Your personal reputation is something you should care about a great deal. Everyone wants to be seen in a good light, with pleasant thoughts and feelings associated with their name. Business reputations are similar. A positive public standing for your self-storage operation can be critical to whether it succeeds or fails. But with today’s evolving consumer habits, it can be challenging to manage and cultivate a healthy brand image.
Online reviews are central to public perception and reputation management. They’re a hot-button topic in the self-storage industry, so let’s examine how to build an effective reputation online and how reviews can impact it.
Controlling the Narrative
There are three primary areas self-storage operators can leverage to directly impact their company’s reputation: customer service, user experience, and marketing and advertising. Here’s why each is important.
Customer service is right at the core of your business. You should always strive to create enjoyable experiences for your tenants and prospects. Having a company philosophy that focuses on going the extra mile really makes an impression on tenants, which improves your company reputation and increases the likelihood of referrals, repeat business and positive reviews.
User experience encompasses a lot of business aspects, ranging from the online rental process to gate access and even pricing. The point is to create a user-friendly experience at as many touchpoints as possible. Focus on delivering an easy, hassle-free interaction. Every part of your business should have a core focus on making the rental and storing as simple as possible.
A Harvard Business School study found that the No. 1 factor in delivering a great customer experience isn’t delighting customers with an over-the-top presentation but “reducing their effort and establishing trust.” This leads to more pleasant experiences with your tenants.
How you market and advertise your business is one of the most critical strategies to help control company reputation. The Internet has become the go-to for most consumers when they need a product or service. In fact, a recent Forbes study indicated 97 percent of consumers searched online for local businesses in 2017. Because of this, there’s a huge need to market effectively online. Focus on having a well-designed and easy-to-use website; invest in search engine optimization (SEO) services; and enable online reviews on your Google My Business (GMB), Facebook and Yelp pages, among others.
Successfully applying these principles will improve how customers view your operation and create a more effective business reputation. While not all efforts should be focused on getting online reviews, everything you do for customers impacts the likelihood of them leaving a good review or referring someone to your facility.
How Reviews Shape Your Reputation
Now, let’s discuss why you should take online reviews seriously and the impact they can have on your business. The notion of online customer reviews draws a lot of attention. Some owners believe they mean everything and you should focus all your marketing attention on them. On the other hand, there’s a school of thought that reviews don’t matter much because many can be faked, and people don’t really rely on them. Well, they’re both wrong!
Online reviews should be a big focal point of your marketing strategy, but not at the expense of other important factors like SEO, pay-per-click ads, traditional marketing, etc. Despite arguments that suggest reviews aren’t important or are easily falsified, you should know the majority are real and very helpful. They’re also likely to gain in importance.
To get a firm understanding of just how important online reviews have become to businesses, consider these stats compiled from reputation-management firm Status Labs and the “Reach Local” blog:
- 91 percent of North American consumers read online reviews to learn about a business.
- 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews more than personal recommendations from family/friends.
- 87 percent of consumers won’t consider a local business with low ratings.
- 49 percent of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.
- Responding to reviews is important, with 30 percent of consumers indicating this is key when judging local businesses.
- 30 percent of consumers say they positively judge businesses that publicly respond to online reviews.
- 68 percent of consumers have left a review of a local business when asked, with 74 percent indicating they’ve been asked for their feedback.
- Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business, up from six the previous year.
- 62 percent of consumers won’t use a business with less than a three-star rating.
- Going from a three- to a five-star rating delivers businesses greater than 25 percent more clicks from Google.
- 86 percent of people would pay more for services from companies with higher ratings and reviews.
Why Consumers Love Reviews
Today’s consumers are more educated than ever. They usually know what they want and research several options before deciding. Online reviews are one of the most important factors because customers want to know how others feel about a business or product. Most have a natural fear of being taken advantage of or having buyer’s remorse; to counter that feeling, they investigate over and over again, even for the most basic items. They rely on reviews because:
- They can get instant assurance and trust.
- They can identify potential problems people have had.
- They can get a sense of the company’s customer service.
- They can get an overall snapshot of a company’s reputation.
