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Think You Are Managing Your Reputation? Think Again.

                  As an industry, multifamily has done a remarkable job in embracing and managing their reputation related to online resident reviews. In fact, according to the soon-to-be-released 2018 Multifamily CSR Benchmark Study, nearly 87% of property management companies have a policy on responding to online resident reviews. For the past several years, industry conferences have had panels and workshops teaching strategies and best practices on how to respond to these reviews professionally and in a way that enhances the company's reputation and attracts prospective renters.  In the background, however, a critical component of your reputation has slowly been exposed. The curtain has been pulled back, and all of your inner workings have been revealed.  Your residents aren't the only ones who have been talking about you. Your employees have been talking, too. Not only do they have a lot to say, but there is a large audience who is enjoying the show and making decisions about whether they want to audition or exit, stage left.  Allow Me Introduce You to the World of Company Reviews. As with any industry, the online job search websites have evolved and expanded in their capabilities and focus. Our industry has used these websites to post jobs and find new employees. We have counted on our managers and HR team to write interesting and attractive job descriptions to appeal to the right skill sets and value systems that would fit into our culture. Alas, those days are gone.......
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Free Market Research

Free Market Research
Every year businesses budget thousands for market research. Prices may range from a few hundred dollars for general market overviews to tens of thousands for customized market-specific studies. But before you start shelling out the big bucks to find out what the market thinks about you and your properties, take a moment to consider the information that is already freely available to you. Where is all of this valuable market data, you ask? Look no further than your social media accounts and reviews. That’s right. Resident complaints and feedback provide real and specific opportunities to find out what’s important to your prospective renters and identify the details that will make your properties more appealing. Sometimes your residents are going to walk into your office and tell you exactly what they think. But these days they’re just as likely (or more so) to do their venting online: where the whole world can see the problem. Some properties, hoping perhaps to avoid this potentially ugly challenge, have adopted policies that restrict the rights of residents to post their dissatisfaction online, or as in a recent example, actually added a clause to the lease forcing residents to connect with the property on social media. These policies are not only the source of widespread criticism and ridicule, they have the potential to make it harder for properties to benefit from the honest and open communication that the internet facilitates. Finding ways to effectively “listen” to resident complaints, whether they’re received in person in the leasing office or posted anon......
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Don't Be Afraid When Residents Throw Shade

Don't Be Afraid When Residents Throw Shade
It’s the Number One question I answer when I’m at industry events: “How do you hide the negative reviews on ApartmentRatings.com?” The answer I give is often met with skepticism. “You don’t hide them. You embrace them.” Ratings and reviews have been around long enough to have some research surrounding them, and what is becoming clearer and clearer is that shoppers – no matter what the product or service – don’t trust reviews that are purely positive. A study conducted by Revoo found that 95% of consumers suspected fraud or censorship when they didn't see any bad scores on a rating and review site. If it’s too good to be true…  ... then it probably is. Life is not a fairy tale, and we’ve all had our lack of ‘happily ever after’s’ from a purchase. That being the case, most people are actually looking for negative reviews when they are researching a purchase. In fact, shoppers spend 5 times as much time on negative reviews as positive ones. Why? They are looking for the deal breakers. Each of us has some things that are non-negotiables, and everyone’s preferences are different. What may be an absolute ‘No!’ for one person might be a resounding ‘Yes!’ for someone else. A Matter of Time When I was looking for an alarm clock to replace the broken one in my daughters’ room, I decided to find one with an iPod docking station so they could listen to their own music when going to sleep. On Amazon, there are approximately one zillion......
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When "Taking the Conversation Offline" Completely Backfires

