Ratings and Reviews – Oversaturation or Maturation?

Sometimes, the genius of something is how simple and unique it is. Take Flappy Birds for instance. Although it wasn’t an immediate success, it sat in general ambiguity for 4 months before it exploded, it created an entire genre of game. It’s no longer available in the app stores but its legacy lives on in its many clones. It was first, it did it best, and it changed the game – pun intended. Back in the stone ages of Multifamily, about 3-4 years ago, for reviews, there was ApartmentRatings. Just ApartmentRatings. No clones. Ratings and reviews were the new buzz words. Yelp had very little relevance and Google reviews was a land of crickets. As an industry we had many intense debates about whether you should respond or even pay much attention to reviews at all. The idea finally caught on but not in the way, I think, we envisioned.

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It would be funnier to change the rating system itself. Maybe lets do it out of 100 or 1000. Then a property could score 453 out of 1000. That would be great? Poor? Hmm.. I’m not sure actually.

Fast forward to today. Every ILS seems to offer their own set of reviews, independent of the Flappy Birds of the industry, ApartmentRatings. Every company who does reviews has a “Verified Resident” program of some sort. Did you know that one ILS won’t allow your rating to go below 3 stars? That’s pretty handy. The only thing these types of reviews seem to benefit is everyone’s SEO. Ouch.

I haven’t read any new funny ApartmentRatings reviews in a while. It’s been flooded with fake and verified reviews which are hard to digest. Most reviews I’ve read on the other sites, especially ILS’s, are pretty awesome in their stars but are incredibly boring to read. So many of them lack details:

“Excellent and caring staff.”

“Location is good.”

There’s a Fault In These Stars and it’s to the tune of 3 or 4 words. Regardless of value, these reviews are being used to drive traffic or increase monthly costs with addons. If I want a review on a product, I’ll go to Amazon, even though they aren’t by definition a review site. I do it because I know I’ll get quality reviews about a product I’m interested in. Real reviews with real thoughts from real people without any company interference.

Our customers want to read real reviews about our apartments. 88% of them last year used an online review to determine the quality of a local business. All it seems we’re giving them is diluted crap with too much Property Management Company influence. We’ve made people afraid to respond truthfully, just ask these residents in Orlando. All of this sticking our biased noses where it doesn’t belong has rendered these reviews useless, not just for our customers but for us as well. We SHOULD have to worry about dipping below 3 stars but I suppose if I have an excellent and caring staff with a great location, we don’t need to fix anything – let’s just go golfing!

I miss the days of responding to every review. Sure, doing so made us seem needy and too PR-y but that at least felt more real because we were responding to real people. Angry, silly, obnoxiously moronic ones but real.

1195551_50578947After all these years, I think we’re still afraid to listen to what our customers have to say. We’re embracing reviews on our terms not the consumers. I guess we never did listen to the blogs and conference presenters and people preaching common sense over the years. After all, how else would we have gotten here?

Since I’m standing on a soapbox and hopefully you’re still reading, I figure I’ll voice some displeasure at Internet Brands. This isn’t a customer complaint but instead upset at the direction they’ve chosen to take. I was excited for Satisfacts at their IB acquisition because with the influx of cash it meant realizing their dream of being a true rating system for the industry. All it seems they are allowed to be now is a public vehicle for property management companies to control the message on ApartmentRatings. Disappointing. Please be the Amazon.

Here’s a thought. Do you ask during your prospect process if they read any online reviews about you? Did you ask what these reviews said about you?

That would be a different type of progress.

What do you think? Have reviews in our industry become redundant, annoying, and just plain boring or am I just out to lunch? Is there still something to learn from them or have we crushed what we can learn from them into submission? Are these 3 buzz words dead? “Ratings and Reviews”.

What was your high score on Flappy Birds? Mine? 98. Boo Yah.

Happy renting everyone.

About the author

bsitko
  • Bill, I have to ask what the end goal here is. Do you want us to ask residents to leave more thorough reviews? Should SatisFacts implement a minimum character limit?

    I don’t see an issue with more sites offering reviews to their visitors … we know that’s what consumers want to see. For our reputation management clients, we currently track at least 30 different sites where people can leave reviews (and that doesn’t include social media or blogs). We also see that website traffic coming from review sites typically converts anywhere from 30-100% higher than from other sources.

    That said, I do think we need to get out of the way of the customers who want to leave feedback; not showing low scores is absurd, and it insults the prospect. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies out there, and consumers know that.

    I love the idea of providing reviews from real, verified residents, even if most of those reviews are only a couple of words. It’s necessary to balance out the anonymous reviews from disgruntled employees and evicted residents.

    One thing I agree with is that we need to get better at acting on the feedback we’re getting. Far too often, we see that most negative reviews can be tied back to one or two recurring issues, but we don’t see that those issues are being dealt with. Listen to the customer, fix the problem, communicate the fix, repeat. Customers are telling us how to make more money, yet too often, we just ignore it and go on with our business.

    I want *more* ratings and reviews. Real ones. 3 words or 300, I’ll take them. But more importantly (as you stated), we need to be willing to listen to the feedback and act on it.

    • The end game is dialogue, as always. Because reviews are becoming watered down, the real benefit of them is becoming lost. Now the benefit is driving traffic, which I suppose is its maturing but responding and learning from mistakes (which we make!) is starting to vanish.

    • Mike, I agree, and thanks for the stat on lead conversion from review sites!! Bill, some great stuff here, and I would agree to some extent that our island of multifamily has been saturated with ratings and reviews, just like the rest of the world. Consumers will always strive to be more educated on products and services to help guide their buying habits, from a $20 impulse item on Amazon to larger purchases like a new car, or in our case $15,000 worth of rent each year. I don’t think reviews are going away anytime soon. Marketing machines will continue to do what they do best, and consumers will continue to use reviews as a logic test for what that marketing is broadcasting out to the market.

      As a representative of Internet Brands/SatisFacts/ApartmentRatings.com, we preach every day to the industry that all reviews, good or bad, should be acknowledged by management and responded to. And remember that managing your reputation starts first with managing your customer’s experience. Mike, I love how you put it, “Listen to the customer, fix the problem, communicate the fix, repeat.” Communication is one of the key elements to providing great service, so creating and maintaining that culture
      of responsiveness onsite is crucial, whether it be feedback directly from a resident or indirectly, through a ratings and review site.

      Finally, our Verified Resident Program does have a character minimum on all reviews it generates for clarification. We’re not big fans of the “So far, so good” or “The service here sucks” reviews. Why has your experience been positive or negative? More thoughtful, detailed reviews serve the greater good and the original purpose of leaving a review in the first place. To that end, we preface our VRP review solicitations with, “Millions of people use ApartmentRatings.com when searching for a new apartment home. Your feedback will be read to help make educated rental decisions. To support that, we ask that your review contain a minimum of 200 characters (including spaces), with the hope that you will leave valuable comments for shoppers to read.”

      Gentlemen, thanks for all you do to keep us all thinking and improving!!

      • I’m real glad that you commented, Jeff, as I really wanted your perspective on things. Thanks for keeping the conversation going…

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