A little yelp, please?

In an era where means and modes of communication and socialization seem to multiply every week, I’ve generally been impressed with the way Miss Manners has adapted her typically staid approach to etiquette to accommodate questions about facebook, texting, etc.  So I was particularly interested to read the following letter which (though names are mentioned only indirectly) refers to http://www.yelp.com, the community reviewing site (where, as it happens, I’m also fairly active):

Dear Miss Manners: It is in desperation I turn to you to teach proper etiquette to the 20-plus crowd for dealing with problems they have with businesses they patronize. I refer to the all-too-common practice of leaving the place in a huff, rushing to the computer, and yelping about the experience over the Internet. The resulting scathing reviews sharply cut into the business’ customers and revenues. The damage can be severe. Loyal and appreciative customers can do nothing to repair the victim’s reputation.

One extremely popular Web site makes all its money by charging businesses $300 a month both to select which reviews come first on its site and to answer the charges of the negative reviewer. There are reports that businesses who refuse to pay find the good reviews vanishing from their sites and bad reviews taking their place.

I, personally, am horrified by the bad reviews I see. The highly respected ob-gyn who successfully steered me through an extremely difficult twin pregnancy was given a one-star review by someone who visited his office once.

She announced to him she had decided not to have children. He engaged her in what he thought was harmless banter. She flounced out and gave him a scathing review. He lost patients. I just related this story to strangers at a coffee shop, and they immediately knew who the doctor was and were amazed that he had a bad review from anyone!

Professional restaurant critics visit restaurants several times with friends before they write their review. While not every review is glowing, all reviews give credit to the business for knowing its trade.

People who expect and deserve good service from the business they patronize politely bring any shortcomings to the attention of the owner/manager and give them a chance to rectify the situation.

Gentle Reader: Since your one example is on behalf of your doctor, Miss Manners will assume that you do not have a professional interest in suppressing complaints. But is she mistaken in detecting an edge against all who use this method of making their grievances heard?

She does agree that dissatisfied customers and clients should first complain calmly to the person or business itself. Reputable people have thanked her for doing so, always saying how much they prefer the chance to make amends instead of losing patronage without knowing why.

But not every person or company is conscientious— or even reachable. Reviews have been a much-needed outlet for those who have been given the Your-Call-Is- Important-to-Us runaround.

Besides, such sites contain recommendations as well as complaints. Why don’t you write one for your doctor? Although Miss Manners considers it injudicious, at best, to banter with a patient over an important issue, she might be swayed by strong evidence of professional competence.

Those of us who use these sites have all seen this–restaurants with mostly 4-star reviews, whose averages are dragged down by one or two one-star-but-I-would-give-no-stars-if-I-could rants.  But the beauty of these sites is that the reviews don’t just give a score–they tell a story.  When I’m cruising through in search of a hotel, restaurant, or salon, I don’t just look at the score.  I read the reviews to find out where the strengths and weaknesses were, and decide if that’s something I’m worried about, or not.

Further…one bad review in a slew of average-to-good ones isn’t going to impact my decision much.  Reading and comparing makes it pretty easy to tell when a bad experience was a one-off, or even if the reviewer’s just a nutjob.  Five or more poor reviews–well, at that point I don’t even care too much what the place does to rectify problems, because it’s apparent that they’re just not doing that hot of a job in the first place.

This writer declares, basically, that there’s extortion going on between victimized businesses and slanderous review sites.  You never know what’s going on behind the scenes, I guess, but I wasn’t scandalized, or even really surprised, by anything I read on Yelp’s guide for business owners.  In my own experience, positive and thoughtful reviews are encouraged, while rants without basis or direction are unlikely to earn the coveted “Review of the Day,” or help their writers toward “Elite” status.  This is supported by a chart illustrating the distribution of reviews at the link above.

The writer also claims there’s “nothing” loyal customers can do to reverse the damage of bad reviews, a complaint Miss Manners deftly dispatches–write your own good review!

To return to the original question, though, what do you think?  I agree that if there are problems with service, the healthy and mature thing to do is bring it to the attention of management, and allow them to try to fix it.  On the other hand, if a review accurately reflects what a disappointed customer experienced, well, why shouldn’t they post it?

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3 responses to “A little yelp, please?

  1. I agree that it’s quite easy to distinguish helpful Yelp reviews vs. unhelpful ones.

    On the point of whether to ask management to rectify a problem or just complain about it, of course it’s better to talk to someone about it, although I may have recently broken that rule. We had been to a particular restaurant 5+ times and although the food is good, the service is always terrible. I felt OK writing a just-average review, though, because it was a consistent problem. Also, it’s difficult to politely inform the business about that… “Every time we’ve been here, the service is terrible. Can you fix it?” Hmm.

  2. An example of a terrible review that you automatically know to ignore: John S.’s here. http://www.yelp.com/biz/chocolatier-the-inc-bloomington#hrid:cx6ffQ2dxOx8DzEgWfTf6w

  3. haha, thanks for the classic example, Sarah!

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