comcast-google-fiber-outage.JPGOne of the top strategies to reputation management is to "move the conversation offline".  There is an inherent danger of discussing an issue in the open with an angry resident, as you never know how that conversation will go, and whether it might blow up in your face.  That is a legitimate concern, however, it is important to know that the attempt to take the conversation private may be making you look like the villain.  For example, Comcast recently tried to take a shot at Google Fiber by having an outage during the World Series: First of all, blasting a competitor is never a good idea, especially when Comcast is one of the most disliked companies in the country.  So not surprisingly, there were a flood of responses that were clearly anti-Comcast:  (Sorry for the language) As you can see, their post didn't do them any favors, and frankly, they didn't have many strategies to choose from that would have resulted in a positive response.  But regardless, they decided to try to take the conversation offline.  So now we head on over to Reddit where there were thousands of people discussing Comcast and this post.  And of all those people, this was the 2nd most popular comment: While Comcast might have been honestly trying to simply discuss their issues in more detail offline, from the readers' point of view, the attempt appeared really shady, as it looked like they were trying to hide from more bad comments.  So the strategy ended......
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Beyond the Response: Ratings and Reviews as Market Research

Beyond the Response: Ratings and Reviews as Market Research
By now, owner/operators understand the consequences of ignoring ratings and reviews. They are here to stay, and their impact is exponentially increasing. While more and more owner/operators are making the effort to respond to reviews and finding ways to generate positive ones, there is a second tier to the equation: Ratings and reviews can be used as a marketing research tool. Here’s how: Large-scale owner/operators that receive multiple reviews per day can use the data as market research. While some resident reviews undoubtedly will allude to specific, one-time problems, the idea is to diagnose particular themes across an entire portfolio. For instance, if parking is a common complaint spanning several communities, the owner/operator can take an organization-wide look and devise a plan to alleviate concerns. While it might be too late for certain properties, that data is still beneficial in that it encourages a proactive approach to create more parking space at soon-to-be-constructed properties.  Perhaps pet waste is a widespread complaint. With DNA testing becoming more prominent—yes, many communities now gather the DNA of dogs belonging to new residents—it could raise the question as to whether using the technology to diagnose the offenders would be beneficial on a companywide basis. Simply having staff clean up the waste trains pet owners that it is OK to leave it behind. Another common complaint is pricing. It is natural for residents to bemoan a rent increase, but that doesn’t mean the only way to stop the influx of grievances is to re-adjust the price. Instead......
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Words Have Wings

Words Have Wings
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ve probably noticed that I refer to the Malagasy language a lot. I tend to do that because of the incredible experience I had living among the Malagasy people in Madagascar for a couple of years, and because I spent the next five years of my life studying and teaching the Malagasy language. Malagasy is incredibly simple (fortunately for me), and that simplicity somehow makes it easier to clearly present deeply profound thoughts. In fact, the Malagasy people have ancient traditions of teaching powerful messages through short and simple “ohabolana,” or parables. One of my favorite ohabolana from the Malagasy people is this one: Ny teny toy ny atody; raha foy, manan-elatra. (Words are like eggs; when hatched, they have wings.) You can discern a few different meanings from this ohabolana. For example, you might reflect about how harmful gossip or rumors can be; you might think about how words have the ability to uplift and drive good causes forward; or you might even discern a message in the ohabolana that I’ve never considered! That’s the beauty of an ohabolana; you can get from it what means the most to you. For our purposes in the multifamily industry, I want to stress the importance of knowing what is being said about your community and taking the right amount of time proactively managing your reputation. More importantly, my goal is to help companies avoid the distraction of “wild goose chases”, running after each little thing that has been said about thei......
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Have You Heard What They Are Saying About Your Quality?

Have You Heard What They Are Saying About Your Quality?
As young children we're taught not to pay attention to what others are saying about us, to not care. It's good advice in many scenarios. Be yourself and don't worry about what anyone else thinks about you. But while this may be good advice and it may work at an individual level, it may also hurt or kill a company. I love where I work for many reasons. One big reason right now is that there is a big emphasis, from the top down, to find out what our clients are saying about us.  We, of course, have several ways for clients to provide feedback, but historically the volume of helpful feedback that we get has been low.  With my focus primarily being an advocate for quality and for the customer, I am highly interested and motivated to know what our clients think.  If a colleague were to ask them about us, would they tell them they LOVE us or would they tell them to run for the hills?  In my last post I talked about quality at a high level, and this time I wanted to address one of the lower level points I mentioned, which was "Get Your Bearings." I have taken a very pro-active role in our company when it comes to getting our bearings.  A lot of effort has gone into asking our clients to rate the likelihood that they would recommend us and then even more importantly to find out the big reason(s) behind the ratings.  This has involved reaching out to hundreds of clients and asking some simple questions: Why did you......
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“The Silent 97%” – Unspoken Apartment Ratings

