I like Yelp. I’ve used it regularly since 2006 to find a variety of services and businesses – salons, spas, dog walkers, restaurants, bars, manicurists, hair stylists, and so on and so forth. I was even so addicted to it at one point, I became an “Elite” reviewer during a two-year span where I wrote an embarrassing number of reviews on a regular basis. (As my career got busier, my Yelping commitment lagged, and I wasn’t invited to return to Elite status in the following years – so now I’m just a B-list, non-elite Yelp user like the rest of you filthy peons.)
Over time, I’ve come to avoid using Yelp to slam small, local, or independent businesses with one- or two-star reviews. If you don’t think the corner Starbucks made your latte with enough love, or you’ve got a bug up your butt about how infrequently the barista replenishes the half-and-half, that’s one thing. A few negative reviews of a large, nationally branded business won’t have that much of an impact on whether plenty of other people will continue to flock to the green mermaid for their daily Frappucino fix. In those cases, I think it’s fine to Yelp away about that particular location’s flaws, if you’re so inclined (though, I’d suggest you don’t use the review to name the employees you despise unless you want to get someone fired — and let’s be honest, do you need that kind of karma? You know what Justin Timberlake says: What goes around comes around.).
But, let’s say an independent business owner opens up a promising-seeming coffee shop just a few blocks away from your usual Starbucks. You visit, but the place misses the mark entirely – things seem unkempt, the price is extortion-like, the latte is served cold, and they’re out of to-go lids.
Should you use Yelp to slam the place? Should you give it another shot before weighing in with your opinion and your star rating? Should you let the owner know through other means that they haven’t met your expectations, so as not to drive other customers away based on your one-off visit?
This isn’t a hypothetical exercise: A few weeks ago, one of my dogs was due for a grooming. Having just moved back to San Diego after several years living elsewhere around the country, I wasn’t sure which groomer to use. I decided to use an independent, local dog grooming business in my neighborhood that came with a four-star Yelp rating.
Now, when you’re dropping your dog off to have its nails clipped and its fur shaved (and sometimes its anal glands expelled – oh yes, let’s go there), you’re always a little nervous that the person doing the job won’t be gentle or kind – but this particular joint passed Yelp scrutiny, and other customers seemed happy as they picked up their dogs.
When I picked up my dog, however, the groomer let me know she’d cut his ear – something that’s never happened before. Look, I can see how these things can happen, but I was bothered: The dog was upset and shaken; the groomer’s apology was mumbled and barely made; and the owner still charged me full price.
I paid for the grooming (but did not leave a tip – which I normally would have), left, and wondered whether I’d done the right thing by failing to request that she waive the fee. After the dust settled, my first instinct was to post a photo of the cut to Yelp, with a review explaining what had happened.
Would that have been fair? On the one hand, others should know if there’s an incompetent groomer working somewhere, so they can avoid having their own dogs’ ears cut. On the other hand, what if my dog jumped or moved, and the cut couldn’t have been avoided? This was my first and only visit, and it’s an independent and local business. But, I paid significantly more than if I’d gone to the Petco in the neighborhood … and walked out with a pup with a bloody ear.
Although I haven’t posted any photos or reviewed the business yet on Yelp, the owner’s customer service skills (or lack thereof) are convincing me that it would be fair to do so. Even if my dog jumped or wiggled during the grooming (which, by the way, no one claimed was the case) and “caused” the cut, it was the owner’s responsibility to turn on her customer service skills to the max and show me why I should continue to give her business a chance – profuse apologies, direct eye contact, a caring explanation of what happened, and a waived service fee would have done the job. She did none of those.
Two days after the grooming, the owner did leave me a voicemail offering me half off of my next visit. I hadn’t called her to complain or otherwise comment on what had happened (plus one for her for being proactive), but if someone thinks I can be convinced to bring my dog back to a groomer who cut him for a mere 50% discount on my next visit, they’re insane – and that was how she really lost me.
The simple truth is that the owner failed to act quickly, do damage control, and seize her opportunity to save a customer and prevent a negative Yelp review in the heat of the moment – when I was picking up my dog. I think anyone else already would have posted this experience to Yelp, but I guess I still haven’t decided whether to do the review, identify the business, or post the photo. At the very least, I definitely won’t be going back – discount or not.