DALLAS, TX - Matthew Kilmurry, director of marketing at Arlington, Va. based AvalonBay Communities watched the Sears delivery guy lug the appliance into his home and set it up. But his job wasn’t quite done yet. The worker had one more task—he asked Kilmurry to give him a five-star rating for service when he received a customer service follow-up call.
Kilmurry was more than happy to oblige. And, he thinks the apartment industry should follow Sears’ example. “Other industries have led the way on this,” he says. “We don’t have to be shy about telling people how important it is to us that we have strong ratings online.”
If apartment owners aren’t more proactive revealing that they have happy customers with positive reviews and responding quickly to bad reviews, they could be in trouble. Kilmurry says about 65 percent his residents look at online reviews. And with things like the incorporation of Google Places into Google searches putting company ratings and reviews directly in front of potential residents, reputation management means more than ever. “Prospects are taking a serious look at reviews and it’s impacting us,” Kilmurry says.
Kilmurry thinks utilizing technology is the best way to incent satisfied customers to give reviews. There’s potential to use technology, especially a score, to expose customers with a positive sentiment and then ask them to provide a review. By doing that, he says apartment owners and managers don’t have to provide incentives to obtain responses.
“In terms of generating positive online reviews, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to move the needle by asking people [to respond in person to surveys],” he says. “If we utilize technology to get in front of people when they’re already on the computer reading an email… paying their rent, or interacting with us someway… we’re giving them quick and easy ways to respond, [then] we’re going to start to move the needle.”
But getting residents to provide good reviews is only part of the battle. Apartment companies also need to respond quickly when negative reviews go up.
“We have had it happen where someone wrote a negative review, we took care of it quickly, and they went back online and either took it down or added a note to it,” Kilmurry says.
But even if they don’t change their original complaint, the apartment owner at least gets the opportunity to respond in public.
“When they’re providing a response online, it’s having a public response so those that stumble across it can have an understanding that the property cares and that they are monitoring what’s being said about them. In a response, you want to empathize with the person, you want to offer some kind of resolution, and you want to take the conversation offline.”
Ultimately, if you’re doing your job managing the property well, what happens offline shouldn’t matter. Lisa Trapp, director of marketing at Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Sequioa Equities, says apartment companies should start with customer experience management planning, making it the bedrock of any reputation management strategy.
“What happens online is simply an extension of the experience you're providing to customers offline,” Trapp says. “More specifically, operators must identify your key touch points with residents, implement brand worthy customs and rituals to be executed [consistently] by on-site management during these touchpoints, measure sentiment, and adjust the initiatives over time to ensure relevancy [through feedback management (i.e. surveying, focus groups, etc.).” If they do that, their online ratings will inherently be a lot better.
Proactive reputation management will be one of many topics of discussion at the 2012 NMHC Apartment Operations & Technology (OpTech) Conference in Dallas, TX November 12-14. To join the conversation, visit the OpTech Conference website for full registration and agenda information.