Embrace the Negative Review: A Call for Realtors to Prepare for Constructive Dialogue

As marketers have suspected all along, veering away from genuine negative customer comments isn't just a bad idea but an action that can be detrimental to your brand.

As marketers have suspected all along, veering away from genuine negative customer comments isn't just a bad idea but an action that can be detrimental to your brand. PR practitioners are trained to be relationship builders and many spend a large percentage of their time convincing their team leaders to embrace customer controversy and dilemmas. I'm sure many have felt, at times, like carrying around a large sign reading, "Don't put tape on our customers' mouths. It will only hurt you and the company in the long run!"

Research is now showing that going the high road indeed proves most beneficial. In fact, intent to purchase among shoppers who see helpful responses to inquiries, negative or otherwise, increases by 186 percent, according to a Bazaarvoice study. Additionally, after seeing a brand response to a review, 71 percent of consumers in the survey actually changed their perception of the brand. Those results should be big incentive to get a response plan in play and stick with it.

But for Realtors, embracing customer threats is often scary, right? In comparison to a company, your success depends on your personal reputation in, oftentimes, a small community with people who know how to talk. And they don't just talk these days. They "Facebook" and "tweet" their way into the hearts and minds of friends - friends who you want to sell homes to.

All of the unique aspects of an agent's profession certainly make it challenging to deal with negative customer complaints, but they also make it all the more important not to run from them. Your profession is more personal and arguably relies more on word-of-mouth marketing than most others. You are your brand and your success depends on your customer's opinion of you and the experience you provide.

So let's get down to the nitty-gritty. How can you manage negative online reviews or those that might be teeming in the background through one-on-one discussion? We call this coffee talk, and it can be more detrimental than a blatant online smear. Here's a bit of insight to consider as you work up a reputation management plan - hopefully before you ever hear or see a negative word ushered about your name.

  1. Take a cue from William J. Comcowhich, and be prepared to craft your responses to negative online reviews very carefully. But as long as these comments are not spam or recurring comments from someone who is clearly not looking for constructive help or feedback, always respond. This is your chance to reply to your customer's complaint directly (recognize their concern clearly) and offer them a way to contact you to work out the dilemma. If you are a Realtor, you'll want to cut down on extra work required of the client by adding that you will be reaching out personally.
  2. According to Bazaarvoice, "many reviews contain calls to action (CTAs), such as specific suggestions for product improvement, requests for help, and words of thanks directed at the manufacturer or seller." In other words, even if a client simply wrote you a thank-you note, this could be an opportunity to post their words of gratitude on your website or blog. Look for opportunities in every bit of feedback, regardless of whether it was negative or positive.
  3. If you somehow manage to learn via word-of-mouth that a client is unhappy with your service, consider asking them how their experience is going so far. An open-ended question can help them verbalize concerns and start constructive dialogue that can lead to solutions. Oftentimes, you can tell just by body language and verbal cues that their expectations are not being met. Listen openly and verbally express how you plan to address their concern (example: I completely understand that you'd like to only see homes priced under $300,000. This afternoon, I'll send you several options via email that fit your description. Given time, I really believe we'll find the right fit.) At all costs, stay positive.

If you take a look back at the success you've had as an agent I'm willing to bet that the majority of your clients are referrals. You're good at your profession, most likely, because you know how to talk with clients and offer relevant discussion and service. By falling back on these instincts under the pressure of negative client reviews, you'll have the opportunity to attract new clients by showing just how open and easy you are to work with.

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