Love and Hate on Yelp

You can learn a lot by reading reviews on Yelp. While you can learn a little about the menu of a restaurant or the quality of service from a physician’s office, you can learn a lot about the person writing the review. You can learn a lot about our culture as well.

A physician colleague received a one-star review because the receptionist asked for a co-pay when a patient came in for a physical. The patient got angry, left the office and wrote the scathing review, calling the office “Dispicable.”

I received a one-star review from a patient who did not like the advice I gave. It may not have been brilliant, but it wasn’t like I told him to take poison or perform a coffee enema. Looking at one of his other reviews helped me understand. He also gave a one-star review to a strip club. Apparently he was upset at the “no touch” policy. For the first and only time in my life I have something in common with a strip club. In the eyes of this man we are both out of touch.

The Yelp page for a mechanic in town reveals something else about our society. We are a love it or hate it culture. His shop has 139 reviews, all but 7 of which are either 1 star or 5 star reviews. How can this be true? It can’t be. It is close to impossible that his service is always either terrific or terrible, the law of averages dictates that there should be occasions when he is just "okay." The reviews can't all be true. What is true is that we tend to publicly express our opinions in hyperbole, and that we are more concerned with persuading than we are with being completely accurate. When people post reviews it is not about informing a reader, it is about persuading others to join us in our love and hate.

Negative reviews reveal another dark aspect of our culture. We are often more concerned with ourselves than others, more concerned about avenging a perceived slight then we are at being understood. I read several one-star reviews written by people who had not actually utilized the business they were reviewing. A bad interaction with a receptionist, a missed appointment or dislike of a policy led a person to choose to leave the business. Even though their knowledge of the quality of the business was incomplete, they felt comfortable telling the world to stay away.

Perhaps the saddest observation is how disconnected we are. Most of the businesses reviewed on Yelp are small ones. Small businesses are not things, small businesses are people. People struggling to make a living and provide for their families, people who do not have business degrees or PR managers. Many small business owners are learning as they go. Scathing and spiteful reviews written over small misunderstandings reveal a culture in which people do not matter as much as things do. The lack of grace, the refusal to give the benefit of the doubt or to seek reconciliation, and the personal nature of many of the attacks is truly saddening.

Online reviews are here to stay and negative reviews are inevitable. As a businessman I understand that I have no control over what people say about me. Nevertheless I do have control over what I say about others. I can and will make it my goal to be truthful and  accurate in what I say, and as much as possible, to be kind, for my reviews say as much about me as they do about a business.

-          Bart