Ask the Experts

Ask the experts: Checked your online reviews lately?

CorrespondentMarch 11, 2013 

Cupcrazed Cakery owner Heather McDonnell.

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Whether they’re complaining that the red velvet cupcakes aren’t red enough or complimenting the cleanliness of the men’s bathroom, customers have plenty to say on Yelp, Cupcrazed Cakery owner Heather McDonnell has found.

The popular social networking site allows customers to rate businesses – usually restaurants – and leave lengthy comments.

While large chains and corporations likely worry less about online customer opinions, internet reviews – on Yelp in particular – can make a difference for small businesses, entrepreneurs say. That’s why McDonnell maintains an active presence on Yelp and frequently responds to positive and negative comments.

McDonnell, whose cupcakery is in Fort Mill, S.C., said she often uses Yelp to scout out businesses when she travels. “I love Yelp,” she said, “but as a business owner you have to use it the right way.”

That means carefully choosing which comments to respond to and keeping control of the tone of the response.

Yelp reviews and responses are not private conversations, said Randy Mitchell, coach at The Entrepreneur’s Source in Matthews.

“When they write a response, they are not responding to that reviewer,” Mitchell said. “They are writing something for everybody to read, possibly for years to come.”

Customer reviews come in several different forms. Some praise the business. Others comment negatively on a single experience, while others criticize an aspect of the business that is not related to the business’ purpose.

Many business owners don’t have time to respond to every comment, nor should they, Mitchell said. When replying to select negative reviews, he recommends that business owners make sure their tone is not defensive or petty.

In response to a Yelp reviewer who described the cupcakes as “very dry and heavy,” McDonnell wrote: “Sorry you feel that way. What cupcakes did you try? Details help us improve! Thanks!”

Offering a quick response to positive reviews can show potential customers that the business is engaged with and appreciative of its customers.

McDonnell has replied to positive reviews with a “thanks” and sometimes offers more details about her business.

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