Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The power of online reviews to shape customer perceptions is undeniable in the digital age. What many business owners might not realize is that reviews aren’t just customer opinions—they’re free insights that can be harnessed to build success.

We sat down with Gwyn C., a dedicated Yelp Elite reviewer, who revealed her methods for reviewing businesses, what aspects shape her experience, and how her reviews have directly helped entrepreneurs.

When talking about her journey with Yelp, Gwyn explained how the platform allowed her to help a struggling auto mechanic gain more customers. After writing a positive review for him, Gwyn saw his business increase drastically.

“He was so good, so honest, and so open. And as a woman, it’s really hard to find a business that you can trust, much less a mechanic,” she said. “I really wanted to help him out… [I] wrote a review for him, and he started to get more business. And he was so thrilled with how that worked out. And so that started that empowerment of, ‘Hey, your voice has something to say.'”

Gwyn’s passion for reviewing goes hand in hand with her natural tendency to try new businesses, particularly the “hidden gems” within her local community. She emphasizes that all of her reviews and feedback come from good intentions and wanting the business to succeed, but she makes sure not to compromise her true opinions.

“I love finding those hole-in-the-wall places, and I love seeing them succeed. I’ve worked with and in small businesses before, and I know what kind of a struggle it can be. So I think that’s part of where my passion comes from. I just wanna see them do well. I like seeing the local economy do well.”

As a thoughtful reviewer, Gwyn uses consistent criteria for which star ratings she uses, focusing on the details that can elevate the customer experience, such as the attentiveness of service staff, the ambiance, and the special touches that leave a lasting impression.

As an example, Gwyn recently reviewed two restaurants in a similar time frame, one which she gave a 5-star rating, and the other a 4-star rating.

At The Hills Pub, a sports bar with indoor and outdoor space, Gwyn voiced her appreciation for the establishment’s free servings of buffalo mac and cheese during happy hour and how observant the staff was when it came to her party’s needs. Even more importantly, this experience was repeated every time Gwyn went back to the restaurant, solidifying her as a regular and an advocate.

“There are some locations that if I just really, really, truly love a place, I will do follow-up reviews, or I’ll do multiple check-ins because I just love the place! There’s something inside that when you really love a place, it makes you just wanna scream it all the time.”

At a different restaurant, Antica Trattoria, Gwyn noted the bustling restaurant’s charming decor and delicious food, but she also noted the slight lack of attention in service. These experiences illuminate the palpable impact service can have on a customer’s overall experience.

“We enjoyed the restaurant overall. I would’ve liked slightly better service than what we received, which is why it was a 4-star and not a 5-star.”

While Gwyn recognizes her standards might not align with everyone else’s, she believes the relatability of her reviews lies within the context she provides, the candid recounting of her personal experiences, and the specific products and services she mentions. Gwyn’s dedication to her community shines through each local business review she leaves.

“I’d love to see strong businesses here, places that I want to continue going to. I’d love to find a place where I can go and study or do some work. And I think that by doing reviews, that can help encourage that, spread the word. You’ve got more people coming. The businesses that you really like and are passionate about will survive.”

Gwyn’s story underscores the power and influence consumers have through their words. A well-crafted, honest review can significantly impact a small business’s presence in their local community and beyond. Engaging with reviews, whether positive or critical, can also add a human touch to any business, reflecting care, commitment, and a dedication to improving the customer experience.

Other tips small businesses can learn from Gwyn include:

  • Provide quality service—it can transform a customer’s experience. Great service can take an average experience to the next level. If your business treats people with respect and pays attention to their needs, they’ll likely be back (and tell their friends).
  • Be personal and pay attention to your customer. Observant and attentive staff can help customers feel welcome and comfortable in your space, encouraging them to have a favorable opinion of your business.
  • Remember that many reviewers have your best interests at heart. Gwyn is the perfect example of a reviewer who wants to do right by the businesses she visits. By taking quality feedback and criticism into consideration, businesses in any industry can discover new ways to improve their products, services, and customer experience.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Gwyn, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

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