1000watt Blog

Writings about real estate, branding, marketing, media and technology from the principals of 1000watt.

Taking the fear out of agent reviews

Online reviews have come a long way in recent years. Nearly every major retailer has incorporated reviews into their product pages, and thanks to Yelp you can now sift through dozens and even hundreds of reviews of any restaurant or local business you want in most cities across the U.S.

Each one of us is now trained to seek out reviews before making any type of purchase online or off.

Real estate is still catching up.

While some brokers have embraced online reviews – The GoodLife Team in Austin comes to mind – many others have shied away because of one big concern:

What happens when there’s a bad review of an agent?

What happens – as evidenced by a recent story about online reviews outside of real estate – is that your reaction to that bad review is what makes or breaks you, probably more so than the review itself.

What many may fail to realize is that online reviews are a big piece of the social puzzle. Consumers engage with your brand by sharing their experience with others. You are expected to participate. And be friendly and proactive rather than defensive.

How you play this can make or break your brand. Seriously.

Take the case of Phil and Kristen Buckley, who in 2011 used a Massachusetts-based moving company to help with their parents’ move. Long story short: their experience was terrible so they posted a one-star, scathing review on Yelp.

Rather than respond publicly on Yelp where the complaint occurred or even call the Buckleys to sort out what went wrong, the moving company did nothing for 18 months. (That’s akin to a decade in Internet years.) When they finally made a move, it wasn’t an apology or a how can we fix this? approach. Nope. They decided to send a letter threatening the Buckleys with a lawsuit if they didn’t remove their bad review from the Internet.

Since that has happened, several prominent blogs, including The Consumerist, have started following the story.

The moving company has found out the hard way that bullying doesn’t jive online.

Now, instead of just one incident that could’ve been viewed by prospective customers as isolated, the company has decimated its brand to douchery in consumers’ eyes.

Rather than view online reviews as a potential threat, why not embrace them? (Here’s a great story about a San Francisco restaurant that did just that in a really fun way.) If your agents have it together, most will be positive anyway. And the negative reviews actually present an opportunity to show consumers you give a shit.

As Marc pointed out a few weeks ago, not encouraging online reviews is quickly becoming a dead end. Arguably, not being there is no longer your choice. You can’t opt out of social.

But being there half-heartedly and with your guard up can be just as damaging.

Think about this as you plan your strategies for next year.

Nobody’s perfect and the feared “bad review” is bound to happen at some point. Just remember that your reaction is public and customers are paying attention.

(Image courtesy of Hazzat.)

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9 Responses to “Taking the fear out of agent reviews”

  1. Russ Bergeron says:

    Apples and Oranges. No one ever gets into the real nitty-gritty of a real estate transaction when talking about reviews. Since it is usually the real estate agent that is the most visible part of the transaction we tend to think that is the only person who needs to be reviewed.

    Well a RE transaction includes a few more people than just the agent – broker, title, escrow, legal, mortgage broker, lender, MLS system, lockbox company, showing system, internet companies, buyer/seller, appraiser, inspector, handyman, homeowners association, short sale, reo, and yes even the moving company – and these are just a few off the top of my head.

    So when an agent gets a bad review because of the lender, is that fair? Or should the entire transaction and everyone involved get a review? A daunting task. It ain’t like rating a pizza joint – Lou Malnati’s by the way, best in Chicago.

    • Drew Meyers says:

      “Or should the entire transaction and everyone involved get a review?”

      It seems the agent would review each of those other parties, right? Some of them, the buyers/seller never interact with if the agent is doing their job well.

    • Jessica Swesey says:

      A great point, Russ. Agents are definitely not the only ones who are part of a transaction.

      But it doesn’t change the fact that consumers want to know what other people’s experience was, nor the fact that the way they find that out has significantly changed in all types of business… so why not real estate?

      I’ve had my opinion changed by a business that I had a bad experience with that I wrote about in an online review. The manager contacted me within 24 hours to apologize and get more information about what happened so he could figure out how to improve. That level of attention and service told me that he cared, and that ended up meaning more to me than the bad service I received the first time.

      Online reviews sometimes are not fair. But I think everyone knows this, which is why we care so much about how the business responded.

  2. Jay Thompson says:

    There have been some studies completed (that for the life of me I can’t find right now) that show the occasional “bad” review can actually lend some credibility to the person/business being reviewed. Some consumers, when faced with screen after screen of five-star reviews, tend to think “selective publishing” or “these are all friends/family/paid reviews”. Throw in a 1 – 2 star review and those thoughts get squelched.

    Many review sites allow the reviewer to respond, and you get consumers with experiences similar to what Jessica noted in her comment. A timely, tactful response to a negative review can be quite powerful.

    To Russ’ point (which is a good one), sure, there are many people involved in a real estate transaction, and if the transaction goes south, the “front man” (the agent) tends to get all the blame. This isn’t unique to real estate though. Ever been to a restaurant with terrific food but horrific service? It’s not the chef’s fault, or the food supplier’s, or the hostesses, or the owner’s fault. Yet the restaurant gets a one-star review because of a server that maybe was just having an off night.

    Agent reviews are not going away. Rather than fear and/or bemoan them, if agents embraced them and *responded* to reviews — both good and bad — they might just find themselves with a competitive advantage…

    • Russ Bergeron says:

      Charlotte – if you only listen to satisfied customers you won’t improve.

      Jay – I believe the study was done in Houston where 4s and 4.5s were more credible than 5s.

      I don’t think the restaurant analogy is accurate because in the case of a restaurant there is usually one owner, or several who are ultimately directly responsible for your customer experience. Same in a grocery store or on-line – all your retail and commodity type purchases. In a real estate transaction it is true that a good agent makes things happen, but there are still too many things (especially in lending these days) that are totally outside of their direct control.

  3. Joe White says:

    What kills me is there is another real estate agent, that works for my company, in a different office, but still in my city.

    “Coldwell Banker Preferred Philadelphia Real Estate Agent Joe White”gets nothing but horrrible reviews and not one is actually me.

    I’ve yet to come up with a way to combat this. He’s an older agent that just has senority in the search engines. I’m just concentrating on seo in hopes to counter.

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