, in a nutshell, the Arizona bakery was fired by Gordon Ramsay on “Kitchen Nightmares.” The company owners took to Reddit and Facebook after their story emerged and created fake accounts and responded to all comments in a very defensive and sometimes crude manner. To make matters worse, the two weren’t honest in what they were saying.

Whether it’s Yelp, Google Reviews, Angie’s List, Yahoo Local Listings, Facebook, Insider Pages, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, Amazon, and whatever else you may be listed on, you can likely contact the reviewer directly. This not only gives you the opportunity to right a potential wrong, but it also allows you to potentially create a repeat customer, and furthermore, a brand advocate.

But, unlike Amy’s Baking Company, you have to be smart about connecting with consumers. You shouldn’t respond to every comment or appear on the defensive. Sometimes contacting them beyond their comment platform, such as via email or phone, could be the best option. You must acknowledge their concern and address the issue as plainly and honestly as possible. In other words, strive to have the same customer service as Zappos.

Though mimicking Zappos’ customer service standards is a powerful goal to set, there a number of steps you can do that could help you generate more positive reviews. For starters, look at your current reviews or talk to your customers. This will help let you know if your customer sentiment is happy, or if you have work to do.

Secondly, it’s okay to ask for reviews. If you don’t come across as pushy, consumers really do respond to requests for reviews. If customers are happy, in many cases, they feel empowered and honored to know that a company values their opinion, which is a win-win for everyone.

Thirdly, build your Web presence. If you’re active on your website and across social media, consumers, especially the younger crowd, will be more likely to review something through these outlets as opposed to receiving something in the mail or email. You have to make it easy for your audience. So, being where they are makes you more accessible.

Just as we talked about before, fourthly, you must respond quickly to negative reviews. Most review forums are public, so if a customer only sees bad reviews, they’re going to have trouble a) buying from you and b) leaving a positive remark. In many cases, negative reviewers will also update their review once their issues have been resolved. Also, working in the favor of businesses, consumers may be hesitant about leaving negative reviews in light of recent legal issues that Yelp has experienced.

Lastly, understand that one review leads to another. If you’re thinking this is a good thing, you’re right, but it also requires careful attention. Just like anything else, it’s always the hardest to get the first review. But, once you get that one, the others come more easily. This is true with both positive and negative reviews, so be mindful.

Regardless of what your product or service is, it’s clear that consumers care about what their peers have to say. So, before you allocate all your time on blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc., set aside some time to plan on building your online reviews because it impacts your brand, potential consumers and search.

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