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Spa owners share mishaps that led to unhappy Yelp reviews, and how they turned the negative into a positive for their business.
An old marketing axiom warns: If you have a happy client, they tell three friends. If you have an unhappy client, they tell 10. In this social media age, if that unhappy client posts a single Yelp review, those 10 friends can quickly turn into an infinite number of Internet gripers.

The power of Yelp in garnering new clients is undeniable. According to Ryan Dohrn, founder of consulting company Brain Swell Media, Yelp ranks very highly in Google search results, with Yelp frequently popping up at the top of the page.

Online reviews can serve as an excellent avenue for marketing. A good one is vital to garnering new clients, reports Karyn Lee, spa and marketing director of Dtox Day Spa in Los Feliz, California. On the flip side, a bad one can stop them from even considering visiting your establishment.

So what can you do if you come across a less-than-favorable Yelp review of your business? Four owners walk us through how they turned angry clients into repeat customers.

By Carrie Borzillo

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Review Response Protocol: “I respond to everyone both online and privately by contacting the customer directly to let them know they are lifeblood of my business and that I care about them. They key is to never get combative, make excuses or get defensive. Just admit you screwed up, let them know you care and make it right,” says Bruce Schoenberg, president of Oasis Day Spas, with locations in New York City and Westchester, N.Y.

Client Complaint: A client complained about the noisy construction in the neighboring building, and despite receiving a 15% discount at checkout, he was still peeved enough to post a negative review.

Owner’s Yelp Response: “I am so sorry about your experience being impacted by the construction, which we had no prior knowledge of. We reamed out our landlord this morning and they promised this would never happen again—but that doesn’t help you. Please get back to me so I can have you and your girlfriend back for a complimentary service. You have visited us enough times before to know this was not how we do business. I hope you will forgive us and come back again,” wrote Schoenberg.

Owner’s Personal Response:
“I called the client the next day, apologized and explained that we had no idea about the construction beforehand,” says Schoenberg. “We comped him and his girlfriend with 30-minute massages.”

Outcome: The client and his girlfriend came in for their free massages and have since come back again.

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Review Response Protocol: “We will privately connect with the dissatisfied client via phone or email, listen to what they say about their negative experience, pinpoint what they felt was missing, and ask how we could have altered their experience to meet their expectations. Our philosophy is to let the client know we heard them and to go above and beyond our own standards to meet theirs,” says Dtox Day Spa’s spa and marketing director Karyn Lee.

Client Complaint: A client purchased a gift card for his wife on Dtox’s website, but his card was accidentally overcharged. The bank was unable to rectify the error for days.

Owner’s Personal Response:
“We sent the client a follow-up email asking for the opportunity to create a better experience” says Lee. “The email stated that we were very apologetic about his less-than-excellent experience with our customer service. We offered a refund for his wife’s massage service, and also let the gift card remain active in case either of them wanted to return to the spa.”

Outcome: The clients came in for a couples’ massage and edited their Yelp review to say they were satisfied.

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Review Response Protocol: “It’s important that we let our guests know they are heard. If a guest posts a review of a negative experience, I want them to know what we are doing to make it right so that hopefully they will give us the opportunity to serve them again,” says Amanda Manwaring, spa manager at Spa Gregorie’s, with several locations in southern California.

Client Complaint: A client was overcharged for their treatment due to a clerical error.

Owner’s Online Response: “I am extremely disappointed to hear of your experience with our front desk upon checkout. Upon reading your review, I immediately researched the issue and spoke directly with the coordinator who made the error. This is an extremely unfortunate and rare situation. We can imagine the frustration this must have caused you and that is not the experience you should have after a relaxing treatment. Most importantly, we want to make sure the charge was reversed. I would love to have the opportunity to discuss this with you further and options for moving forward. You may reach me directly,” wrote Manwaring, who also gave the client her phone number.

Owner’s Personal Response: “I called the client and let her know the exact date she could expect a refund and the steps that we put in place to ensure it didn’t happen again,” says Manwaring. “I mailed her hand-written card, gift certificate and some aromatherapy products.

Outcome: The unhappy client was satisfied, and updated her review to say: “I will give this spa a second chance based on their customer service alone.”

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Review Response Protocol: “We set up emergency alerts so we can reply quickly. In our reply, we don’t make excuses. We let them know that we have clearly heard and listened to them. And then we offer a solution and provide them with our personal contact information and invite them to contact us for a resolution that works for them,” explains Scott Kerschbaumer, co-owner of multiple spa locations operating as ESSpa Kozmetika, Spa 101 and Delray Day Spa throughout Pennsylvania.

Client Complaint: A client received a gift card from an event he attended and didn’t read the fine print on the back that said it was for new clients only. When he visited the spa with his daughters and tried to redeem the gift card, he wasn’t allowed to.

Owner’s Yelp Response: “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am terribly sorry that your $40 first-time gift card was not honored when you visited us. As I completely guarantee all of my services, I would like to invite you (and your daughters) to be my guests for a complimentary treatment. Please call me at directly if you have any questions. Thank you again for sharing your experience with me and I hope to see you in the future,” wrote co-owner Eva Kerschbaumer.

Outcome: The client then replied to ESSpa’s response and acknowledged it wasn’t the spa’s fault, but the event organizers’ for presenting the card in a “tricky” way. He agreed to give the spa a second chance.

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