03.10.20163 min read

Warts and All: Why Small Businesses Should Encourage Customer Ratings and Reviews

Small businesses waste an inordinate amount of time fretting about how to avoid/combat negative customer reviews when they could be leveraging that public feedback -- the good and the bad -- to build their business.

Shane Bryant, founder and owner of HVAC service company Smart Air in Austin, Texas, didn’t seek referral business through Yelp — it found him. A scant two years since Shane launched his company and the first five-star reviews started appearing on the local business ratings and reviews site, more than 70 percent of Smart Air’s leads are directly attributable to Yelp. Shane was a social media skeptic then and wasn’t familiar with Yelp until that initial string of rave reviews prompted the site’s ad sales department to contact him. Even now he’s not an active social media marketer. He’s tried SEO optimization (“$600/month for nothing”) and other local business review sites (“They can be manipulated”). He’s tried a sponsorship in a local radio station’s concert series and a booth in a home and garden show (no lift from either). Nothing so far has performed as well as user-generated content on Yelp—his self-sustaining marketing engine.

 So What’s the Secret?

Having worked at several high-end Austin restaurants (The Four Seasons Hotel, Fonda San Miguel, Jeffrey’s) in a previous incarnation, Shane consciously patterns his service delivery model on their examples of quality, responsiveness, attention to detail and consistency. “A Four Seasons guest can always tell you exactly why they chose to stay there – an exceptional experience every time.” Shane reasons that Yelp reviewers and visitors are members of that same demographic group: Not price-driven, and they recognize and reward great customer experiences – his brand’s sweet spot.

Being honest in this field seems pretty effective. We do a quality job and we’re honorable. Yes, we make mistakes, but how we handle mistakes helps define us.

What’s Next?

Encouraged by his WOM momentum, Shane’s now exploring ways to raise awareness of—and generate more leads for—his new system installation and weatherization services. He's revised his website design and content strategy to better communicate the company’s services portfolio, as well as his vision and values as an Austin-based business engaged in community and environmental issues.

Shane’s Tips for Small Business Success on Yelp

  • Focus on providing an exceptional customer experience, and the reviews will take care of themselves.
  • Don’t try to game the system. Unlike other local ratings and reviews sites, Yelp’s system filters reviews based on factors like previous site participation. Filtered reviews are still available for viewing, but they don’t appear on the main reviews page, and the corresponding ratings are not included in the overall calculation.
  • Invest in training. The customer experience should be the same whether the owner is on site or not.
  • Monitor and learn from your competitors’ reviews.
  • Share your Yelp success stories when speaking with customers. It can lead to interesting new opportunities (like this blog post).


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