You’ve worked hard to establish a presence for your self-storage operation online. Now, how do you follow and protect your company reputation there?
There are a handful of websites that can cause you to gain or lose a significant amount of business just because of what people say about you on them. But if you don’t know what’s being said or the impact of those comments, you can’t do anything to manage or improve the situation. Below are three steps to help you get control of your online reputation before it’s too late.
Why Is Online Rep So Important?
Consider your average customer. According to a 2018 study by market-research firm BrightLocal, 84 percent of consumers not only search online reviews before they buy, they read at least 10 before they feel a company is trustworthy. Plus, 85 percent give reviews the same weight as if they had come from friends and family. All the feedback prospects can discover about your business creates your online reputation. If it's bad or non-existent, they’ll choose another company. Reviews act as proof of the quality of your self-storage operation. Good ones lend it credibility.
Basically, reviews have a similar impact to word-of-mouth marketing. When someone gets a recommendation from a friend for a brand or product, they’re five times more likely to buy, according to marketing firm Invesp. If 85 percent of your potential customers are giving reviews from strangers the same weight as an endorsement from a friend, then it stands that good reviews can do a lot for your business.
Aside from the effect reviews have on potential renters, the websites on which they’re posted are some of the only places people can get real, unsolicited feedback from actual self-storage tenants. Unfortunately, customers are more likely to write a review if they have a negative experience. In fact, they’re two to three times more likely, says marketing company Reputation Builder.
But you can turn negative reviews around. That feedback won’t only point toward areas of your operation that could be improved, it’ll give you a chance to respond in a way that rebuilds your trustworthiness. BrightLocal reports 89 percent of consumers read business responses to customer reviews.
Finally, your online reputation affects your search engine optimization. When customers are searching for self-storage in their area, they're likely to turn to Google. When they input the search terms, they'll get what's called the “local pack” of the top three recommended websites. Google determines who gets in the pack using a variety of metrics, one of which is reviews—specifically their quantity, frequency and diversity. The better those are, the better chance you have of getting in that coveted spot.
Your online reputation may feel a bit out of your control, knowing that it comes from customers and visitors. However, there’s a lot you can do to improve it just by taking a few simple steps, especially if you're starting from scratch. Here’s what to do.
1. Claim Your Business Listings
There are many places online where a business can have a listing. As a self-storage operator, you need to create or claim those listings for your facility. Google My Business, Facebook and Yelp are the big three listing websites to focus on, but there are many more. Most of your Web traffic will likely come from Google, so if you don't exist there, many customers will be completely unable to find you.
Some operators are reticent to be active on Facebook because they think there’s an expectation to do a lot of posting. Don’t worry. You don't need to post or be active! You just need a business page containing accurate information so people can find you. Google aside, it’s still important to have a presence on Facebook.
You also need to claim your listing on Yelp. Don’t encourage your customers to use Yelp but do claim your listing there so you can respond to reviews on the platform if necessary. Yelp is still widely used, so your presence there is essential. The problem is it chooses reviews in a way that tends to make businesses look bad. Further, most people don't know that Apple’s virtual assistant Siri pulls from Yelp before Google. If a person is doing a voice search for self-storage in his area, Siri will check Apple Maps first and then Yelp. Considering that voice search is on the rise, you want to claim and update your Yelp listing as soon as possible.
The most important information to include in these listings is your business phone number, address, hours of operation and website. Make sure everything is accurate. Nothing ensures a lousy review faster than someone not being able to find your physical property, or you not being open when your listing says you will be.
2. Monitor and Respond to Reviews
You can’t do anything about your company’s online reviews if you don’t know they exist. Fortunately, there are services that will alert you when a new review is posted about your business, including Reputation.com and Yext. Once you’ve found and read those reviews, you have a responsibility to respond.
You already know customers are reading your responses to reviews, and that’s important. In addition, when ranking your business in searches, Google looks at the amount of time it takes you to answer. It's better to respond late than never, but it's always best to reply as quickly as possible.
With so much riding on your response to reviews, it can be nerve-wracking to write a reply, especially if the comment is negative. After all, this is your livelihood. You might be upset that the incident prompting the review happened in the first place. You may perceive the reviewer is exaggerating or lying. Whether the review is real or fake (and you should always assume it’s real), your response matters. Writing appropriate replies is a skill you must learn.
If a review is negative, take these steps to remedy the situation:
- Stay calm and be polite. Even if you feel you aren't in the wrong, never respond angrily.
- Offer a solution. You can suggest anything that would be appropriate to the circumstances.
- Take the conversation offline. Provide an e-mail or phone number on which to reach you. There’s no use hashing things out online. Write something like, “I'm sorry to hear you were unhappy with X. I’d like to discuss this issue with you in more detail to find a solution that meets your needs. Please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx, or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org at your earliest convenience.”
- Ask for an update. Set yourself a reminder to follow up with the reviewer and ask how things turned out. Is he happy with the solution you provided?
- Learn and improve. When you find a bad review, research the incident. If it’s legit, take steps to ensure it never happens again. If the review is fake, reframe your response as an opportunity to regain the trust of everyone who might read about your facility and have second thoughts.
3. Solicit More Reviews
With all this emphasis on reviews, you may be wondering how you get them in the first place. Aside from what we’ve already discussed—claiming your online business listings and making sure they’re as accurate as possible—there are several other ways to increase your reviews.
First, ask your self-storage tenants for them when they sign their lease or visit your office. If you don't, it probably won't enter their minds. When they leave, remind them of your name and let them know you'd appreciate a review about their experience. You can leave it at that.
Second, offer staff incentives to solicit reviews. Everyone should be asking facility visitors and customers for them. You can even make a small competition out of it. The reward doesn't need to be substantial. Something like a gift card for the most reviews in a month or a quarter will work. The important thing is to get everyone into the habit of asking.
Third, showcase your reviews on your website. When previous people visit, they'll see reviews left by others and be inspired to leave one, too. It's easy to set up a way for people to leave a review through your website, or just add a link to your Google or Yelp page.
Finally, follow up with customers via e-mail or text. It can't hurt to send a quick automated follow-up thanking them for their business and reminding them how much you would appreciate a review (with a link to do it, of course).
In the end, it's about encouraging reviews—the more, the better. Just don’t pressure customers to give you good reviews, and don't incentivize your managers based on whether comments are bad or good. You now know how to respond to reviews based on the advice in this article, so don't be afraid of them!
Reputation management is vital for every business, but the self-storage industry seems to be a bit late to the party. You may notice other facilities in your area are hesitant to bring their business online—like offering Web-based rentals and payments. This is your chance to get ahead of the game. Claim and confirm your listings, and practice soliciting and responding to reviews. Your online standing is a critical representation of your business, so don't wait any longer to get it under control.
Tommy Nguyen is co-founder and chief operating officer of StoragePug, a provider of self-storage software, website development and marketing. Powered by modern marketing, StoragePug has built an e-commerce platform that connects customers to self-storage through online rentals, billpay and lease eSign. For more information, call 833.786.7784; visit https://storagepug.com.