Word-of-mouth can be the best advertisement or the worst. And review platforms such as Yelp provide a network for prospective and returning customers to browse and share every amazing and not-so-amazing experience they’ve had.

Yelp, a crowd-sourcing site for local businesses that formed in 2004, has evolved as an accessible way for making an educated purchasing decision and for companies to create more business.

READY TO SPEND. Genna Gold, manager of local business outreach at Yelp, cited a 2013 Nielsen study that showed 82 percent of Yelp users visit the site because they intend to buy a product or service, and 89 percent of those who do will make a purchase within one week. Garrett Thrasher, owner of Thrasher Termite and Pest Control in San Diego, Calif., agrees Yelp can have that king of purchasing power.

“More and more customers decide that they want to do business with you before you come to their property,” said Thrasher. “We have found that our closing ratio on leads from Yelp is close to 85 percent. Most people don’t have time to meet two, three and four companies and want to do business with us. We, in turn, know that if we provide great service at a fair price with integrity we can build on the momentum that is Yelp.”

Gold said a high closing rate in the pest control industry can be attributed to the urgency of the job, making great reviews especially important for PMPs.

“When people are looking for pest control, it’s an immediate need,” she said. “No one is doing that search for fun.”

MASTERING YELP. According to Thrasher, it only takes one to two hours per week to monitor leads, messages and reviews that come in through the company’s Yelp page. Yelp also has an app, which makes it easy for business owners to manage their information while on the go, and for customers to look for companies and write reviews.

“Businesses have the ability to claim their free page at biz.yelp.com,” said Gold.

Once a business owner claims his or her page, Gold said they should fill it out to its fullest with all of the details about the company including a phone number, service area, hours of operation and pictures.Gold added they will have access to a suite of free tools that will help them develop a business profile and interact with customers. “The more you put into it, the more you can see in return. If not, that business does run the risk of losing business to a company with a fleshed out page.”

And once the page is fulfilled, the reviews come pouring in. “Our technicians, office staff and inspectors all know that we need these reviews to fuel our business,” said Thrasher. “Once we perform outstanding service we ask for a review.”

He said it’s sometimes better to build a rapport with a customer before asking for a review, however, the best reviews are voluntary.

“It is generally a safer bet to ask a customer after the second or third contact for a review,” he said. It comes across as a little awkward if you ask them the first time you meet them, Thrasher added.

ONE-STAR PESTS. Although not every review is positive, Thrasher and his team do not to take it personally and to try to resolve an unhappy review in a number of ways: When a customer has a negative review, Thrasher said his staff takes the time to gather all of the information for possible solutions, personally reach out to the customer to thank them for their time and attempt to solve the problem before posting on Yelp.

“If we can resolve it, then we may provide a service for free or something that the customer feels (addresses their concerns),” he said. “Our plan was to remain the highest rated and highest reviewed company on Yelp, and in the beginning we decided that it will cost a little money to stay at the top and keep our high rating.”

But not all negative reviews by customers give enough adequate information. For these customers, Thrasher will acknowledge their review on Yelp and explain that without feedback, the issue may not be clear enough to address. He also will tell them if their review led to a change in company protocol or policy.

“It is very easy to be angry, but a carefully crafted reply to a one-star review can be more powerful than a five-star review,” he said.

Thrasher said his company also implemented an advertising campaign on Yelp, which has been beneficial.

Although Yelp is just one part of Thrasher’s long-term approach to marketing, he said it is one of the more important components.

“Ninety-two percent of consumers regularly read online reviews when deciding on a business,” said Gold. “People are actually going online to read reviews and review websites are here to stay.”

The author is a Cleveland-based writer who can be contacted at lstraub@gie.net.