Michelle Roberts, Apartment Finder’s National Accounts Director, is in charge of the East Coast from Boston to Miami. She has been with Apartment Finder since 2003, and she recently contributed this valuable information on reputation management:
“I’m telling everyone I know!”
Once, those words meant immediate family members and a few close friends. Whether the comment was meant in a good way (“My experience with your business was fantastic! I’m telling everyone I know!”) or in a bad way (“My experience with your business was terrible! I’m telling everyone I know!”), it may have improved your reputation slightly or damaged it slightly. Either way, one customer telling "everyone" didn't make a huge impact on your business.
That was then.
Today, "telling everyone" means jumping on social media and review sites, where the compliment or complaint can instantly reach thousands of consumers. And, when you consider that word-of-mouth marketing is 30 times more effective than other types of promotions, the results of a bad review can have a huge impact on your business.
Word-of-mouth marketing isn't what it used to be – and in today's world, it is a must to take ownership of your reputation. The digital world doesn't rest – there's no time to play "catch-up" if you ignore it too long. Since your brand is your reputation, it is essential to take control of those online reviews – and to not be controlled by them.
Here are some facts to consider:
- 85 percent of consumers claim to read online reviews.
- Consumers look at an average of 10 reviews before making a decision.
- 70 percent of consumers trust businesses that have at least 6-10 reviews.
- Just increasing your approval rating by half a star will increase business by 19 percent.
- 73 percent of consumers said positive reviews make them trust a business more.
- 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
- Only 12 percent of consumers say they don't pay attention to online reviews.
- Overall resident satisfaction increased dramatically in 2013, due to increased focus on service delivery and reputation management by the multi-housing industry.
The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent
Now that we know why reputation management is important, let's consider the different types of reviews – and how (or if) you should handle them. Considering that you can have a "5-Star" reputation, a good reputation, no reputation, or a bad reputation, customers have formed an opinion of your community long before (or if) they contact you. A "5-Star" reputation or a good reputation actually delivers prequalified, presold customers right to your doorstep. So, how do you get a "5-Star" reputation?
First, the Good: Good reviews have to be nurtured – you must ensure and enhance resident satisfaction in order to get those coveted "5-Star" reviews. Get your happy residents to share their opinions, respond to your online reviews, and make sure you handle complaints quickly and efficiently. Go the extra mile and your customer service becomes service recovery – turning a negative into a positive and ensuring a happy consumer who will, ultimately, post about their happy experience.
Set a goal for yourself: aim to get at least five "5-Star" reviews. You can accomplish this a half-star at a time – just work toward increasing your online rating. When you have achieved that, work toward increasing it another half star, until you have reached that desirable "5-Star" status. To do this, encourage your staff to go above-and-beyond to help increase positive reviews – they are your "front line" in this mission. Make sure they understand the power of positive reviews. Get your happy customers to post online reviews to the most popular review sites, and post those positive reviews to your own social media sites, such as your Facebook page.
Make sure it is easy for residents to provide a review – a link on your resident portal, for example, is ideal. Also, participate in review services provided by ILSs.
Respond to those positive reviews! Be specific – don't make it sound as though you are using a "canned" response to every review. You want to thank the individual for the review, be very specific, share the love, and invite them back.
The Indifferent: This resident is basically saying, "Meh." Not exactly a rave review – but not bad, either. An indifferent review goes along the lines of … "I live here. It's okay. Not great, but rent is reasonable." So how do you handle a review like that?
Appreciate the comment – you are grateful for every review, even the indifferent. So thank them for taking the time to post a review. Address any specifics they mention in their review, and point out where you excel. Finally, invite them to come to the office and make suggestions – you want them to be happy, after all, so ask them what it will take.
The Bad: First, realize that bad reviews aren't necessarily bad, in the grand scope of things. If every review was glowingly positive, potential renters would get suspicious. Everyone, after all, has a bad day, and no one is perfect. It's how you handle those negative reviews that's important – remember, consumers considering your apartment community are reading your responses. And if they don't like how you handle a negative review, they will move on. Respond like the world is watching – because, in a sense, they are.
Approach a negative review as a learning experience and a challenge – instead of feeling insulted or upset, think, "How can I turn this unhappy resident into our most satisfied?" If you are able, offer to fix the problem. Be sure to contact them privately, and try to work things out to the best of your ability. Hopefully, they will leave a follow-up review. But even if they don't, you've proven that you care about your residents and are willing to go that extra mile to make them happy.
If you can't correct the situation, apologize – both privately and in a written response to a review. Explain what steps you attempted to correct the situation, and shine a light on those positive aspects of your community that may offset the negatives. Do your best – but understand that not every complaint has a solution. If the reviewer misstates the facts, don't attack – simply correct the error.
Sometimes, a bad review will develop "legs" – it will take off, with multiple reviewers adding comments. The best way to prevent this is to respond quickly to diffuse the situation. Stay in the conversation and work toward calming it down.
When Not to Respond
There are times when you shouldn't respond to an online review, and doing so could make matters worse. A personal attack, a nasty rant, and obviously dishonest reviews should be ignored – and, if possible, removed. Most review sites have filters, and these types of reviews can be quickly removed if you contact the review site right away.
You may come across a review by a person who isn't attacking or being dishonest, they are just generally unhappy – and nothing you say or do will change that. These reviewers don't offer anything specific, they just post something along the lines of, "I hate this place." It's best to ignore these types of posts – this reviewer is simply trying to rattle you. By responding, the negativity could escalate into something ugly. So, ignore it – your positive reviews will quickly eclipse it.
And Finally – Have Help!
If responding to online reviews is overwhelming, be sure to engage your staff. Give them some guidelines – be objective, don't get emotional, correct inaccuracies, show empathy, and be careful about which posts they respond to. Also, look for tools to help you – Apartment Finder offers a Social Media Dashboard to make reviewing and responding to online reviews fast and easy. Also, be sure to download Apartment Finder's ebook, Reputation Management and the Multi-Family Industry, to which offers ways to effectively manage your online reputation.