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An inconvenient truth about consumer reviews

I know consumer reviews are scary.  Trust me.  Having worked in public relations my whole life, user-generated content that can disparage a brand I’ve been working years to uphold, has kept me tossing and turning more than one night.  Something you used to have control over is not totally in your hands anymore: your public image (e.g. branding, advertising, marketing collateral, and even to some degree, the press being generated about your company).  Sure, people could complain about your property, but that was typically somewhat contained.  Today, anyone can publicize their praise or contempt for your brand by going online.  What’s worse than consumers finding it?  Consumers looking for it, especially renters.  In fact, 58% of renters, who are also active on social media, told us at Apartments.com they search for additional apartment information and recommendations online when looking for a new place to live.


My name is Tammy Kotula, and I’m addicted to review websites

I have to admit that over the past two years, I’ve also become obsessed with reading reviews.  Whether it’s choosing a new restaurant to go to in Wicker Park, booking a hotel or purchasing a book on Amazon, I find myself consulting consumer reviews with nearly every purchase I make.  (Check out Chris Brown’s post on the zero moment of truth). In turn, I’ve also become less bashful about interacting with brands I LIKE on social media and leaving negative reviews for the places where I have received subpar service.  Let me just add mobile apps have only made me more active.  With the swipe of my finger, I can check into an establishment, comment, leave a quick tip or review in real-time before I have a chance to cool off or regret it. 


Accepting the new and empowered consumer

What do we do now?  Acceptance is the first step to review recovery.  Product reviews, social media and user-generated content (are these the same thing?) have become part of the purchasing behavior of consumers and it’s not going away.  We want to know what other people are buying and what they are saying about it and social media is the vehicle to help us spread the word.  Also, we tend to trust people we perceive to be like us.  In fact, 70% of people trust online recommendations from unknown users.  Whether or not it’s right or wrong, consumers today feel entitled to unlimited access to information and want to engage with the brands and services they use.  It’s empowering.  We want to be well-informed consumers seeking out the best value for our money and peer reviews help us make those decisions.

Bring the conversation back on your own terms

Once we have accepted this new reality, this inconvenient truth, the second step is to take back the control.  Yes, you can shape the direction of the conversation by responding to negative feedback.  Use this forum as an extension of your customer service efforts. Those of you who have conducted moving-in and moving-out surveys have probably observed a direct correlation between high scores on customer service and resident retention.  People are talking about you whether or not you’re participating.  As a savvy competitor in the multifamily industry, you should want to be represented where the conversations are happening online because those are the same places where prospects are researching your property before choosing whether or not to contact your leasing office.  Granted you are now moving into public domain, but a negative situation can often be turned into a positive one if you’re engaged.

Proper tools make it easy

To dialup engagement and response rates, assign a dedicated resource to monitor what people are saying, identify where the conversations are happening and respond swiftly and smartly.  While resources can be tight, I encourage you to appoint someone with a background in marketing, PR or brand management who you trust to respond on behalf of the property.  If you do not have the bandwidth to appoint a sole resource to these efforts, check out resources like Hootsuite to help you monitor activity, keeping a pulse on what is being said about your property and responding.  You could also consider creating a section on your website that encourages reviews to help keep them contained.

In my own experience, only two brands have responded to my feedback in real time.  One was in response to a negative review and one was positive.  I can tell you that in both those instances, my perception of each establishment changed for the better and it made me a believer in this new reality.  Consumers want to interact with the brands they like and even those where they had a bad experience can redeem themselves and regain consumer confidence by responding to their complaints.  I don’t know why, but these experiences made me feel special.  Maybe it’s because I knew someone was listening and cared enough to respond.  Or, maybe it’s because I yelled, or Yelped, because I needed to be heard.  Or, maybe I need to find more hobbies.  Regardless of how sappy this is getting, I believe that we just want to be heard.  If someone responds to our complaint, it feels good to know they are listening.  Even if the situation cannot be resolved immediately, we know we’re being taken seriously and it’s getting addressed.

In the spirit of comments and reviews, I want to hear what you think about review websites.  Have you created a section on your website where consumers can post reviews?  Do you respond to negative feedback?  If so, what was the result?

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  • So agree on responding to negative posts, Tammy! People tend to believe whatever they read online, so if a community/company hasn't taken the time to respond, there is only one point of view to see.

  • Jay

    You're very limited about what you can say online in response to public criticism. While they are free to say anything they want about us, regardless if it's true or not, we cannot say anything at all about the situation they're complaining about without opening ourselves up to serious liability.

    You cannot be successful in this business without making anyone angry, because we get paid to tell people no in certain circumstances, and people frequently get angry when they are told no, so reviews written by unhappy customers are completely unavoidable. All you can do is have as many of your happy customers as possible right good reviews and hope the good outweighs the bad.

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