Emily Washcovick of Yelp: “Listening is extremely important when it comes to solving customer issues”

Negative experiences are just that — someone’s perception of what happened being less than what they expected. In order to combat that, clear communication about your business and the expectations your customers should have can create less disconnect between expectations and reality. I worked with a restaurant owner in the Bay Area a few years ago who […]

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Negative experiences are just that — someone’s perception of what happened being less than what they expected. In order to combat that, clear communication about your business and the expectations your customers should have can create less disconnect between expectations and reality. I worked with a restaurant owner in the Bay Area a few years ago who was opening a farm to table tapas restaurant. In the early days of being open they had a few customers who provided feedback that they thought things were overpriced. Instead of attacking those critics, they took a moment to explain their business model and educate on farm to table dining. In essence, it costs more, but it is an experience with high quality ingredients that impact the overall price. This helped to weed out customers who weren’t looking for that experience, and can raise awareness for the people who do. When your business is properly setting expectations with customers you’ll deal with far fewer negative experiences.


As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Washcovick.

As Yelp’s Senior Field Marketing Manager and Small Business Expert, Emily is responsible for building a thriving network of local business owners, operators and marketers through education and networking events (now, exclusively virtual). She hosts events and webinars to provide business owners with resources that help them succeed and grow in the world of online reviews. Emily’s expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management and all things digital marketing. Her knowledge encompasses countless industries and through thought leadership and speaking engagements, she’s able to share insights that business owners of all kinds can leverage for the future of their business.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started at Yelp back in 2014 and am currently our resident Small Business Expert. Prior to that, I oversaw customer experience and large scale events at Marriott. When I first joined Yelp I actually worked in the sales department. I loved talking to business owners and learning about their marketing strategies and needs. Two years later, I was fortunate enough to take a new role, where my sole focus was to educate business owners on the free tools they had available to them to help them make the most of their online presence. Since 2016, I’ve traveled around North America speaking at conferences, trade shows, conventions, presenting on webinars and meeting amazing people along the way. I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of business owners in a variety of industries and have learned so much — and it’s been especially great to support them in their constant pursuit of growth for their business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I first began hosting and organizing large scale events for business owners, I would be buzzing around the room setting things up, talking to people, working with vendors, and I didn’t realize that to guests and attendees I looked completely stressed out and panicked. I thought being (and looking) busy was a sign of a hard worker, when really it was creating an anxious vibe for attendees and guests. Have you ever seen paramedics arrive on the scene of an emergency? They don’t sprint into the house or whip around their gear. They walk casually inside and ask where the person who needs help is. So, taking a note from them, nowadays (well, pre-COVID), I try to walk around cool as a cucumber when I host events or attend trade shows.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

One of my first sales managers at Yelp was Chris Dunn. When I joined his team of new hires, I had been at Yelp for just over a year, and was trying to figure out what my long term goals were. I loved the culture and environment at Yelp, but I knew there was a way I could use my prior experience to have a greater impact on small businesses — I just didn’t know how. That’s where Chris comes in. He sought me out to tell me about an opening in the Communications department he thought I could be a good fit for. I still remember getting his email — it was over a long weekend when we were off to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A link to the job posting and a few sentences of confidence in my ability to get this opportunity. The next day he pulled me into a meeting room before we kicked off our morning and told me I should take time that day to submit my application and that he would fully support me in the interview process. He knew that my previous experience would allow me to shine and on the Business Outreach team. About a month later I was offered the role after a lengthy interview process, with tons of support from Chris. Without his encouragement I don’t think I would have had the confidence to pursue an opportunity in another department of the company, and make the jump so easily. I’m forever grateful for his confidence in me.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

As consumers we all want positive and memorable experiences, and many of us want to support local businesses in the process, but not at the expense of customer service and quality care. Growing up my mom was a huge fan of L.L. Bean. She loved their high quality products, but more than that she loved their customer service — their no questions asked, replacement policy to stand by their products. As a small business owner, you have the ability to create that level of customer care and service, but it takes effort. After years of working with Yelp, one thing has become pretty clear: 5 star reviews are often a result of great service, opposed to price, taste, products, etc. Providing great customer service is something that compels customers to share — they want to let others know about their experience online and eventually become more loyal fans of your brand when it comes to recommendations to friends or family. That’s not to say that there aren’t other important elements of your business, but the connection between great customer service and positive reviews is clear.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

The biggest hurdles are growth, employees and culture. As a business grows it becomes harder to provide that customized or personalized experience for all of your customers. Additionally, as you grow, you’re most likely bringing on more employees to help the business run. Hiring the right people is so important, and can have a real impact on how your business is perceived by customers. If you don’t have a company culture or strong example of customer service leading a group of employees, the version of your business that is presented to your customers can fall short of how you yourself would represent your business or brand personally.

Having core tenants and philosophies to guide your team will help extend that customer service and care that you would provide through your teammates and the interactions they have with your customers.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

I think it’s always smart as a business owner or entrepreneur to pay attention to what your competition is doing. Getting inspired or coming up with new concepts by keeping an eye on other businesses isn’t cheating. It’s helpful in evolving your business to meet customer needs and expectations as well as ensure you’re staying in touch with the opinions and interests of your customer base.

