Incorporating Resident Reviews Into Marketing Plans
How to use the "new word of mouth" to attract prospective renters.
Over the last decade, online shopping channels such as Amazon, have made customer reviews a powerful marketing tool. Now, consumers automatically read product reviews anytime they are considering purchasing a product or service.
“Reviews are the ‘new word of mouth,’” said Jenna Miller, senior director of Marketing & Customer Experience for property management at The Bozzuto Group. “What used to take days and weeks of asking around to get opinions and recommendations from friends and family can now be done in a few minutes, with a few clicks.”
“Data has shown that most prospects look at reviews at some point during their search process and, not surprisingly, the majority will end up choosing the property with the better reputation,” Miller continued. “When features, amenities and location are comparable—as they often are in dense markets, reviews serve as the tie breaker for where a prospect will tour and eventually lease, as it gives them a glimpse into the actual experience of living there.”
In fact, 80 percent of prospective residents say they read resident reviews before contacting a property to schedule a tour, according to Lela Cirjakovic, managing director of the JLL multifamily property management group, who noted that resident reviews have become a valuable part of apartment marketing efforts. “The importance of reviews has changed exponentially,” she adds, noting that a strong campaign will get people to look at a property, but a negative review will crush any marketing strategy.
Resident sentiment and reviews are now a valuable part of JLL’s apartment marketing strategy and are posted on its community websites. Cirjakovic says that current resident reviews are critical. Cirjakovic says that current resident reviews are critical to their relevancy. It also is important to consistently update web pages with the most current reviews to remain at the top of Google searches, as Google ranks search results by date, as well as relevancy to the query. So, the fresher the content, the closer the listing appears to the top.
Miller also suggests that reviews must be recent to be trusted or taken seriously, as data shows that a majority of resident prospects consider timeline of reviews relevant to their value.
Tiffany Walters, senior director of marketing Greystar, said that Greystar’s management team is far more focused on ratings and reviews today than a decade ago, because they now play a vital role in the leasing/sales process, as reviews define customer experience from a customer’s point-of-view.
Stressing the importance of reviews to marketing efforts, Walters contends that the majority of renters trust resident reviews, because they describe the customer’s own personal experiences with their property managers. Successful capture and management of reviews, particularly via Google, also offer SEO benefits, she adds, noting that reviews are displayed and consistently updated on Greystar community websites and are circulated via the community’s social media channels, as well.
“As we have dug into the data, there is a clear collaboration between high review ratings and a property’s NOI,” Walters explained. “Good customer service is not only good for the customer but for the bottom line.”
Team buy in
Cirjakovic stressed that resident interactions are wholly reliant on the experiences with associates. “Working with associates to ensure that they are ready and willing to serve residents and guests needs to be a priority,” she says, noting that to optimize property reviews and ultimately property performance, aligning the entire organization around a focus on the resident experience is critical.
“A positive experience starts at the very first interaction with an associate and continues throughout the resident life cycle,” Cirjakovic continued. She says that experienced team members with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage with residents in a positive way are able to build a property’s online reputation. “Engaging associates pay attention to resident preferences,” she added, noting that JLL focuses on educating leasing employees on how to be present, responsive and turn interactions with residents into positive experiences.
Noting that JLL does not offer financial rewards for resident reviews, Cirjakovic said that to be authentic reviews must follow interactions with property management employees, including leasing associates, maintenance, or other team members. She says that the most appropriate time for team members to ask residents for a review is immediately following an interaction or completion of a service.
Miller warns that incentivizing residents for positive reviews is prohibited under Google and FTC rules (see Google Review Gating policy), but platforms like Community Rewards, which are used by many property management companies, awards residents with points for providing experience feedback, positive or negative. Once accumulated, those points can be redeemed for prizes.
Keeping it real
Miller also noted that there has been an increase in fabricated review activity, such as using bots and other dishonest methods of collecting reviews, which has made it more challenging for customers to navigate and discern the validity of reviews. “That is why it is increasingly important for honest businesses to have strong and consistent reputation strategies in place that provides transparency to customers,” Miller emphasized.
Cirjakovic said leasing JLL’s associates are required to read and respond to all reviews, positive or not, in a respectful and gracious manner. “When a poor review describes a service issue, we attempt to take that communication offline and work directly with the resident to resolve the issue,” she said. Furthermore, Cirjakovic stated that managers work with team members to improve their customer service skills to help prevent similar issues or disruptions in the future.
Walters said that through consistent online management strategies and adoption of tools to help streamline reporting and processes, Greystar’s leasing team has achieved dramatic improvement in response to reviews, regardless of sentiment. Greystar team members send review requests via email to prospects as a follow-up and during milestones in the customer journey, without focusing on resident sentiments. They also leave printed review reminders in resident homes when service is completed and place printed materials or signage in common areas and apartment models that encourage guests to share their experiences.
“It is important to capture guests in the moment when they are most likely to invest the time to share their experiences,” Walters continued, noting that of equal importance is the need for a consistent focus and strategy to manage a community’s reputation.
With the volume of options and information available to consumers, it has become increasingly important to prioritize and respond to reviews to manage reputation and stay competitive, agrees Miller, noting that reviews are critical to her company’s marketing efforts. They not only help to generate information about an apartment community but have become a key part of the consideration phase in the buyer’s journey, she adds.
Miller suggested that reviews help to sell a community, noting that it adds power to leasing agents’ sales tactics when they can say, “Hey, don’t just take my word for it, check out our reviews online.” She said that snippets of reviews also are used in advertisements, on social media channels and on property websites for easy reference by prospective residents.
Miller also noted that reviews are a great resource for managers in recognizing the strong performance and positive behavior of specific employees, when they are mentioned by name in resident reviews, and in helping managers coach and develop team members where there are opportunities for improvement.
She said that the most effective strategy for getting residents to participate in reviews is “quite simply, is to ask.” While extreme situations—positive or negative—often prompt reviews organically, Miller suggested that there is a significant population of residents who have had great experiences but are not proactive in sharing their experiences until asked. She noted that timing is key to “the ask” and should occur on the heels of a positive experience, such as when residents are leaving a fun community event.
Noting that all feedback is valuable and constructive, as it serves as a roadmap for improvement, Miller noted the important of making it quick and easy for residents to leave a review. Bozzuto’s resident review strategies include automated review requests via SMS and email. “But even more important are the situational asks, which happen spontaneously and in the moment during authentic customer interactions,” she said. “Taking the opportunity to ask for a review when a resident stops by the concierge desk to grab a biscuit for their dog, or when a maintenance team member quickly and efficiently addresses a resident request—those are the moments that are going to generate the best results.”