Nick Barber is President and CEO of UMoveFree, the largest apartment locating service in Texas. UMoveFree is a free service that helps renters in Texas find a new apartment each month. Nick called with some questions about Google Maps and we had a great conversation about his company’s review strategy. Nick agreed to share his review gathering story and tactics.
MB: Could you provide a brief overview of your process to garner reviews?
Nick: When we started taking an active role in our online reputation management I noticed, like I’m sure many business owners notice, that the review sites are more likely to attract a customer that has a negative experience than a positive one. That is, even if the overwhelming majority of your customers have positive things to say about your product or service, those customers are more unlikely to post their opinions online than the few customers who have negative things to say. The trick is to identify your satisfied customers and give them a voice. I think this starts by making certain you run a good business with a strong focus on customer service. Our strategy focuses on giving our happy customers a strong voice…that means we have to first have overwhelmingly happy customers. I think it’s worth saying that no matter what you do, if your customer satisfaction is bad then your online reviews are bound to be bad as well. On the other hand, if you have great customer satisfaction it should be relatively easy to make the online review sites reflect this truth…so long as the business is taking an active approach.
How long have you been actively seeking reviews?
About 6 months. We got to the game late but we made it a major focus once we showed up.
What has been your experience with customer reviews?
Great. Some consultants will say “Reputation Management” is trying to de-rank the review sites and rank “other” alternative pages that are created for this purpose. We started with this strategy and put out new content (articles, press releases, etc) that were essentially a pseudo brochure for the brand. These articles were optimized for brand name keywords and then we worked to get page one of a brand name SERP to be covered with this content. This was mildly successful but had a temporary shelf life. In my opinion Google has a vested interest in ranking the legitimate review sites on a brand name search…If someone is doing research on your brand that’s what they want to see, and there’s no way you can trick Google with a bunch of brochure-like articles. We dropped that approach and instead focused on making sure the pages that are bound to rank were likely to give customer a positive impression of our brand. Again, this all about having good customer service and making sure you leverage those happy customers.
What process have you implemented to make it easy for your organization to get reviews and for clients/customers to give them?
We have changed the culture so that everyone is aware this is a major goal for the company. When we encounter an extremely happy customer (which happens often if you’re running a good business) we simply take the time to point that customer in the right direction.
What review sites do you recommend to customers? Why?
Picking sites that are easy to post a review on is the best strategy. If it takes 10 steps and a double email confirmation the customer is likely to give up. We’ve had the best success with Google Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, JudysBook, CitySearch, MerchantCircle, and InsiderPages.
What is your experience with Yelp…
We avoid them like the black plague. You can find a lot of articles on the subject so I won’t get on a soap box…but we’ve had around 30 satisfied customers post positive reviews on Yelp and none of them posted to our profile. When we asked why we were told that the customer has to be an “active Yelp user” or the reviews will not show up. When we asked what constitutes an “active Yelp user” we were told that formula was proprietary and confidential. Of course, this didn’t stop them from making a sales call and offering us assistance in getting more positive reviews on our account. After doing some research and realizing this was a much bigger problem with other business owners, and that they were involved in a class action lawsuit for similar accusations, we just decided to avoid them all together.
What were the barriers to getting a smooth process set up?
It has to be consistent and sustainable. Every employee has to be aware of the project and empowered to get involved; not just the marketing and management departments who rarely interact with customers on the ground. For instance, if the receptionist has a chance phone call with an overly appreciative customer their immediate response should be “we really appreciate your positive comments…would you mind if I send you an email with a link to our XXXX business review profile…it would mean a lot to us if you take just a moment to share those thoughts with other potential customers”.
Do you incent clients in any way to provide reviews?
NO. We decided this could potentially destroy our credibility. The last thing you want is a customer you thought was happy that turned out to be not so happy posting a comment like “don’t believe any of these positive reviews, this company offered me a bribe to post a positive comment on this site”. We even included a section in our policies and procedures handbook. Offering incentives for a positive review will land you in serious trouble with the big boss…posting a fake review will cost you your job.
Do you make your review process explicit on your website?
No, but we are in the process of overhauling our site and it will be on the new site.
How do you handle negative reviews?
Actively, immediately and seriously. Here’s an example…Check out the review and comments from “HeaS” on 9/5/2009:
How has the world of online reviews impacted your business?
We see this as a major competitive advantage. We have great customer service and by taking an active approach our online review profiles now reflect this…
I always tell our sales reps that if your customer is considering using another company, tell them to check the reviews of us and our competitors online and let me know every time they still choose the other company…I’ve never lost a customer after they do the research. The reviews are legitimate and they are the best marketing pitch we could ever give a customer that is considering using our service.