The user-submitted restaurant and small business review site Yelp has been the subject of some pretty hot debates over its policies as its influence in local markets from San Francisco to New York has grown. Now it seems they have softened their stance on one issue: letting business owners respond to their reviews in public comments. When I interviewed Steve Kaufer, founder of the larger—and profitable—travel review site TripAdvisor, he explained why it's a good idea to let owners continue the conversation:
"Hoteliers don't like it when the one oddball writes a scathing review—this person was inebriated, they thought we were on the beach, but it clearly states on the website that we're 3 blocks away from the beach. So if someone complains about how terrible the pool was, and the restaurant was closed, the hotelier can respond: the pool was undergoing renovation and the kitchen was closed we had a sign on our website but it's all fixed now or whatever the facts actually are."
This is a smart move for Yelp—-not only does it get them some positive publicity, but it will lead to business owners spending more time on the site. Smart businesses realize that complaints are, as Kaufer says, "free customer research," and responding to them openly and honestly is a good way to win more customers.
Yelp founders Russel Simmons, left, and Jeremy Stoppelman, with Darwin | photograph by Dan Escobar