One of the biggest external pressures, and resources to improve your customer service, is online reviews and reputation management. Reviews can provide insights, highlight trends and provide information on where you missed the mark, or conversely, where you’re excelling. Engaging with and taking feedback from reviews can help your customer service processes and improve your business perception.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

I’m going to actually share a time that I was wowed! A few months ago I moved into a new apartment and had two places that I wanted to get plants for. There’s a local business in my area called Mod Gen, as in Modern General Store. They sell tons of artisan products and have a great plant and pot selection. The reason I love them is because they’re always willing to help you find the right plant by asking environmental questions and showing you around to the best options for your lifestyle. Since it was during COVID, I wasn’t sure if they were open so I checked out their Yelp page. It told me that they were available for virtual appointments and curbside pick up. To be honest, I didn’t know at that point what a virtual appointment would look like, so I went to their website. Right at the top they had information about the virtual appointments and a calendar link to schedule. I scheduled something for the following day, and when I signed into Zoom, I was carried around the store by one of their employees. The best part was that I could show her the actual space in my house that the plant was going to live, and get her opinion on not only the best type of plant, but also a good pot to match my decor in the room. Within 10 minutes my shopping was complete, I paid via credit card and within an hour was able to pick up my freshly potted plants curbside. To be honest, I don’t know if I want to go back to regular plant shopping after that experience. The same day that I brought home my new plant, I not only told all of my aunts and friends about the experience, but I also shared my new plant and a shout out for the business on my social media account.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

For me, it not only made me a loyal customer, but also compelled me to share with friends and family — many of whom have checked out the store themselves. What it also did was to show me how great a virtual experience can be — something that many new businesses have been experimenting with these past few months. While in person connections are incredibly important, this experience showed me that it’s possible to have just as big an impact virtually — if you’re willing to put in the effort to make it great. The ripple effect comes from that wonderful interaction. When business owners and entrepreneurs take the time to create an unforgettable experience and connect with their consumers in a meaningful way, the sharing and spreading “the good word” will just happen.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1- Know your target demographic and the standard needs and expectations they have. If your customers are commonly moms who visit your business with strollers, make sure your business is stroller accessible. Not only in the entryway, but if you’re a retailer — can the stroller roll through your business while the mom parooses? These seemingly little adjustments can make a world of difference in the eyes of a consumer.

2 — You can’t predict every need of your potential customers, but are your employees empowered to solve problems themselves? An entrepreneur once told me his measure of success in business was being able to take a vacation while the business was still running. I applied this mentality when I managed the front desk and bell staff of a Marriott. My employees were working in shifts, 24 hours a day. I obviously could not physically support and oversee them all, so success was when I got to a place where I could work an 8 hour day and then leave…and not work again until the next day. Things come up at hotels at all hours, and if my staff wasn’t empowered to authorize refunds, provide comp meals when mistakes were made in the restaurant, or work with a customer to identify what they want, I would constantly be on the phone walking them through options and providing approval. You can’t plan for everything that might go wrong in your business, but you can prep your team to be able to handle it, when things do.

3 — Employees look to the top of an organization to determine how to act and how to treat prospects and clients. No matter what industry you’re in, when you’re hiring employees you need to lead from the top down when it comes to customer care and appreciation of clients. At Yelp we have 5 Yelp values. These values are things we are taught from day one as employees, and something we celebrate and strive for in every customer interaction. From the executive level to the sales directors and managers, we work to live these values and celebrate them when we see them carried out by staff.

4 — Negative experiences are just that — someone’s perception of what happened being less than what they expected. In order to combat that, clear communication about your business and the expectations your customers should have can create less disconnect between expectations and reality. I worked with a restaurant owner in the Bay Area a few years ago who was opening a farm to table tapas restaurant. In the early days of being open they had a few customers who provided feedback that they thought things were overpriced. Instead of attacking those critics, they took a moment to explain their business model and educate on farm to table dining. In essence, it costs more, but it is an experience with high quality ingredients that impact the overall price. This helped to weed out customers who weren’t looking for that experience, and can raise awareness for the people who do. When your business is properly setting expectations with customers you’ll deal with far fewer negative experiences.

5 — Listening is extremely important when it comes to solving customer issues. Making assumptions about why your customer is upset instead of letting them share their experience can create more miscommunication and complication. Take the time to hear a concerned or unsatisfied customer out. Recently, I spoke with the owner of a heating and cooling company about how he handles upset customers. His advice? Always start by uncovering the why. He shared an example of a time he set up ventilation in an entire house and the home owner wasn’t happy. There wasn’t anything wrong with the cooling system, in fact the house had never been cooler, but there were a few vents in places that the homeowner didn’t want. Of course, no one could have predicted those issues because there wasn’t anything wrong with the service. Just a personal need of the customer that could not have anticipated — which is why it’s essential to listen and get to the bottom of the problem to best determine next steps.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

Responding to and sharing reviews is a great way to create engagement and a ripple effect. It also creates connection with the customer. Having a strategy for responding to reviews and reaching out to customers can not only reinforce your offerings and practices, but can also call more customers to share their experiences as well.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m all about work-life balance and I think that’s really important for entrepreneurs as well. Both my partner and my dad own businesses and it’s a lot of work. Business owners wear a million hats, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t take the time to prioritize themselves and their mental health. Especially after the year of 2020, taking time for yourself to reset, relax and unwind is critical. Yes, it’s true that as a business owner a lot of people depend on you and there are alot of projects and tasks that you should work on every day, but taking care of yourself and prioritizing your health and wellness can help you better serve and support those that need you.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Well first, make sure to follow @Yelp on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as @YelpforBusiness on twitter. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, or on Instagram @washcovick

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