30-May-2012 (Wed)
Wherein Yelp oh-so-politely tells us to get fucked.

While the Permitting Apocalypse is ongoing, here's some more irritating nonsense we got from from Yelp.

This is all just completely stupid and pointless in the grand scheme of things -- Yelp will be out of business eventually and nobody will mourn them -- but it's kind of funny. Yelp's service completely sucks, and their customer service is non-existent and insultingly arrogant toward the businesses like mine upon whose backs they make their money.

Remember last month, when we finally managed to get someone from Yelp on the phone to ask why they wouldn't let us use our logo while communicating with our customers through their service? Her response was, "Your not the only person whose business I've lost over this: my employer is making it impossible for me to do my job." That was awesome.

Apparently my blog post about that got some attention over at Yelp, because a couple weeks later we got this:

From: Darnell Holloway <darnell@yelp.com>
Subject: Yelp- Your Recent Blog Post
Date: May 1, 2012 3:10:43 PM PDT
To: "barry@dnalounge.com" <barry@dnalounge.com>

Hi Barry,

I'm Yelp's Manager of Local Business Outreach. A recent blog post (link below) from DNA Lounge was sent my way, and I wanted to check in with you to see if you had any additional information or feedback about the situation that was described.

http://www.dnalounge.com/backstage/log/2012/04/20.html

Thanks,
Darnell

--
Darnell Holloway
Yelp, inc.
darnell@yelp.com

Barry wrote back with:

Yes. We want the following:

1. Be able to respond publicly to our customers with our logo as the image;

or if not number 1:

2. Opt out of being included on the Yelp site.

Can you help with either of these things?

A month later, Darnell, who is apparently Manager of Glad-Handing Complainers Without Actually Doing Anything, wrote back with 500 words that said "No". Here's our reply, including some quotes from him:

From: Barry Synoground <barry@dnalounge.com>
Subject: Re: Yelp- Your Recent Blog Post
Date: Tue, 29 May 2012 14:53:01 -0700<BR>
To: Darnell Holloway <darnell@yelp.com>

Beyond that, you mentioned in your blog post that there were some businesses you noticed that appeared to have a picture of something other than a person, being used to respond to reviews. It's important to note here that there is a difference between a user account on Yelp, and a business account. A user account is meant for personal, non-commercial purposes, and is used to participate in the Yelp community (write reviews, post in Talk forums, etc).

I understand that. Obviously we're talking about our business account.

A business account is used to manage a listing on Yelp. In order to take full advantage of the features of a business account (ie, the ability to message reviewers), we do require that a business owner upload a photo to their profile. And just as there is a difference in the accounts, the guidelines for acceptable photos differ as well.

Yes, I understand that that is your policy. I am asking you to make an exception to it, so that we can communicate with our customers using your service in the manner that we find appropriate.

Please tell me whose face appears when the administrator of the AT&T Park account replies to their customers.

Please tell me whose face appears when the administrator of the Best Buy account replies to their customers.

We require business owners to use a photo showing their face for two main reasons. The first reason is for your benefit as a business owner. We believe your messages will be received more warmly if there is not an attempt to disguise your appearance, because we have found that users tend to respond more favorably when they can attach a face to name.

That's an interesting theory. Please stop doing me this "favor".

The second reason is for the benefit of the reviewer. From a consumer perspective, a message from a business owner whose face can not clearly be seen may be perceived incorrectly.

Meaning what exactly?

We believe customers respond more favorably when they can see who is contacting them.

Again, that's an interesting theory. Please stop doing me this "favor".

An official communication from my business to my customers must have our logo attached to it, not the face of a random employee here. If you cannot make an exception, and approve our logo image, then we will simply never use your service.

That said, we do realize that uploading a photo may not be for everyone, and we can respect that. But again, in order to take full advantage of your business account, we require a photo in which your whole face can be seen.

This is an interesting definition of "respect". It sounds a lot like "no" to me.

Finally, the conversation you referenced in your blog post seemed out of the ordinary, so the purpose of my original e-mail was to check in and see if you had any additional information or feedback about the person you spoke with.

No thanks, I would rather not rat out the surprisingly honest Yelp employee I spoke to.

Thanks for your understanding,

Thank *you* for understanding that as soon as you approve our logo image for use when communicating with *our* customers on your site, we will continue using your service.

Until you do that, we won't be using your site, and certainly won't be buying any ads or other services from you.

I eagerly await your reply.

That finally got him to stop pretending there was some "misunderstanding" and come right out and say "no":

From: Darnell Holloway <darnell@yelp.com>
Subject: Re: Yelp- Your Recent Blog Post
Date: May 29, 2012 3:14:55 PM PDT
To: Barry Synoground <barry@dnalounge.com>

Thanks for your response. Unfortunately we won't be able to make an exception at this point on the requirement for a human photo. I've had our user support team look into the businesses you've mentioned, and there is nothing to suggest that exceptions have been made on the photo policy in those cases. In some instances, businesses may initially upload a non-human photo to their biz owner account, however all photos still need to be approved by our user support team on the back end before the messaging tools are made fully available. I also wanted to let you know that I will certainly pass your feedback along internally about your concerns with the current photo policy.

Darnell Holloway
Manager of Local Business Outreach, Yelp, Inc.
Tel: 415-230-6525

So, yeah. Screw those guys.

Yelp has gotten a lot of press for running a shake-down operation where they ask businesses to pay to have bad reviews removed. There was even a class-action suit about it last year. We made it pretty clear to them on the phone that we were willing to spend money with them to get our logo approved, but they didn't bite. Apparently they're not just scammers, they're bad at being scammers.

I understand Google's about to roll out their own Yelp competitor. I hope it isn't as much of a dud as Google Plus was.

5 Responses:

  1. dudefus says:

    I hope douchey darnell sleeps well @ night

  2. Aaron Hertzmann says:

    https://plus.google.com/112923102792218858928/about

    Note that Google bought Zagat for this.

    • Jamie Zawinski says:

      I think you meant to say:

      "Note" that "Google" "bought" "Zagat" "for this".

  3. Micah Dombrowski says:

    "...the purpose of my original e-mail was to check in and see if you had any additional information or feedback about the person you spoke with."

    Nice. So, they never actually wanted to listen to your crap, they were just hoping you'd snitch on an employee who dares to question the hive mind.

    • Joe Thompson says:

      I had a similar conversation with my apartment management once -- one of the maintenance guys told me something he apparently shouldn't have (but just in passing, with no "don't tell 'em I told you this" disclaimer, so I don't think he realized himself). When I asked the management a question about it, their immediate response was "You're not supposed to know that. Who told you that?"

      All of a sudden I totally lost any memory of what the guy looked like or anything to do with him. They seemed concerned.