Fighting Yelp

As a business owner, I know all too well how Yelp (and other online review sites) can be a double-edged sword. Yes, many clients have found me through Yelp, which is great. Unfortunately, reviews tend to disappear if they are not written by those who post frequently. So far, I haven't had any disgruntled clients that felt the need to complain, and I'm hoping that this never happens. Still, you can't make everyone happy (although I try.) At some point, I suppose it is inevitable that I am due for some (hopefully) constructive criticism. I often find myself falling into the abyss of online reviews. It starts with a search for a restaurant, and then I get sucked in. Before you know it, I'm perusing reviews on gas station chains, or something similarly fascinating. Lately, I seem to be finding a lot of responses from business owners toward negative reviews, and it leaves me to wonder: if I ever do get a negative review, is rebuttal the answer?

I recently read a review of an acupuncturist (not to be named) that was scathing. The client had some awful things to say, and this rant was following by a response from the acupuncturist. Okay, shame on me for falling prey to a stereotype, but I do find most holistic health practitioners to be non-confrontational, perhaps even a bit passive-aggressive. I know, I shouldn't pre-judge people, especially since I should know better than anyone that we don't fit into neat little molds of vegan tree-worshipers. Still, you don't see much aggression coming from the alternative health fields. So, I was quite surprised to read the response of the acupuncturist, which was just so...volatile. She ranted on and on about the poor behavior of the client, and her overly-defensive reaction seemed to simply reaffirm all of the criticism of the review.

Now, I don't know this particular acupuncturist, nor do I know the reviewer. But from the standpoint of the average Yelp reader, I was more turned off by the response than the review. Reading the initial comments without the rebuttal, I would have thought that perhaps the acupuncturist was maybe having an "off" day. Or that maybe the client was overly sensitive and vindictive. But after I read what the acupuncturist had to say, I realize that if I had been in the market for someone new...I would have steered clear.

I can understand how it is difficult to let things go. I know that I would be extremely upset to find that a client felt such animosity toward me, and being who I am, I would dwell. Still, as business owners we need to realize that a strong defensive position often creates a sense that we know we have failed. Isn't it better to admit a mistake, try to learn from it, and to move on? We're all human, and I find it admirable when someone can take criticism and glean some sort of lesson from it, rather than trying to one-up the critic with insults. Even if it is difficult to refrain from a position of self-preservation...it's draining. And a bit childish. Unfortunately, small business owners need to remember that these online confrontations can be seen by the world, and once they are on the internet...they are here to stay.