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Show Highlights

You’ve been open three months, things are going great, and then it happens — your first bad Yelp review.

Before you start throwing salt all over your center and gearing up to battle internet trolls, listen to this Daily Solutions Podcast where Graham & Ashkahn drop some wisdom on how to respond in the face of often-undue criticism.

It turns out the quickest way to address any negativity online is to reach out like a human, honestly and directly.

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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)

Graham: Welcome back. Today’s question is one that anyone who’s run a float center for probably a month or longer has encountered, which is “How do you handle negative reviews on Yelp?”

Ashkahn: Yeah, so these suck, right?

Graham: Often times, they’re completely undeserved as well. That is part of it. There are negative reviews where you’re like “oh, that person had a bad experience and I should apologize” and there are other ones where you’re not even sure if they even came into your center to float with you.

Ashkahn: They’re really hard to not take personally, too. It just really feels like someone is personally attacking you, like they’re calling you a one-star person.

Graham: Yeah, so it happens to everyone. I guarantee the first time it happens to you, that’s probably the reaction you’ll have is you’ll feel personally attacked and the instinct to fight as hard as you can.

Don’t just go on there and unleash on them and write this huge justification for why your center’s amazing and their one-star review is totally stupid. It’s the equivalent of leaving them a one-star review for their one-star review. So don’t do that.

So what do you do?

Ashkahn: One thing that we’ve done pretty successfully over the years is reaching out to them in private on Yelp.

Graham: Yep, exactly. And I should say this is a question about Yelp, but it goes for any of the sites out there, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google. I think Yelp tends to be one of the more frustrating ones, because they actively filter out reviews they think are fake, and so you end up sometimes with these really nice five-star reviews that get filtered out, and then these occasional one-star complaints that come in.

It’s really easy to look at those and feel this kind of resentment bubble up towards the Yelp algorithm. A lot of the raging that I hear go on specifically is about Yelp, and I think related to that, but it could happen anywhere.

One of the things they actually advise, if you just follow the procedures that Yelp tells you to do, they’ll say don’t just launch into doing a public argument with someone. Write them a nice letter, and they’ll say specifically “nice.” Don’t argue with them. See what you can do to have made things better, to make things better going forward.

They also say to keep it short, which is absolutely not what I personally do. Our strategy, and we’ve had a lot of these changed too, we’ve gotten reviews deleted, we’ve gotten one-stars changed to five-stars. I’ve gotten four-star reviews changed to five-star reviews.

What I do for anything that’s under three stars is I will max out the character count on Yelp responding. I use my own kind of patented PS method of writing letters, which is I write a very short letter at the beginning and put my signature, and then the bulk of the content goes in this giant PS down below. It’s because I don’t want to argue with people, but I do want to explain how our shop works and that we’re fixing things and all the details that they might not be aware of.

So for me, when I’m responding what I do is I write this short message that says, “Hey, I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience.” If it’s something where they obviously should get a free float or deserve a partial refund or something like that, I’ll let them know that we’re happy to extend that their way, and basically nothing but generous and admitting fault.

Then I sign my name and I say, “PS.” Then I’ll write five paragraphs about what we do and how we’re actively trying to stop this problem, or thanking them for their feedback and letting them know that yes, we will be adding in more soundproofing in the future or no, that employee that was shrieking the entire time in the lobby at her boyfriend is getting fired, or whatever it is that they were complaining about. So that’s kind of my own method of responding to them.

Ashkahn: Another thing that seems to kind of connect with people, or people seem to understand, is sometimes they’ll come in and they might have a bad experience with something in our lobby or something like that, but their float was really enjoyable and they really liked floating.

And we’ll just tell them that. We’ll be like, “Listen, people look at these reviews and they’re often judging what it’s like to float based off of them, and we just want you to be aware of that and that people look at these, and it seems like you had a really good float and maybe you had some issues with our general hangout lobby area, but maybe would you consider changing your view to reflect more what your float experience was like or just to kind of lead people more to that path.”

And people seem to connect with that. They’ll be like, “You’re right, the float itself was really great, and I don’t want to discourage people from actually floating.”

Graham: Yeah, or conversely too, some people just have weird floats. It happens, you know? You get into the float and it doesn’t take, or you’re in and out of it, and it was just sort of a weird experience. Anyone who’s floated dozens of times has had at least one float that’s kind of like that and was just sort of a weird one. If that was your first experience, you might not have had the best time. Likewise, we’ll respond to those. Oftentimes, those are like the three-star reviews, where it’s like, “Hey, all the staff was really nice, the place is really clean, I just don’t think this is for me.” Or “I had a really weird experience in the tank.” Or whatever it is.

Same kind of tactic. We can email them and be like, “Hey, it seems like your own personal experience wasn’t that great, but since the facilities were clean and everything’s nice, and other people say that they’ve had really nice experiences in the tank, is there a chance that this was you and not our business, and do you think that people reading this might get the impression that we’ve done something wrong as a result of you just kind of having a weird tank experience?” And people are really receptive to that too.

It’s actually amazing how much these faceless criticizers who exist out there in Internetland, as soon as you start talking to them like a human being and it becomes obvious that you are in fact a human being who’s passionate about your business and who’s spent a lot of their own time and love building up this center, they’re totally reasonable back, and we get really nice responses to what started out as incredibly vicious reviews sometimes.

Ashkahn: Yeah, and at the end of the day don’t try to let it not eat you alive. Again, it can be kind of all-consuming. You’re not going to get everybody to change their reviews or sometimes even respond to you, but as you grow those become smaller drops in the bucket, and it’s not the end of the world.

Graham: No matter how much it feels sometimes like it is, also know that people reading online reviews understand what trolls are. Everyone knows what an internet troll is, and everyone knows that people go on and leave really extreme bad reviews, just like they do really positive reviews. If you read two five-star reviews in the midst of 50 one- and two-star reviews, you probably don’t think that restaurant’s amazing.

And in a similar fashion, if you read one or two one- or two-star reviews amidst 50 five- and four-star reviews, you probably think that it’s the fault of those people, not the business, so even the population that’s going and reading these as they’re judging whether or not to give you money is probably more forgiving than you think they are.

Ashkahn: Cool. Excellent. Good question.

Graham: And as we always say, see you tomorrow.

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