As reputation management continues to weave its way into the everyday landscape of the multifamily industry, apartment companies are continuing to develop creative ways to respond to reviews.
But the most sophisticated companies are stopping negative reviews from even being posted by using ratings and reviews as market research and adjusting operations to provide a better experience. A panel at the National Apartment Association Education Conference & Exposition in San Francisco imparted strategic recommendations on how to do exactly that at the session It’s Not Just a Review. It’s Free Market Research.
The notion that ratings and reviews are becoming more prevalent in renter decisions was underscored in the results of an extensive resident survey, which found that 43 percent of searchers consider three out of five stars too low when hunting for an apartment. The study also showed that most searchers aren’t convinced after reading a positive review. Ninety-five percent of them will continue to seek information, with 41 percent inclined to continue reading reviews.
While that creates the need for companies to monitor reviews on a daily basis, genuinely listen to resident feedback and seek ways to generate more positive reviews, panelists shared a few tricks of the trade.
“We operate by the theory that the customer is not always right, but the customer is always heard,” said Holli Beckman, vice president of marketing and leasing operations for WC Smith. “If we start to see patterns in the reviews or survey results that call out a specific item, especially with capital improvement. I might want to do a new awning and make improvements to the lobby, but what the residents actually want are new washers and dryers. I’m going for that, because they live there and I’m more interested in keeping them there longer.”
Michelle Moriello, director of marketing for Winn Residential, shared an example of one of Winn’s Florida-based communities that was receiving a handful of reviews and resident surveys that claimed maintenance requests were not being handled in a timely manner. Digging into the issue, the community discovered that the maintenance team was overburdened with exterior repairs.
In reaction, the community outsourced some of the exterior work to a third-party to give the maintenance team more flexibility.
“That freed up the maintenance team to really focus on customer service,” Moriello said. “After doing so, we soon saw our resident satisfaction ratings getting better and better.”
Sara Graham, director of marketing for Dolben, relayed the importance of not only seeking ways to generate positive reviews, but also to transform negative reviews to positive by taking action. A resident posted a review complaining about parking at one of Dolben’s communities, including the notion that guest parking wasn’t properly enforced. The community took action, which led to an updated review that noted the improvement in the parking situation.
In another Dolben example, a resident complained that maintenance team members entered the apartment to complete a service order, but with no notification. The community had indeed posted a notice on that resident’s door, but after the complaint, changed the their practice of relaying notifications so that none would be missed.
Graham noted it’s best to handle a delicate situation in person, meaning the review response can simply be a customer-friendly invitation to discuss the issue.
“Sometimes it’s best to take conversations offline and into the office,” she said. “Very seldom are you going to find a solution online, so you want to speak with the resident and uncover the root cause.”