How to Deal with Negative Online Reviews
Google any business these days and you’ll see their online entry is accompanied by customer reviews. Real estate agencies are no different and sometimes they’ll be targeted by unhappy tenants or other customers.
A tenant who has received a breach notice, or has had a claim made from their bond, or has been asked to leave a property, is very likely to experience negative emotions.
In such situations, they may be unlikely to openly share details of the ways in which they themselves did not meet their tenancy obligations. They may use public reviews as a means of venting their frustration, effectively attributing any wrongdoing to the agency instead.
Those reading these reviews with knowledge of the industry will sometimes notice the agency concerned had followed legislation and/or best practice, which simply did not suit the tenant when they wrote the review.
It’s prudent to remember that not everyone reading these negative reviews will as easily identify and empathise with the realities behind some of these comments as those who work in the industry.
The impact of reviews
Is anyone reading these reviews? There’s plenty of online research available, such as here, that indicates people read reviews, and take them into account when making consumer choices.
Therefore, these public reviews could have a very real impact on public perception about the agency, staff, and services – no matter how undeserved they may be.
These reviews could be read by prospective tenants, and also by prospective clients, influencing decisions about which agency they will engage to manage their property.
Remember that whether or not the negative comments are deserved, people will be watching to see how the complaint is handled. The reason many people research reviews before contacting a business is because, unlike testimonials posted on the business’s own website, the business cannot select which reviews are visible.
All they can do is make a choice about how to respond. This means lessors and tenants are being offered a sneak preview of what that business is going to be like to deal with.
Be honest with yourself
Of course, as professionals, we need to be able to honestly appraise all offered criticism, and take the opportunity to recognise situations where there is genuine room for improvement in our business procedures and service standards.
A lot of complaints often relate to lack of communication, taking too long with maintenance, and a lack of courtesy. An agency can’t remove the negative Google reviews (unless there is cause to believe they are falsely made, for example by a competitor – you can find out more about potentially removing reviews from Google here).
In responding to reviews, you are applying effective damage control and managing the agency’s online reputation.
Generally, the advice to businesses is to respond to negative reviews, rather than to ignore them. This can convey a lack of interest in what your customers think. Your responses will be publicly visible in the same way as the reviews themselves are – and could potentially tell a reader more about the agency than the original review itself!
How to respond
The content and tone of the reply should be carefully considered. Firing off a quick retaliatory or combative reply to the reviewer might momentarily alleviate any anger felt about an unfair criticism – but is unlikely to convey a positive image about the agency to others reading it.
A more effective style of response might perhaps aim to convey that the agency welcomes feedback, and is interested in providing a great service. It could perhaps respectfully clarify key issues where there appears to be a misunderstanding, include an explanation of the steps already taken to resolve the situation, and invite the reviewer to discuss the matter further privately.
Decisions about how your agency monitors online reviews, and who responds and how, might be part of the agency’s overall online reputation management plan.
How do we encourage positive reviews?
Many happy customers might not think to write a review. To avoid the issue of only receiving reviews when someone is feeling disgruntled, ask and encourage your other customers and clients to provide their feedback for your business.
It’s not advised to tell the person to write something positive – just something honest. Make it a habit to ask regularly – online reviews are a dynamic rather than a stagnant thing.
A few negative reviews amongst a steady stream of positive reviews is far less likely to create apprehension for anyone in the process of selecting an agency to do business with.
If you Google most businesses, you’ll find even the most respected of them are dealing with negative reviews.
The goal is to promote a positive image for your agency.
Google provides more advice on how to respond to reviews here.