The most common complaint we hear from apartment communities when it comes to online reviews is simple: Online reviews, by their very nature, are skewed heavily toward being negative. The reason for this isn't too hard to understand.
In this post, we want to talk about why reviews have a negative bias and what apartment communities can do to correct that bias and earn positive reviews. So first we're going to talk about the negative review issue. Then we're going to talk about 11 different ideas for exceeding resident expectations.
Why People Leave Negative Reviews
Let's say next time I go to my neighborhood coffeeshop, they screw up my order. They charge me $1.50 more and give me the wrong drink. Then when I go to the barista to see if I can get them to make me the right drink and give me back the money they over-charged, the barista gets upset and says that that was what I ordered. Eventually, we get it straightened out but I have to get another barista to help out.
This is an objectively bad experience. It's the sort of experience that might prompt me to take some sort of action, such as leaving an unfavorable review of that business somewhere online.
Of course, if you're the business looking at this you might understandably be annoyed at this: "We've given you great service dozens of time," you might say. "But you never left us a positive review. And now after one bad experience, you're doing this? What gives?"
You've probably said something like that yourself, if you have ever had to manage online reviews for your community, right?
But this is how online reviews work: Online reviews are not something most of us leave every day. They're an unusual thing that we do on occasion. And like all such actions, we need to be prompted to do them. If everything goes as expected (IE we have a great experience at a business) we are not likely to leave a review. But if a thing goes badly, our routine is disrupted, and we are in turn motivated to do something different, such as leave an online review.
What we need to talk about today, then, is how your business can avoid negative reviews as well as what you can do to earn positive reviews.
Step One: Meet the average apartment shopper or resident's expectations.
This is perhaps a bit of a let-down to start. You might be thinking, "OK, I'm going to learn how to get positive reviews, this is great. Let's go." Then the first bit of advice is... meet expectations?
Here's the thing: Negative reviews come from negative experiences. What makes a negative experience? Negative experiences with a business come from businesses failing to meet expectations. So if we are going to get online reviews under control, we need to a) understand what apartment prospects and residents expect, and b) meet those expectations.
So let's talk about expectations first. The good news is that coming up with most of a prospect or resident's expectations is not that hard.
- to be able to access basic community information on your website (rent price, amenities information, contact information)
- to be treated professionally on the phone and in-person by leasing staff
- to be able to find the community without too much trouble when traveling there for an in-person tour
- to receive clear, easily understood paperwork when signing a lease and to have any complications with the paperwork explained to them
These are all fairly minimal, reasonable expectations. They aren't that hard to meet. You just need a basic website and an average leasing staff and you should be able to do all that.
- a quiet, comfortable place to live
- the unit to be move-in ready on the day they move in
- maintenance needs to be addressed in a timely fashion
- to be treated fairly by community staff
- that management will abide by the terms of the lease
If you do these things, the odds of you getting a lot of negative reviews are low. It will still happen because people can sometimes be unreasonable. But if someone leaves an online review complaining that you evicted them because they didn't pay their rent for three months... well, you don't need to worry too much.
Step One Addendum: Identify expectations or needs that still are not typically met.
Before we talk about the second step, we want to briefly make one additional comment about expectations. It is often the case that the companies with the best reputation are not necessarily those with the best product, but those with the best service. And a big part of what separates them in terms of service is not just that they meet basic needs that everyone recognizes, but that they have identified relatively basic needs that no one else in their space is meeting or that they were not meeting previously.
Rebekah Cancino's White Board Friday has a good example of how this looks in practice. In the video, she talks about a client she worked with that sold chocolate-dipped strawberries. This company shipped berries to many of their customers, but they started noticing over time that on certain days they would expect to see higher sales—the days leading up to Mother's Day, for example—that sales weren't rising as expected.
Eventually they identified the problem after talking to a number of customers: Gift-givers were nervous about sending berries by mail because they didn't want the gift they spent a lot of money on to melt and go bad before the person they were giving it to got home. The company fixed this problem by adding a short text box on the order page explaining that the berries are shipped in a special kind of box that keeps them cold for a very long time. That one change led to a major increase in sales.
Ultimately, then, this was a simple problem: Prospective customers expected that the berries would be kept cold, but they had no idea if that was actually what happened or not. Therefore, they didn't buy. Once they were assured that this basic expectation—my gift will still be good if it sits on my friend's porch for four hours before they find it—was fulfilled, they were happy to order.
Step Two: Find ways to surpass expectations.
Now we're ready to talk about gaining positive reviews. But please do make sure you're fulfilling all the basic expectations before you start thinking about these kind of questions. If your staff is surprising people by exceeding one expectation but you're failing to deliver the basic services they expect, it won't help you.
Toward that end, here are 7 simple ideas for how you can exceed expectations:
- On move-in day, leave a note in the unit telling the new resident to come down to the leasing office because you'd like to buy them dinner on their move-in day so they don't have to worry about food that night. Then when they come down to the leasing office, you can introduce yourself and give them a gift card to a restaurant nearby.
- This idea comes from Mike Brewer: If it's a rainy day and the property manager can see the parking lot from the office, consider keeping an umbrella by the door and running out with it to meet a resident when they arrive so they can stay dry as they walk inside.
- Leave something genuinely valuable on your resident's front step just to be kind: I'm not talking about a sucker on Halloween, but a $5 Starbucks gift card on a random day just to be nice.
- Make the online payment and maintenance request forms as easy to use as possible and follow-up with people. Ask them (face-to-face) if the online payment system is working for them. Follow up on maintenance requests.
- This is another Mike Brewer idea: If you have a maintenance person working on a clogged sink or fixing a toilet, encourage them to be alert to other little things in the unit that they can fix if necessary. Maybe even encourage them to do a quick spot check to make sure everything is working—is the refrigerator cold enough? Does the oven work? The toilet? How is the water pressure? If you fix a problem before the resident can ask, that's a huge win.
- Do you know your residents' birthdays? If so, drop off a little gift around their birthday just to show them that you appreciate them.
- Think about inconveniences you deal with during certain times of year. Is there a way you can save your resident from having to bother with that? One example that comes to mind for me: Christmas tree removal. There are multiple ways you could help with that: Maybe you just send out an email to residents letting them know you have Christmas tree bags in the leasing office that you're giving away to anyone who wants one. Or maybe you send out an email on December 26 or 27 asking if anyone needs help getting rid of their tree and offering to help them with that. There are lots of ways you could do this.
The big idea with all of these is that you need to be aware of what your residents are doing and taking steps to make their daily life simpler and easier. Don't just think of yourself as being a business that gives people a place to life; think about how you can make their daily life more comfortable and pleasant. Look for ways to serve your residents and put their needs ahead of your own.