2011 July: Man on the Street

When I was first asked to write a column for Pizza Today from my perspective as a professional pizza consumer, I polled my favorite pizzerias to find out what irked them the most about relating to their clientele. The responses were instant, uniform and came in the form of a four-letter word: Y-E-L-P.

Review sites like Yelp offer invaluable guidance to pizza consumers, such as myself, by presenting advice and recommendations from peers. As helpful as they are to me, I completely understand how reading these public forums would frustrate you as a business owner. Most of your reviews are probably shining recommendations from your long-time customers — but the occasional negative review can really ruin your day. Negative comments tend to be extremely negative and seldom give context for bad experiences. Sometimes users even complain about problems that could have easily been fixed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pick up a phone after an hour of waiting for two large pies and a bottle of soda rather than post about it online? People tend to use their mobile phones for everything but having verbal conversations, so don’t count on getting a call from the customer who placed her order online and anticipates minimal interaction with the delivery driver.

If you think ignoring Yelp and other review sites is the best solution, you’re missing out on a great opportunity. Your customers have been telling their friends and families about the time they found a hair in their pizza for years, but you never had the chance to eavesdrop on their complaints like you do now. Think about how powerful it could be if you were somehow able to convert disgruntled customers into an army of loyal fans. Sites like Yelp give businesses the opportunity to respond either publicly or privately to their reviews. A well-worded note responding to a negative review shows the public how much you care about your product. I’ve read dozens of success stories about how nasty reviewers have become dedicated customers after interacting with business owners online. If you take the time to check in with the online chatter, it shows your customers that you care and want to give them the best experience possible.

Don’t forget that these reviewers are not the enemy — they are your customers. If they’re unhappy with something, you can choose to fix the problem. Maybe that pizza really did take an hour and a half to deliver. Maybe the cheese really was stuck to the roof of the box. A pizzeria owner in Queens recently told me that he is planning to add box toppers that say, “If you love us, Yelp us — if you don’t, give us a call” to give customers an option to correct their problems before they fall into public view. I think it’s a great way to keep reviews positive while improving quality control.

Whether you like it or not, there’s a conversation happening about your pizzeria and you can either ignore it or become part of it. Think of online review sites as tools rather than obstacles and you’ll quickly learn that they can provide far more help than harm.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.

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