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Online Reputation & Customer Reviews

By Tim Bailey

According to a 2012 study by the National Association of Realtors, 90 per cent of home buyers use the Internet for their home search. This is clear evidence that home builders need to thoroughly understand today’s ROBO shoppers—consumers that research online and buy offline.
The online research conducted by today’s home buyers creates both tremendous opportunities and intimidating challenges for home builders. Leading builders recognize how critical it is to manage and market a first-rate reputation online to engage prospective buyers and advance them towards the offline portion of the customer experience.

Transparency is Unavoidable
Online customer reviews are here to stay and increasing every day through sites such as Yelp, Google+, Ripoff Report, Gripe, and others. It has become as simple as typing a company name and city into a Google search to read or write reviews on that company, right below the Google Map that appears. Online customer reviews and ratings have become an important part of consumerism and shoppers actively seek this information in the decision making process. There is nowhere left to hide and companies need to employ proactive systems to measure and monitor the customer experience and focus intensely on creating customer advocates that will share the positive news.

Consumers Trust Online Reviews
A company may spend considerable resources on search engine optimization, social media marketing, pay-per-click AdWords, traditional media advertising and more. All of that may be for nothing if that same company is showing up online with bad reviews. Online consumer reviews are now the second most trusted source of brand information, with the most trusted source being recommendations from friends and family. According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey conducted in 2011, 70 per cent of consumers trust online reviews. For companies that have an excellent reputation, it is vital to ensure that the online world is seeing that glowing reputation. For companies that are struggling to earn a first-class reputation, the transparency of today’s wired-world must be a grave concern.

The Good News
Thankfully, there is some good news when it comes to online reviews. The majority of online reviews posted by consumers are positive reviews. Yelp has reported that 67 per cent of its users give businesses 4 or 5 stars out of a possible 5 stars. It is also possible to battle back the occasional bad review with 8 to 10 good reviews.
Leading companies embrace online reviews and social media conversations as opportunities to demonstrate core values, as well as an important resource to gather critical business intelligence information. Quite often even a 5-star review will include a valuable tip from the customer’s perspective to drive business improvement.

Turn the Negative into Positive
It is dangerous for home builders to ignore the impact of negative online reviews or negative social media sentiment. It seems reasonable to think that engaging a negative customer might only intensify the online rant, however, allowing that negativity to stand alone and unanswered can prove much more harmful. According to research conducted by Cone Communications, “four-out-of-five consumers have changed their minds about purchasing a recommended product or service based solely on negative information they found online.”
Consumers understand that some online reviews may be a customer overreaction; a fake or planted review; or even the work of Internet trolls. Experts have found, however, that about two-thirds of online reviews are genuine and the power of reviews to dissuade a prospect should never be trivialized. It is seldom beneficial to engage a troll or to chase an enraged customer in a comment-by-comment battle about their negative review; however, there are prudent strategies to consider when a negative review needs to be addressed.

Dealing with Negative Customer Sentiment Online
Diligent online monitoring is essential for any successful brand and when occasional negative customer sentiment appears online, there are steps that can help to reduce the impact:
Don’t delay: Be timely to address the issue
Treat the disease: Look for and resolve the underlying issue
Rally ambassadors: Have advocate customers post positive reviews
Use a post-back system: Post a link to reviews from other customers
Be transparent: Post the resolution attempts that have been offered

Embrace, Engage and Succeed
Today’s wired-world provides a powerful tool for home builders that have built a reputation for quality, service and an exceptional customer experience. The fear of having to manage the occasional online blemish should never overshadow the benefit of promoting brand excellence online to engage today’s ROBO home buyers.

Tim Bailey is Division President of Avid Ratings Canada, a leading provider of customer loyalty research and consulting to the home building industry. Through the Avid system, industry-leading clients improve referrals, reduce warranty costs, and strengthen their brand. He can be reached at tim.bailey@avidratings.ca.

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