Botto Bistro vs. Yelp


This week’s news has been full of stories about San Francisco-based pizzeria Botto Bistro and its quest to become the worst-rated SF bistro on Yelp, the massively popular consumer ratings site. At first glance it sounds like a nutty idea – who on earth would want their business to get bad reviews?

But a closer look reveals a small business that found itself in a bad situation, then turned it into an opportunity to give exceptional service to its own customers.

“Hard bargaining” = bad customer service

Yelp has received criticism from small businesses for much of its decade-long history. The main reason is hardly Yelp’s fault: it’s such an influential platform that negative reviews can have quite an impact on a company’s bottom line. But Yelp has also been accused of using its influence to gain more business, and continually calling Bay Area businesses in an attempt to sell advertising.

Furthermore, some businesses have claimed that they were offered the chance to remove negative reviews if they purchased advertising on the site. A judge in San Francisco decided that Yelp is perfectly within its rights to do so: the so-called “threat of economic harm” for businesses that don’t want to purchase advertising is simply “hard bargaining”. Perhaps so, but it’s hardly what we would call good customer service.

Getting your customers involved

The interesting part of the story, though, is how Botto Bistro took its rage at Yelp’s attitude and turned it into incredible service for their own customers. Sure, by asking customers for a 1-star Yelp review in return for a 25% discount on pizza, they are getting their own back at Yelp. But involving their customers in the project is doing a lot more for their business (and the customers themselves) than if the bistro’s owners had simply demanded that their Yelp listing be removed.

Why? Because extraordinary customer service is not just being efficient and offering a beaming smile. It is service that gets customers (and others talking). The bad review idea is amusing, novel, and involves the customers. Consider the spoof reviews on Amazon.com – people enjoy joining in on a joke and will happily spend time writing a creative and amusing review, even without an incentive. Add in the motivation of a discount and the chance to support the underdog in a David-and-Goliath (or small-business-and-megacorp) battle, and it’s not surprising that Botto Bistro already has well over 1200 extremely funny reviews (including three in German) and has achieved the 1-star rating it was after.

Truly extraordinary service

The publicity from this incident has been great, but much of it has reached people who are not in the market for a pizza at Botto Bistro (it sounds lovely, but it’s just too far away from most of us). What will really make the different for the company in the long run is the opportunity it presented for the owners to show off a bit of personality and a sense of humour. Before, they may well have made amazing food and provided great service – but it probably wasn’t extraordinary.

Truly extraordinary customer service has the power to delight your customers and get them to tell all their friends about you. You might not be able to come up with such an entertaining way to 'trade profits today for profits tomorrow' (and of course scenarios like this one can't be forced), but it's still an essential motto for any business that wants to distinguish itself through customer service.

Ironically, Yelp has allegedly emailed Botto Bistro to tell them that they were breaking the Yelp terms of service by offering customers incentives in exchange for (bad!) reviews. Customer service score so far? Botto Bistro A+, Yelp F.