A couple of years ago, one of my friends who owns a business in California was pretty worked up about two bad reviews her business had received on Yelp*. I can’t remember the details, because it wasn’t MY business, so while I was sympathetic, it didn’t seem like a big deal.
Recently, someone posted a rant on Yelp* that got personal about a local business that is owned by another friend, and now I see the complaint my California friend had. The ‘review’ was a lengthy tirade that attacked specific employees and the business and it wasn’t even true. The owner (let’s call him Sam) was, just like my other friend, beside himself trying to get it removed or covered up by positive reviews. If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know it’s almost impossible to figure out how to contact Yelp*. They only allow email contact–there’s no phone number unless you happen to wander over to the ‘press’ page, where there is a contact number, but they won’t deal with any user questions or support and they redirect callers to email.
Sam emailed Yelp*, explained the review was false and insisted it be removed. Dean–one name only, and that’s his real name– the rep who answered the email, said it was clearly someone’s opinion and he was going to let the review stand.
Did you just see Sam slump into a sad shape of resignation? So did I.
There isn’t even a ‘thumbs down’ or a ‘this review is unhelpful’ box to rate a Yelp* review. There are only three ratings you can choose to rate a review: ‘useful’, ‘funny’, ‘cool’. That is more annoying to me than I have words for. I don’t like what seems to be an unfair balance of power in this review game–a reviewer can be negative, but no one can respond negatively to the review? The only real option a business owner has is to answer the reviewer back. This takes careful crafting, otherwise you dig yourself in deeper. Not every business owner has a PR person, nor can they find the right turn of phrase to address a negative review, leaving them with nothing to do but hope some good reviews push a bad one down. If you can think on your feet, you might be able to turn a bad review to your advantage by being clever like the sandwich shop owner who made a daily special out of the ‘worst meatball sandwich‘ described by a yelping diner. There’s also a very entertaining series of reviews read by actors on YouTube. So maybe Sam can console himself with these ideas and find a way to lighten the load of the negative review.
What I notice when I dip into these reviews, not just on Yelp*, but on Trip Advisor, or Priceline, Google, wherever they are, is that what’s being written is sometimes not even pertinent to the business, and is almost always subjective. Sentiments like the ones expressed by Karen N in her review of Pike Place Chowder abound:
This review is solely for the Dungeness crab roll which really was not good. Lots of loose crab meat mixed in with julienned lettuce which provided some crunch, stuffed into a roll. The crab meat did not have mayo or seasoning in it, which made the whole sandwich kind of blend. The whole was a soft roll. I guess I just prefer the New England style lobster roll, some mayo, some spices, tender chunks of lobster meat inside a crunchy roll. Not this sandwich.
Okay, Karen, WHAT? The sandwich was BLEND? The whole was a soft roll? Karen, my business is in your hands and you can’t even spell or write a coherent sentence. You’re also telling me that what you prefer is the lobster roll. I throw up my hands in despair at you, Karen, I do!
Then there’s her review of Ghirardelli’s:
I knew I shouldn’t have, I knew I should have walked myself over to Starbucks. But I really needed coffee drink asap so I paid $4 for a white chocolate mocha. I walked out, took one zip and dumped it in the trash can right out side. I will never make the mistake again.
But of course, if you are into their free chocolate square samples, or any of their other chocolate specialty stuff, I can’t claim any expertise.
That is right. You cannot claim any expertise, certainly not in grammar, and especially not when you talk about taking one zip. Karen is an elite Yelper. Don’t you hope she will review you someday?
My hope is that readers will apply some decent critical thinking skills, ones that are up to my standards, please, when reading reviews.
People in customer-service related businesses can have a rough time of it day-in and day-out in their face to face world. Thanks to modern times, there is now a widely-available method for 24/7 criticism by anyone with computer access. Play nice, people.
On the same day that Sam is lamenting the injustice of Yelp*, one of my facebook friends posts a long missive about privacy settings, blah blah. I immediately smell a rat, clip some of the text and do a search. Hey presto, it seems to be another facebook misiformation campaign. I contact my friend who is an engineer at facebook (on a Sunday, no less), and he confirms it. This one isn’t as inventive or as hilarious as the copyright one, but it is still, to me, a fairly obvious fake. The aftermath of memes and status updates that appeared after the copyright ruse were very entertaining.
How many of us have gotten an email from Nigeria about cancer and wiring money, or a message from someone we know telling us that they have been stranded in London without money? The ever-shrinking real globe and the ever-growing virtual one means we all need to get ready to be taken for a ride. The same muscle that gives some people the faith to believe in god makes others believe that their friend really is stranded in London, even though they may have just seen them that morning. Scams are as old as time–but we can’t even agree on how much time because some people believe that the earth is 10,000 years old and others have used something called ‘science’ to prove it is 4.5 billion years young.
Yelp* has depressed me because in a very short amount of time I’ve wound all the way around to the fact that people believe what they want to believe, regardless of facts, logic, evidence, or science. (Yes, I am an existentialist.) We can be intractable and gullible at the same time, believing in the wildest things, yet disbelieving the tame or the proven. We are all experts, or so we think, at one time or another. It’s easy for us to see that they other guy is wrong, or doesn’t understand something, but how often to we question ourselves about what we think we know? Maybe you do it all the time, but I don’t. As such an expert evaluator, I will criticize your dentistry or fried banana without any knowledge of teeth, of your craft, or consideration for your challenging circumstances. I will do this subjectively, based on whether I liked the experience or not.
My friend Sam is powerless to affect that negative review, even if he chooses to leave a well-written, non-inflammatory response to the ranter. We are at the mercy of each other’s perceptions all the time; each one of us looks at the world through our own filters of experience, background, and mood at that moment. It is presumptuous of us to think that we can opine about whatever we choose and consider that opinion worthy of public consumption (looking at YOU right now: ME) but many of us don’t think about it. However, if everyone was subject to the same treatment that so many businesses and service providers are, things might be different. What if someone watched you do your job for half an hour and they posted a review online and you had nothing to say about it? That’s what many of these reviews are: an opinion based on a snapshot of an experience. The reviewer then puts that expert opinion out onto the internet using their questionable language skills, probably while they are watching TV or otherwise distracted, maybe with a meatball sandwich. In other words, it’s not a well-informed, well thought out piece, for the most part. So if you read Yelp*, take it with a grain of salt. I’m not saying no one should review anything, but this isn’t the Triangle Fire–there’s no emergency about a bad meatball sandwich or a less-than-perfect crab roll. Just take it easy on each other out there. It’s like my grandma said: If you don’t have anything nice to say…