Yelp, the company that has been accused of single-handedly ruining the reputation of many small businesses is now dealing with a reputation crisis of their own. An employee, unhappy with her wages and general working conditions, called her employer out in public with a scathing, sarcastic, but extremely telling open letter to her CEO.
In the letter, which was published on Medium by Talia Jane says that she moved to the bay area to take a low-level job at Yelp/Eat24 figuring that she’d soon move up to more meaningful work. After making the commitment, she discovered that she’d be stuck in her current position for a year, netting $8.12 an hour. Barely enough to cover her $1200 rent and basic living expenses.
She details the rough life of several other workers including one who disappeared shortly after using the office whiteboards to beg for the cash he needed to keep from being homeless.
The entire post is very dramatic and passionate. Especially when she talks about the large amounts of money wasted on food and drink that no one eats. Money that could go to help employees pay for actual groceries at home.
Shortly after her letter hit the web, it was picked up by news outlets, analyzed and shared thousands of times. At that point, Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman had no choice but to respond, which he did — on Twitter.
1/5 Late last night I read Talia's medium contribution and want to acknowledge her point that the cost of living in SF is far too high.
— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) February 20, 2016
2/5 I have been focused on this issue, backing anti-NIMBY group SFBARF and speaking out frequently about the need to lower cost of housing.
— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) February 20, 2016
He follows up saying that the high cost of living is the reason the company is looking into moving customer support to Arizona.
Everything he said was totally true but not quite the response the world was looking for.
Then Jane showed up for work and was promptly fired. That sounds like Yelp throwing gas on a flame but let’s be real, what choice did they have? How could they keep order in the ranks with a public dissenter in the group. Besides, no boss wants an unhappy worker on the payroll, that’s asking for trouble. She had left them no choice.
Stoppelman also Tweeted that Jane was not fired because of her post but for other reasons that he can’t go in to. Which, in a twisted way, is also probably the truth. In her post, she mentions being late for work because she can’t afford the train and being terribly sick to her stomach because she’s living on rice alone. Both of those could have effected her ability to do her job properly and that’s reason enough to be let go.
There’s one part of this story that most news outlets are skimming over because it’s not emotional and dramatic. It’s the extensive paragraph Jane wrote regarding her lack of training.
“Do you know how many cash coupons I used to give out before I was properly trained? In one month, I gave out over $600 to customers for a variety of issues. Now, since getting more training, I’ve given out about $15 in the past three months because I’ve been able to de-escalate messed up situations using just my customer service skills. Do you think that’s coincidence? Or is the goal to have these free bleeders who throw money at angry customers to calm them down set the standard for the whole company? Do you think there’s any point in training a customer service agent to learn and employ customer service skills? Or is it better to attract those first-time employees with their poor habits and lack of work ethic with the same wage part-time employees at See’s Candies make for standing by the door in a stupid outfit and handing out free chocolate? Do you think those free chocolates cost $600 a month per employee? Have you ever seen an angry See’s Candies customer?”
Forget the money and the arrows aimed at the company’s lack of social consciousness; this paragraph is the one that should have caught the CEO’s eye. How much money is Yelp / Eat24 losing because their customer service reps haven’t been trained? How many businesses are going away angry after an hour on the phone with an ineffective agent? Poor customer service is the fastest way to tarnish a company’s reputation.
If Yelp could figure out a way to pay their lowest level employees more money, they’d probably gain every cent back in additional business from happy customers.
Still, the most curious piece of this puzzle is the CEO social media remarks about the cost of living. Rather than addressing the wage issue directly, he came off sounding callous. It’s the modern day equivalent of ‘let them eat cake’. And that makes Yelp the ultimate loser because who is going to trust a ‘for the people’ website whose leader doesn’t understand the problems of the audience he’s sworn to serve.
What would you do if you were Stoppelman? Address the post directly or duck and wait for it all to blow over?