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The [Unofficial] Guide to Managing Yelp Business Reviews

Yelp has really become a necessary evil for most businesses. Let's face it, no one enjoys reading negative comments about their business. But we have to reshape that thinking. It's not so much a complaint as an opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a brand evangelist. Remember, inbound marketing isn't just about getting business, but driving loyalty through delight too. 

Here's a fun fact: 

"Customers who encounter positive social customer care experiences are nearly 3 times more likely to recommend a brand." (Harvard Business Review)

Most people who complain on social media are just looking to be heard. They feel like they didn't get what they expected and want to make sure that others know it. But here's the thing: customers who leave a review on yelp are often times surprised that you're reaching out. Being responsive and taking ownership of the experience can lead to a second chance, and the opportunity to transform the experience from bad to amazing.

 Still not convinced? Consider this: A one-star increase in Yelp rating can lead to a 5-9% increase in revenue for a restaurant, according to a study from Harvard

Investing in managing your Yelp account can have a positive effect on your business. While time-consuming, it is absolutely worth it. This guide will tell you how to do it, and do it right.

What NOT To Do

But first let's begin by talking about what you absolutely should NOT do. Under absolutely no circumstances should you reply to a Yelp review when you're angry. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But you'd be surprised how many times a restaurant blows up from the negative press around a poorly composed response that attacks the reviewer, sometimes even using profanity. Avoid the following:

  • Do not accuse the reviewer | Do take responsibility for the situation (regardless of fault)
  • Do not use profanity | Do be genuine in your language choice 

Take a deep breath before you answer that review. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. How would you want to be answered? What would you expect from the business, if you were in your customer's position? 

Do you know what to do? Great. You may now proceed.  

Replying to Yelp Business Reviews


In general, I like to answer within a one to two day period. It shows that the business is actually monitoring Yelp, for one, but also that you care enough to take the time to reach out.

There are two options when replying to a Yelp review:

  • The Private Message, which (as you may have guessed) sends a private message to the reviewer,
  • The Public Comment, which (also duh) leave a public comment that anyone, the reviewer and visitors can see

I like to use a mix of both on negative reviews so that you can first show everyone coming to Yelp that your establishment is listening and showing empathy towards even the worst reviews, and then messaging that person can help start a conversation. Here's what we do: 

How to Reply:

  • Apologize - Give some kind of apology that shows you are owning the situation and demonstrate you do not intend to be confrontational.
  • Empathize - Tell them that you understand their frustration, that you truly feel for their situation
  • Ask - If you need more information in order to truly follow up on their complaints, this is where you ask them for that information
  • Action - Demonstrate that you are going to actually do something with this information. Primarily people just want to be heard, and they use Yelp as an outlet to do so. Telling them what action you are going to take is a good way to demonstrate you're listening. Most of the time I keep it vague like "I'd like to look into this further to prevent it from happening again." If there is a specific action, however, like "I'd like to help reverse those charges" or "I'm going to bring this to the attention of our staff," that is fine too.
  • The Reward - The reward should be something that makes it right, whether that's having someone directly contact that customer to process a refund, or even just offering to help them in whatever way you can. If you can offer them something physical, like a gift card, then I’d definitely recommend that.

Step 1: Public Comment

First reply to the review publicly. Here is an example:

"Hi [name]. (Apologize) I am sorry to hear about your experience. (Empathize) We value your business as a patient and never want you to feel frustrated during your visits. (What Action Will You Take) We'd like to learn from your experience so that we can make sure that this doesn't happen again. I am sending a private message right now so we can chat. (Restate apology and empathy) Again, we apologize for your experience and hope to make things right."

Step 2: Private message

As you mentioned in the public comment, you are now going to privately message the reviewer in a similar format:

"Hi [name].

(Apologize) Once again, I'd like to sincerely apologize for your recent experience. (Empathize) We understand that this kind of situation can be frustrating; I know, because I've been in similar situations with my doctors. (Action) I'd like to help make sure that something like this doesn't happen again. (Ask) To look into this further, do you mind {here is where you ask for whatever extra information you need to follow up on their complaint, whether that is the date of their visit or even if you need to jump on a call to discuss details offline}.

(The Reward this may change for each situation) If you'd like, I'd be happy to have someone from our office call you on Monday to help resolve this issue. Just let me know when is a good time for them to chat.

(Restate apology and empathy) Again, thank you for your feedback. We appreciate your business and promise to do all that we can to make it up to you.

- Signature" 

What You Can Expect

No Response: I should mention that not everyone will reply back to you -- that's just the reality of it. BUT when you leave a public comment, others who check out your Yelp profile will see that and hopefully think, "wow, at least they're trying to make it right."

Response: The majority of people who message back actually want to work through it with you, though there may be a few who are lost causes. If they say, "sorry, what's done is done. bye.," then you simply reply with. "I am sorry to hear you feel that way. However, please feel free to message me if you change your mind. We wish you all the best."

The MOST Important Thing...

is that you actually act on their complaint, meaning that if there is a real complaint regarding service, that it is brought up at the next staff meeting or addressed with management. If the customer really did have an issue with billing, hand it off to get resolved. If more than one person mentions the state of the bathrooms, make sure you revisit your janitorial protocols. Simply answering complaints without follow up action could lead to worse consequences. The companies that use Yelp reviews to strengthen their processes are ones that end up doing better on Yelp in the long run.

[Learn more about customer service through social media here.] 

Bonus: How to Get Reviews Removed

While it is simply untrue that businesses can delete reviews (that's a rumor that has gone around for years), we do have some options in terms of fighting certain reviews that violate Yelp's Content Guidelines. Those violations include:

  • Obscene language
  • Reviews that violate a person's right to privacy, such as photos of other customers - Note that this unfortunately does not pertain to any of your staff if mentioned in a work capacity by name in the review
  • Vague reviews that do not demonstrate a personal experience (such as "This place sucks" and that's it)

On the review, there will be a tiny flag in the bottom right-hand corner. When you click on that, a box pops up and you must select a reason for reporting the content -- most of the time it's for the following:

  • "It doesn't describe a personal experience"
  • "It contains threats, lewdness or hate speech"
  • "It violates Yelp's privacy terms"

The only one they will not accept is "it contains false information." Once selecting the reason, you'll briefly describe why you feel it should be taken down for the reason you selected -- a couple sentences are all you need. From there, Yelp will review and decide if it needs to be taken down. I'd say that 1 out of 5 they'll agree with you if you're doing it correctly. 

Now get on out there and turn those frowns upside down. Or... you know what I mean. 

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About the Author: Samantha Anderson

Samantha Anderson

Samantha is the COO and co-founder of 41 Orange, inc, a marketing agency. She is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, Balboa Park’s resident classical ballet school since 1945. Hailing from the agency world, Sam has worked with Fortune 500 tech, financial, and consumer brands, including Intel, Petco and LPL Financial, to shape their online presence and reach their target audiences more effectively through social media and beyond. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, emphasis in public relations from San Diego State University.