While customers will take time to research before deciding, they still want things done quickly. A self-storage prospect will perform a Google search and wind up with a list of local facilities. He’s then likely to check their reviews and quickly determine a group of contenders, getting a feel for who has the best customer experience. He’ll then pursue his top option by renting online or calling by phone. This is now common behavior. Facility operators should take it seriously and see how they stack up online.
Why Businesses Love Reviews
Self-storage owners who use an effective online strategy love reviews for many of the same reasons as consumers. They help service providers quickly build trust with customers, and the platform can provide prospects with great feedback on the business. Reviews also:
- Improve the likelihood of clicks and traffic to your website
- Improve your local SEO
- Provide social proof that your business is legitimate
Businesses that prioritize online marketing via SEO know how helpful online reviews can be on search engines, especially Google. Having positive reviews on your GMB page increases your local SEO. It can also improve your search ranking and help you be found by prospects much more easily. Reviews can even increase your click-through rate, the percentage of people clicking on your listing and going to your website.
GMB pages with positive feedback and a high quantity of reviews perform much better than those who don’t. Consumers tend to click on those listings much more frequently.
Creating a Review Strategy
Once you’re ready to leverage online reviews to help build brand reputation, you’ll find there can be some challenges. Here are six steps in creating a consistent, effective review strategy.
1. Identify the best sites on which to get reviews. Before you start collecting reviews, give some thought to which websites and platforms will work best for you. Google is the most effective search engine and review platform to pursue. It carries the majority of search engine traffic, and the posts are prominently shown when people search for storage-related phrases such as “self storage my town.”
However, just because Google is the most important doesn’t mean you should disregard others. Also get reviews on Bing, Yelp, Facebook, etc. A quick note: Though Facebook reviews can be a valuable part of social media strategy, they have less impact in self-storage. It’s still a good idea to use them, but they won’t make or break you like Google can.
2. Understand the policies for each site. Understanding the rules for Google, Yelp, Facebook and other review sites is very important. You don’t want to violate policies and risk getting your listing removed or penalized. Study each site’s review guidelines and stay aware of them as you move forward.
3. Create a simple online process. This is a critical step that can make or break your strategy. Make it easy for people to leave reviews quickly. They may want to give you good reviews but won’t be inclined to do so if it takes too long. Cultivate a one- to three-step process. Usually this involves a link that takes the user to the exact location, so all he has to do is select the star rating, write his opinion and push submit.
To encourage participation, you may want to include the link in e-mailed or texted invoices or payment receipts. When tenants have a good experience, they can simply click the link.
4. Create printed handouts. These can be very helpful for some customers and can also act as reminders for those who may forget to leave a review in the moment. They should be simple and not too large, maybe a postcard or half a sheet of letter-size paper. Give it to tenants when they visit your office or interact with you.
5. Respond to reviews. Answering posts, especially negative ones, helps people see the full story and builds trust. Customers who leave bad reviews often do so for ridiculous reasons, such as being reminded to pay their overdue bill. They get upset with you and go online to lash out at your business. Though you didn’t do anything wrong, take the high road and respond professionally. Address the situation and offer help or solutions.
Remember, 30 percent of consumers say they judge businesses positively that publicly respond to their online reviews. This can have a big impact on whether a prospect rents from you.
6. Be consistent. I can’t stress this enough. Once you have a plan in place and train staff to execute it, keep the strategy going and you’ll continually add reviews. Google in particular will take notice.
Remember, too, that 77 percent of consumers think reviews older than three months are no longer relevant. Adding just one to three new reviews per month will put you in a very good place with your online reputation. It’s also the best way to counter negative reviews. You’re essentially drowning them out with a consistent influx of positive feedback.
Find Your Balance
You want to create a balanced marketing strategy, with even just a portion dedicated to online reviews. No matter how small the effort may seem, it can make a significant difference to your reputation. Reviews are here to stay and will grow in importance.
Create an effective strategy that’s efficient for you and your customers. If you’re consistent and diligent with your efforts, positive results will come.
Ken Turley is CEO and co-owner of RIZE Marketing Agency, which helps self-storage companies and other businesses increase online visibility and meet their marketing goals. Ken has years of experience in SEO and all things online marketing, and is a frequent speaker at many self storage trade shows. RIZE Marketing has helped several hundred storage facilities across the US and Canada take their facility's online presence to new heights. For more information visit www.selfstoragemarketing.net.