By Joe Greenblatt
“Customer Service is the new marketing.” —Jay Baer, author, Hug your Haters
In this internet-driven era of rapid-fire reviews, what people say about you online matters. And for this reason, it is vital to realize that reputation management—the practice of attempting to shape public perception by participating in the review process and influencing online information—is an essential practice in the multifamily industry and fundamental to the success of a community.
According to Chatmeter, an online platform our company uses, more than 90 percent of prospective residents search resident feedback and other available data online before deciding which communities to consider. Review sites popular with renters seeking a place to live include apartments.com, Yelp, Apartment Guide and Apartment Ratings.com. These sites provide reviews and information that are typically the first impression a prospective resident may have of a community, and can also have an enduring impact on resident retention.
Unfortunately residents and former residents tend to share negative experiences less frequently than positive ones. In fact, Chatmeter data reveals that only 20 percent of consumers leave a review when they’ve had a positive experience.
The internet provides a platform on which residents unhappy with a management decision or policy or former occupants disappointed that cleaning costs were retained from their security deposit, can—and often do—vent their feelings. The on-site team may perceive such complaints as unfair and even as personal attacks on their management and integrity. We’ve found that for many of our team members, this can make reputation management a difficult undertaking.
Yet despite the challenges, responding to online reviews is an increasingly important component of real estate management and the customer service process.
Respond and Engage
“Customer service has become a spectator sport.” —Tom Webster, Edison Research
Failing to respond to online reviews sends a resounding and clear message to the public: “We don’t care.” It is essential for multifamily operators to carefully monitor all social media platforms, listen to renters’ needs and wants, promptly respond to any online comments or reviews—positive and negative—and resolve issues in a timely fashion. Responding offers an opportunity to engage with future and current residents by conveying professionalism and tackling criticism constructively. It can also provide a chance to emphasize your property’s strengths, amenities, services, location, etc.
Online reputation management is an intensive, time-consuming process. It requires strong investigative and customer service capabilities along with objectivity. Equally important, it requires the ability to communicate in writing thoughtfully and articulately.
Cookie Cutter Solution Rarely Works
The need for comprehensive reputation management services has spawned a new industry with a diversity of companies stepping into the breach to offer a variety of social medial management options. The challenges with these third-party services often revolve around their lack of a personal touch, absence of insight into a community and lack of context to understand and address issues presented by current and former residents. The reality is that all reviews need to be thoughtfully addressed and issues promptly resolved. Inevitably, this requires the involvement of someone onsite who truly knows and understands the property. A generic cookie cutter solution rarely works.
At the same time, we’re seeing more and more companies within and without the multifamily industry hiring full-time reputation management specialists.
Whether managed by a third-party entity or in-house, recognizing the importance or reputation management and investing in that practice is a trend we believe bodes well for the industry.
An online reputation needs to be carefully cultivated and maintained and should accurately reflect your community. Ultimately, online reputation management is critical to the bottom line—and should be a core part of any operator, owner or investor’s business strategy.
With a 30 year background in the multifamily industry, Joe Greenblatt is the president/CEO of Sunrise Management, a San Diego-based firm which has specialized in the management of multifamily properties since 1978. The firm currently has regional offices in Sacramento, Las Vegas and Phoenix, with a portfolio of 13,000 units throughout California, Arizona and Nevada.