For small businesses, including those with a brick and mortar presence, handling customer feedback is getting to be a 24 hour, 7 day a week job.
Looking at sites like Yelp alone, you have regular customer reviews good and bad  to monitor and respond to. There’s also the opportunity for customers to upload photos, (and more recently even Yelp video of your business .)
The site already gives address and contact information, including a phone number, in most cases. But in keeping with the times, the Yelp team has decided to add yet another feature – instant messaging.
As Yelp Product Manager Ely Lerner explains via the Yelp Official Blog :
“With more than 57 million local reviews contributed across 27 countries, there’s already a boatload of info people can gather through Yelp on any local business they’re thinking about trying. Not to mention helpful photos (and soon videos!) and attributes, like phone number, hours and Fido-friendliness. But we realize there are times when a very specific question might not be easily answered with a quick look at a business listing (and you don’t always feel like picking up the phone to inquire about).”
From the business owners perspective, messages will come via email and can be responded to the same way without even opening your business owner account.
From the customer’s perspective, they will hit the “message the business owner” button on your business’s page and be given an estimated response time. (The implication here is that swift responses are a good idea, and Yelp seems to have made it pretty easy to do so.)
Of course, you can view this as just another aspect of customer service, but Yelp seems to also view the new feature as an opportunity to gain new leads.
It’s expected, after all, that inquiries about your products or services may often come from those about to make a purchasing decision (or just trying to find a really great place to have dinner with friends tonight.)
Wade Lombard owner of Square Cow Movers  from Austin, TX, adds:
“This feature is a conversation starter. Responding takes just a few minutes and it almost always leads to further correspondence or a phone conversation. We believe that responding quickly helps to show the client we deeply care about winning their business.“
Oh, one more thing. Yelp does give you the option to disable this new feature. But you’ll have to decide whether doing so is sending the right message to your customers.