By Nick Nichols
Like it or not, your potential self-storage tenants are using online reviews to decide whether or not to rent from you. Reviews at sites like Yelp, Yahoo Local, Insider Pages and Merchant Circle can steer potential tenants toward or away from your facility. Google+ Local reviews weigh heavily in determining if your facility will be in the Google 7-Pack listings, which are the balloon listings that appear prominently when someone searches for self-storage in your area.
If you have no reviews, few reviews or too many negative reviews, people are likely to skip your facility in favor of a well-reviewed one. Even if you dont look at these reviews, you can bet the success of your business that your potential tenants will.
Monitoring Your Online Reputation
The first step in monitoring your online reputation is to go to Google, Yahoo and Bing and search for your facility name. See what comes up on the first three pages, then click on the resulting links to see whats being said about you. Make a list of all the websites that reference your facility. Set up accounts at all the review sites that refer to you.
Next, do the same for <your facility name> reviews. This should render more actual review listings. Note the default search settings for Google, Yahoo and Bing use predictive search technology to suggest more specific search queries, such as adding reviews after the name of certain businesses. The more people who use reviews after a business name, the more likely the search engines are to suggest reviews as a search modifier. This means its inevitable that the word reviews will be a suggestion after your facility name at some point.
A handy way to monitor your online reputation is to use Google Alerts. Go to Google.com/alerts and create an alert for your facility name in quotation marks. (Youll need a free Google account.) Start with all results, once a day. See if anything is being said about your business. You might also set up alerts for your management company (if you use one), key employees and major competitors. These may come in handy as well.
What to Do About Negative Reviews
First, take a deep breath and try not to take it too personally. No business can please all people all the time.
Second, most negative reviews are just an opinion. Hopefully, they don't represent a fundamental flaw in your customer-service policies. But if you see a recurring pattern in negative reviews, take action immediately to correct the cause of the problem.
Some review sites offer rebuttal opportunities and others dont. Yelp is one site that lets business owners comment on reviews. The key is to make a rebuttal empathetic and professional. For example:We appreciate <name> taking the time to write a review about us. We are sorry that he/she had a negative experience. We have taken steps to ensure this doesnt happen again and would like to invite <name> back in for a free months rent. Other sites dont allow owner responses, so the only action you can take is to get more positive reviews.
Encourage Tenants to Write Positive Reviews
There are two keys to getting positive online reviews: deliver outstanding customer service, and train your employees to recognize positive-review opportunities. While an in-depth discussion of customer service is beyond the scope of this article, its relatively easy to train staff to recognize opportunities for positive reviews.
First, create a tenant-satisfaction form that includes a line for the customers e-mail address, a Facebook-account checkbox, and a place for customers to sign the form, allowing you to use their comments publically. Next, be on the alert for customers who make unsolicited positive comments about your facility or thank employees for something. When that happens, the employee should seize the moment and ask the customer to complete the form on the spot. When a customer is in a positive frame of mind, its likely hell comply.
If the customer has a Gmail account, its a golden opportunity because he can easily post a Google+ Local review. People with a Facebook account can use it to log in to Yahoo Local, Insider Pages, Merchant Circle and possibly other places to write reviews.
The employee simply needs to say something like, I see you have a Gmail address. Would you mind leaving a review for us at Google Plus? Its easy. Just use your Gmail account login. Thenand this is criticalhe needs to give the customer written instructions on how to post the review. This varies from site to site and cant be detailed here, but its not too hard to figure out, and you only have to do it once for each review site you want to use.
Although not everyone will write an online review, all you need are three to five positive reviews a month to create a stellar online reputation over time. Once you have at least 10 detailed review forms, you can create your own review website. Set up the right way, that site is likely to show up at the top of the search results when people search for reviews on your facility. When this happens, they may not need to look further and will be ready to rent from you!
The Secret Is in the System
Since the importance of having positive online reviews will only increase over time, its critical that you implement a customer-review system immediately. I use the word "system" because most businesses have a hit-and-miss or non-existent review-encouragement program. Those that have a defined system in place will be miles ahead of businesses that don't.
A system that encourages your existing tenants to write positive online reviews will help you attract more people wholl be inclined to rent from you on their first visit at the prices you want to charge.
Nick Nichols helps self-storage operators attract more long-term tenants, boost tenant satisfaction and increase tenant retention. Hes the author of Protect and Enhance Your Online Reputation: How to Suppress and Replace Negative Items with Positive References to Establish Expertise and Build Your Brand. Hes an expert in helping local businesses develop and deploy a customer-review system and branded review website. Get his free report, How to Generate Endless Online Referrals, at SelfStorageAdvantage.com.