Like it or not, apartment ratings and reviews are now part of the online landscape. Consumers consider such sites as part of almost any purchase equation, from making reservations at a restaurant to renting an apartment. In turn, apartment firms are carefully monitoring the space to identify less-than-satisfied residents and areas for service improvement, as well as threats to their companies’ brands and reputations. They are responding to reviews in professional and customer-service focused manners, acknowledging service issues, offering proactive solutions to fix problems and taking inappropriate conversations off line for resolution.
However, the proliferation of ratings and reviews is creating a new challenge for many apartment firms. Too often ratings and review sites end up skewed in one direction or another-either far too positive for consumers to consider them authentic or far too negative and potentially damaging to the company. At the heart of the imbalance, according to top marketing executives, is the fact that often there are very few-and fewer qualified-reviews on any given ratings and review site. Given the propensity for people with a negative experience to be more motivated to write reviews at all, this combination can be concerning for many apartment marketing professionals. The antidote is getting more silently satisfied residents to share their experience through ratings and reviews.
“We have to get behind the behavior to figure out how to get residents to write more positive reviews,” said Virginia Love, vice president of leasing and marketing for Waterton Associates, as she kicked off a panel discussion of the topic. “Research shows that eight out of 10 people said they would write a positive review, if they were asked. No one has to get asked to write a negative review.”
To this end, Peggy Hale, vice president of sales, marketing and training for Morgan Properties, said she began looking at the various types of reviews her company was getting online to figure out what was motivating people to post a review. She was able to separate them into six major categories:
- Super hero experience: In this case, people wrote a review because someone at the company did something that went above and beyond typical customer service, such as shoveling a car out a parking spot or carrying groceries inside for someone.
- Short and sweet: While these reviews tend to be the shortest, people wrote them because they were happy with the services they got and wanted to just give the company a little pat on the back.
- I love you, but...: These tend to be very long reviews, where people write down every nitpicky item that bothered them in one way or another. These are very useful reviews, as they point out areas where the company can improve.
- Mildly disappointed: These people are generally happy but felt the company dropped the ball on one thing or another, such as not keeping the property tidy enough.
- Tragic failures: These most often reflect big uh-ohs, where the company made a huge mistake that caused the reviewer a major inconvenience. These are often a result of a lack of clear communication from the company.
- Chronic bashers: Unfortunately, there’s not much to do about this group of people, because they typically have some agenda that is not entirely focused on resolving an issue. They can be rude, inappropriate and repetitive, often posting similar reviews to multiple review sites.
Her takeaway from the analysis was that apartment marketers need to target the silent observers; they need prompting, but they are generally willing to refute negative feedback about some aspect of the community and/or company they love and also want to be helpful and provide balance in the online discussion.
To help encourage feedback and online dialogue, Josh McDonald, director of marketing for Holland Partner Group, said he often launches a small, community-level campaign to promote the ratings. “We make sure that in the business center, for example, the home screen goes right to the ratings site.” Other companies have made positive review cards part of follow up to a maintenance request. In other cases, companies do some telephone surveys to help generate additional reviews.
However, this last strategy raised questions about the legitimacy of practices that serve up pieces of customer satisfaction surveys onto online ratings and review platforms and the value of authentic customer reviews. While unsolicited reviews on popular ratings sites such as Yelp, for example, were great, industry professionals were concerned about the ability to verify that the review came from an actual resident and the disconnect between those ratings and their customer satisfaction data.
Consequently, many apartment firms are moving toward working with customer satisfaction survey providers than have a voluntary ratings and review platform or component. Most executives said that, in those cases where residents give the firm their permission to publish that information, they will post those reviews on additional sites-although with some thought to avoiding redundancy, which affects authenticity and search engine rankings.
In additional to online reputation management, many marketing leaders are seeing additional business results from improved ratings and reviews. Holland Partners’ McDonald, for example, said he found correlations between stronger apartment ratings scores and stronger net leasing conversions, as well as higher click-through rates to community web sites. Similarly, he found that geography and demographics played a role in the volume and quality of reviews, with higher income residents and closer urban locations generating better quality reviews.
But despite these effective strategies for engaging residents in a ratings and review program, Greg Benson, senior director of marketing for Greystar Real Estate Partners, said it still all comes down to company performance. “Take care of the customer service and the ratings and reviews will take care of themselves,” he said.