How many of you are depending on Yelp for advice before you decide to go to a restaurant, hire a service contractor or visit a new clinic? The concept is excellent and the Yelp slogan sounds so promising: “Real People, Real Reviews.” Dallas Maids has been on Yelp for three years now so we’ve learned a thing or two about how a good concept can get twisted and even hurt small businesses.
Now, don’t get us wrong; we’re happy with our star rating and the real reviews from happy clients that we have earned through hard work and high standards but our relationship with Yelp has been a roller coaster ride and we are not alone. We put on our detective hats and did some digging, you’ll be amazed at what we found! Did you know that Harvard Business School recently published the findings of a study showing that 20% of the reviews on Yelp are fake? The modern day adage of “you can’t believe everything you read online” really rings true! We hope that after reading this you might change your mind about the reliability of review sites for evaluating small businesses. We’ll share our story first.
Dallas Maids Yelp Story – Fake People, Fake Reviews
Dallas Maids got hit with our first fake review on Yelp in 2011, it was unnerving! A woman posted a scathing review to the Dallas Maids Yelp profile page but she had our basic company details wrong. Even so, we quickly checked our records, we had never provided service for anyone matching the reviewer’s description. She listed a price for service that we have never quoted to anyone. Had she mistaken us for another company? Was this a smear campaign by one of our competitors? We quickly sent the reviewer a private message but received no response. Now what?
We posted a public response, hoping the reviewer would see that and defend or remove their review. The person did respond, argued that indeed we did provide service and it was terrible. We were puzzled until we looked at her review history. One other maid service got a bad review from her in the same week and a third service (a competitor) got a glowing 5 star review. Fishy much? We contacted Yelp but there was “nothing they could do” (besides try and sell us ad space.)
Since then we’ve received several more fake negative reviews, some phony reviewers removed their reviews after we pointed out in public comments how obviously fake they were. Still, at the end of the day we aren’t worried about it because….
Why Dallas Maids Chuckles at Fake Yelp Reviews
There is a reason we are number one in Dallas and it has nothing to do with Yelp: At Dallas Maids we are as meticulous about customer service as we are with our cleaning. We have a multi-layer follow-up process to ensure that every customer is a happy customer, every time. It would be very difficult for an unsatisfied client to slip through the cracks, check out our quality control process:
- Satisfaction Reporting Onsite: Our housekeepers are trained to report any issues at the jobsite immediately to the office, if a client complains to a housekeeper our office is notified so that we can contact the client immediately. Can’t see your face in the floor yet? Our office team will have the cleaners go over it again until you are happy. We take our 100% satisfaction guarantee very seriously!
- Follow Up Phone Calls: We call after every service to see how the cleaners did. Not only to make sure that the client is satisfied but also to keep track of the performance of our cleaning teams. Housekeepers that receive negative feedback get additional training and/or may be placed on probation; we run a tight ship! If we can’t get a hold of a client the first time we leave a message, make a note in our system and call back.
- Follow Up Email: We thank every client for using our service via email and we ask clients for feedback on their cleaning. We realize that some clients prefer email communication and this is just one more safety net we put in place for quality control.
- Ongoing Quality Checks: For our regular clients we check in at regular intervals via phone calls and email. “How are we doing?” and “Is there something more we can be doing for you?” This is important to keep our regulars satisfied for the long haul. We are constantly tweaking and adjusting their service to meet changing needs.
Now you can see how improbable it would be for an unsatisfied client to resort to a negative Yelp review after all of those levels of quality checks. Still, we receive an average of one fake negative review a month. If our competitors focused more on improving their own quality of service and less on trying to game the Yelp system they would probably grow their business quicker but we’re too busy cleaning to give it much thought.
When a Good Concept Goes Bad
The problem with Yelp as we see it is that there is no official line of recourse at the moment for business owners who are being victimized by competitors on Yelp. The Yelp team is focused on selling ad space and any complaints fall on deaf ears. The site’s review policies are skewed in favor of consumers which makes sense at a glance but considering the huge effect that Yelp ratings can have on a company’s revenue and success there should be more accountability from both Yelp and consumers. This is something that can have repercussions even on local economies and the job market, it’s serious business but Yelp reviews are often times far from serious.
A good example: a woman reviewed a local restaurant, in her review she says that both the food and the service were excellent. Do you want to take a guess then as to why she gave that restaurant a one star review? She has a milk allergy and there was nothing on the dessert menu that she could eat with her dietary restriction. We can hope than anyone reading that review will agree that this is unfair to the business and that the review wouldn’t influence the reader to not go to the restaurant BUT the impact goes beyond that.
That one star review gets factored into the “star rating” for the business and a lower star rating means that the restaurant may now show up lower in the list when someone searches for restaurants in their area on Yelp. That is lost revenue for a small business over something that is pretty ridiculous. Not to mention how reviews like that one and fake negative (and positive!) reviews all contribute to a muddied picture for the consumer who is looking for a reputable local business.
A Call for Change: How Yelp Could Live Up to Its Potential
Yelp is not only failing small businesses, it’s failing consumers too by not making the effort to provide the best possible information about local businesses. Bad information leads to bad buying decisions and bad customer experience. So what can be done? A little accountability goes a long way.
Yelp needs to have an open line of communication with small businesses, needs to encourage reviewer responsibility and limit the ability of careless reviewers to unfairly wreak havoc on a company’s bottom line. What kind of a consumer review site gives consumers the option to vote a review as “funny”? One that isn’t taking serious business seriously.
Want more information? Check out the resources we found on the subject:
Think Yelp is Unbiased? Think Again!! – Article on Forbes
Yelp admits a quarter of submitted reviews could be fake – Article by the BBC
Why does Yelp hide reviews? – Washington Post video special addresses accusations of extortion by Yelp
Ratings Sites Like Yelp and Angie’s List in the Hot Seat – Article by ABC News, what Consumer Reports thinks of Yelp
Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0 – Case Studies
Is Yelp Fair to Businesses? – PC World on an earlier study by Harvard Business School