“The Silent 97%” – Unspoken Apartment Ratings
I came across a blog post1 the other day that discussed the cost a company incurs because of poor customer service.  One of the surprising statistics that stuck out to me was that 97% of customers don't complain or vent their frustrations, even when they are unhappy with a product or service. I should clarify that they are certainly venting to their friends, families, work associates and the pizza deliveryman about how horrendous this product or that service is... But they're not voicing their complaint to the company responsible. Why aren't businesses hearing from these individuals more often? Can you imagine how much of a positive impact their feedback could have? In order to receive that crucial resident input from the silent majority, your apartment communities must establish practices that show you do in fact want honest feedback from the people you serve each day. Once you've made the decision that you want this feedback, regardless of how harsh it may be, there needs to be an effortless avenue for residents to provide their input. You have to make it as easy as possible. Integrated ratings & reviews, net promoter scores, and comment forms are a few simple, online avenues for a customer to let you know how good or bad you are doing as a company. Once you have the data, you have to leverage it. It's actually worse to ask people to provide feedback and then do nothing about it, than it is to never ask for feedback at all. When residents take the time to......
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ApartmentRatings.com Finally Creating a Positive Impression of Apartment Living?

Most people think about ApartmentRatings.com in a micro sort of way, analyzing their own community’s rating and that of their immediate competition.  But ApartmentRatings impacts the industry in a far greater way, by appearing to show what the prevailing opinion is on apartment living overall.  For example, if there was a rating site for almond butter and the average rating was 40% across the site for all brands, you would probably assume that almond butter as a whole isn’t very good, even if some of the brands had 90% ratings while others had 20%.  So in this way, ApartmentRatings on a macro level was shaping the debate on whether people really enjoyed apartment living in the first place.    Not only is this consolidated effect important on dictating existing attitudes on apartment living, but it also works to perpetuate those very attitudes.  Going back to the almond butter analogy, if you already knew that almond butter overall had a 40% satisfaction rating going into a tasting, you would be more likely to have a negative predisposition before you even started.  Most people follow the herd with reviews, so if there are thousands of negative reviews already, they will likely not question that assessment.  So the negative reviews themselves breed a negative perception.  This is why ApartmentRatings has been the biggest negative PR campaign the multifamily industry has ever seen. The winds appear to be changing, however, as big changes with ApartmentRatings.com, as well as apartment communities approach to reputation management has dra......
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Do you prepare for bad reviews?

I recently read an article about a company that practices how they will inform customers if there is a major disaster, such as an online security breach.  Seems like a great idea to practice that apology and plan of action in advance.  After all, employee training and accountability to your customers are major components of a good customer experience. Let’s apply this exercise to multi-family and reputation management.  Do you train your employees on what to do if they get a negative review? Before you ask, I’ll make it clear that I am not talking about handing out scripts. Do you teach them where the accountability lies and how to offer real solutions and sincere apologies in a timely manner? Whether it is a positive or negative review, you need to respond promptly and thoughtfully. And, identifying your evaluation process now makes your future responses much easier to manage. So, get your team together and practice responding to complaints. If it were me, I would find a negative review for a competitor, evaluate how they handled the situation, and then create my own practice response. It is a great learning exercise and it gives you a little insight into what your neighbor’s or not doing well! Before you craft your response, don’t forget to evaluate the purpose of the review. Is the resident unhappy? Is the negative reviewer a dedicated complainer (that means that person is always a glass half empty kind of guy)? Will your response make a difference? How emotion......
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