A customer Yelps; a small business owner helps

Big Bottom Market had a big Yelp problem.

When a customer wasn't happy with the service he received when he was trying to buy hand soap at the Guerneville, Calif. store, he turned to Yelp, the customer review website, and gave it a nasty evaluation.

It was the store's first negative review on Yelp. The shop, which sells sandwiches, salads, locally produced wines, chocolates and household products, had only been open for two months. Big Bottom Market's owner, Michael Volpatt, didn't want an angry customer and he certainly didn't want the bad online publicity.

"This one zinger made a difference," Volpatt says.

He's right. A negative online review can push customers away. Especially in a resort town like Guerneville where many of the customers are San Franciscans on a weekend getaway and are searching online for nearby eats.

But angry customers can be won back — if the business responds. When those customers vent on social media sites, where their experience can be read by others, businesses should reach out.

"It's not about what you do, it's the fact that you do something," says Nelly Yusupova, founder of TechSpeakForEntrepreneurs.com, which teaches business owners how to use technology. "Just having somebody's problem addressed is enough to make a positive experience."

Volpatt contacted the reviewer who lives in San Francisco, a nearly two-hour drive away. Volpatt offered to ship the soap, which is made by Los Angeles-based Further Products from recycled restaurant cooking oil, to him. But the customer didn't follow through. Volpatt was persistent. He contacted the customer again and told him that he would be in San Francisco and offered to drop the soap off at his house. The customer, Scott Gessford, agreed.

Volpatt drove up to Gessford's house, rolled down his window and gave him the soap. Gessford paid him $12.50.

"I told him that I'm really sorry that it happened," says Volpatt. "And I asked him for one favor. I asked him to make sure people knew about what we did."

Gessford agreed. He went back on Yelp and revised his review to five stars, the highest rating on the website.

"It's pretty rare that people will take accountability," says Gessford. "I was really impressed."

Volpatt's move paid off. Business owners should ask customers to revise their reviews when their problem is addressed. "Oftentimes people don't know they could do that," says Yusupova.

Gessford still stops by the shop when he's in town. "If he didn't do this I would have never gone back there," he says.

Volpatt regularly monitors Yelp for any cranky customers. He also thanks shoppers that give the market high marks. Big Bottom Market currently has a near perfect average rating of four-and-a-half stars on the site.

"I'm not a big fan of Yelp," says Volpatt. "But it's one of those necessarily evils."

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Joseph Pisani can be reached at https://twitter.com/josephpisani

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