Let me start by saying I am a HUGE believer in customer reviews. I strongly believe customer feedback improves businesses and helps to create better experiences for customers. I had the great fortune of being an early employee of Bazaarvoice, the company that brought product reviews to Walmart, Best Buy, Sephora, and hundreds of other sites. I watched first-hand how reviews improve products and help the best services thrive through word-of-mouth.
I also believe customers deserve a response if they’ve posted about a bad experience, which is why I have responded to every negative review written of Robin since we started. I will continue to respond to our customers’ reviews on Facebook, Google, Thumbtack and other online review sites.
However, I won’t be responding to reviews on Yelp anymore and here’s why:
Yelp prevents us from getting reviews from customers
Review volume is critical to producing an accurate rating and providing credibility. Without a healthy number of reviews, the ratings tend to skew extremely negative and don’t accurately reflect the average customer’s experience.
Why? Because most of us are too busy to write reviews! As a customer, when we receive a satisfactory service we don’t think “I should take 5 minutes to go review that company.” We’re too busy working, raising kids, and trying to enjoy our limited free time. We don’t choose to spend that free time writing reviews of our lawn care service.
Don’t believe it? Ask the next 5 people you see whether they’ve ever reviewed a lawn service, an oil change shop, or an HVAC repair company. The answer is almost undoubtedly no…unless they had a bad experience, in which case they might have been frustrated enough to use their limited time to write a negative review.
The Yelp ratings for Uber and Lyft are great examples of this bias. These two companies have built a customer experience so phenomenal that people rave about the service to friends, family, and coworkers. It was this positive word-of-mouth that turned both into billion-dollar businesses faster than just about any company in history. Yet, when you look at their Yelp ratings you would think these two companies provide a truly awful experience:
Like any company, they’re not perfect and can’t provide a perfect service every time, but in reading their reviews on Yelp you’d think over 50% of their customers have a negative experience. That’s obviously not the case. Their Yelp reviews are primarily from the people who are angry enough to seek out Yelp and take the time to write a review. Many of those people are rightly frustrated by a poor experience, but the silent majority of customers that got from Point A to Point B safely don’t stop and say “Let me go review this experience on Yelp…” even though this experience is an AMAZING upgrade over taxis.
There is an incredibly easy fix to this bias—you just ask your customers to write a review! By sharing their experience (whether good or bad!) they will be helping other people make good choices. Just requesting customers leave you their unbiased review is enough to generate a 10x increase in review volume. If you ask your customers nicely they’re happy to do it…
…except this is a violation of Yelp’s terms of service and could lead to your page being labeled as “manipulating” reviews. We learned this when Yelp asked us to stop encouraging our customers to write reviews, and this is the reason you’ll see a large volume of reviews for Robin in the early days but very few recently.
If you look at our reviews you’ll see a clear point when we stopped asking customers to “Visit our Yelp Reviews.” Prior to that point, our average rating was pretty reflective of our business (4.3 stars) and we received a steady volume of reviews from our customers. They weren’t all positive and we responded to every 3-star or lower review. However, since we stopped encouraging customers to visit Yelp, the volume of reviews dropped dramatically and almost every review we’ve received has been 1-star due to this negative bias.
Our Yelp rating no longer accurately reflects our customer experience, unfortunately, and is misleading to potential customers. Contrast our rating on Yelp with our ratings on Facebook, Google, and Thumbtack. Sure, we receive some negative feedback but the voices of our satisfied customers are heard as well.
Yelp’s anonymous reviewers prevents adequate responses
Nobody likes receiving negative reviews but many consumers angry enough to seek out Yelp have legitimate concerns. As a business owner, I feel it’s my duty to respond to those concerns. If you look at our early Yelp history, you’ll see I did my best to respond to every negative review. However, because Yelp allows and even encourages anonymity, I often couldn’t figure out which customer had written the review (or whether it was even a real customer) This made it nearly impossible for me to address the customer’s concern or to provide an explanation, so I was forced to write generic responses.
Contrast Yelp’s anonymous approach with that of Facebook and Google reviews, both of which require a single, real identity to post a review. When a customer posts to these other review sites, we can identify the customer and investigate what happened. I can then resolve the customer’s issue or at a minimum explain what happened. With Yelp, I often wonder if it’s a competitor posting under an alias because I can’t find the customer’s account in our system.
This lack of transparency makes it nearly impossible to adequately address reviews. It means legitimate customers are not getting their issues resolved and fake reviews from competitors make their way onto your page.
(Now Yelp will probably say that doesn’t happen, and I think they genuinely try to prevent it with their algorithm, but the algorithm is also pretty easy to manipulate. If you ever look at the bottom of a page on Yelp, you’ll see some gray text that says “other reviews that are not recommended.” These are the reviews that Yelp has removed. If you click that link you can actually read the reviews that Yelp’s algorithm determined were not valuable. Pretty quickly you realize the algorithm tends to focus on 1) how many reviews the person has written, 2) whether they have ‘friends’ connected on Yelp, and 3) the length of the review with preference given to more text. It’s too easy to game this system, both for competitors or for businesses posting fake positive reviews. We refuse to follow that path but the reality is, not everyone follows the rules.)
Based on the fact Yelp’s rating doesn’t accurately reflect our customers’ experiences and because we can’t respond to real customer concerns due to anonymity, we have made the decision to no longer respond to reviews on Yelp. I will continue responding to reviews on other major review platforms and I will always respond to private feedback from our customers, but reviews on Yelp will be directed to this post and our other review profiles.
If at some point Yelp allows business owners to ask customers for reviews and requires real names from reviewers, I will be more than happy to respond again. In the meantime, I’d invite you to visit our pages on Facebook, Google, Thumbtack, etc. to see what our customers think of Robin. We’re not perfect and receive our share of 1-stars as well, but much like Uber and Lyft, we wouldn’t be growing this quickly if we didn’t deliver a quality customer experience most of the time. Our aim is to continue improving that experience and we appreciate customer feedback that helps us get there.
– Justin Crandall, CEO and co-Founder of Robin