Imagine for a moment that you’ve had a less than positive interaction with a customer at your facility. Now several days a week they stand across the street from your facility protesting the business. Forgetting the legalities of such an action this is effectively what online review and rating sites make possible every day. With 20% of customers polled in 2013 finding their self storage facility on the internet that’s one fifth of your customer base exposed to ratings and reviews every day.
Nearly half of self storage customers call only one self storage facility before making a decision. Any reason for a potential customer to give a second thought about making your facility the first call must be dealt with.
Search engines are just now beginning to measure how positive or negative a review and its responses are. This is called sentiment analysis and is just starting to enter public awareness. I bring up this technical aspect because it marks a major change in the development of search which influences how one fifth of customers find self storage. That number only shows signs of increasing so it’s worth keeping your ear to the ground.
In a few short years search engines will be able to understand what is being said in reviews at a basic level. Within a decade a customer may ask Google “Where is the cleanest storage facility in town?” and Google will weigh all the information at its disposal. This will include the tone of reviews and specific statements made about your facility before returning a list of facilities. No amount of advertising or SEO will protect a facility if there are issues that persist without being addressed.
Google has already begun to crack down on merchants by reducing their rankings if they consistently have unhappy customers. As search engine advance you can expect to see this type of behavior from search engines more often.
A 2013 study found that each year online consumers are reading fewer and fewer reviews before casting judgement. Having a track record of bad reviews with zero attempt to mitigate them sends up a red flag. This is a sign that your potential customers are learning to trust the reviews online a little more each year.
In short every facility will all have to cope with each new customer being exposed to the experiences of former customers. There’s no practical way around it so facilities must begin to consider investing a little time in online review management.
Follow the instructions on Yelp or Google to claim the listing for your facility. Once you’ve claimed your listing you can opt to receive emails when a review is posted. This lets you reach reviews faster and prevents a backlog. It also adds to a facility’s professionalism when a review is handled within a business day from its posting.
Addressing the complaint with the customer’s perspective in mind regardless of fault is the best approach. An empathetic response that addresses the problem informs the reviewer you want to make the situation right. The honest reviewer who does feel they were wronged by your facility is more likely to be open to a resolution. A review posted without actual merit loses its teeth when you make an effort to fix what was never broken.
Every review, good or bad, is an opportunity to show current or potential customers you take self storage seriously. Customers are becoming far more savvy in how they weigh reviews and ratings. A bad review handled professionally can become an effective advertisement for the professionalism of the facility and prove to be a real learning experience for the business owner or operator. Don’t just take our word for it. Here is a short clip from a restaurant owner who really sums up reputation management well.
When a customer leaves a compliment they’ve gone out of their way to show appreciation of the excellent service you’ve provided. Take a few minutes to thank them for their kind words and show future customers that you are active and aware of what’s going on with your brand online.
Customers tend to forget where they read specific facts about a business over time. What they don’t forget how they felt while reading those reviews. You won’t reach optimal capacity on feelings alone but leaving that sense of competence and professionalism associated with your facility is a cheap and easy way to improve your long term success.
If the issue is not something which can be reconciled with a single response use the opportunity to give them a means to contact you directly to remedy the problem . This tastefully opens a path to a conversation not on record. If the tenant misunderstood something in the lease and that caused the complaint you are more likely to get a positive outcome if they know their error isn’t going to be out there for the world to see.
If you can speak with them on the phone all the better; speech is a better medium for resolving conflict than text.
Whether you’re a dedicated operator or an owner who has poured their heart, soul and wallet into a facility the toughest part of managing your reputation is removing your emotions from the situation. Reading a negative statement about the quality of service or condition of the facility is an unpleasant experience.
It’s important to remember that reviews are often posted in a moment of frustration when the customer feels helpless in resolving a problem. A review is the path of least resistance to expressing frustration or anger. The first instinct many of the most professional individuals have is to become defensive and respond in kind to the review.
While few of us would do that in person the internet opens up avenues for escalating confrontation that business is just now becoming accustomed to. The lack of face to face communication is a serious barrier to effective communication in these conditions.
Most customers will remove a negative review if the situation was resolved, or they may amend it with the outcome. Asking a customer to remove a negative review reduces the likelihood of its removal. That request shows you only resolved the issue to avoid the bad publicity not because you are concerned with the quality of your service.
You can tastefully remind them about the review by posting a quick response to the review thanking them for taking the time to resolve the issue with you.
The legality of lease agreements which stipulate a bad review is grounds for added fees are yet to be decided in some localities. This has become an issue raised in self storage circles recently and is worth addressing in some depth. The focus of this article is on the public relations aspect of reviews; your local self storage association is a much better place to look for the legal implications.
In August 2014 a frightening news story for any small business owner broke when The Union Street Guest House became infamous for its practice of imposing $500 fines on all bad reviews left by guests. The story hit every major news outlet and social media site after members of a wedding party posted bad reviews and racked up several thousand dollars in fees.
Consumers who had never heard of the inn arrived, digital pitchforks in hand and trashed the inn’s review pages. This is a worst case scenario for any small business. Over 500 negative reviews appeared overnight. No insurance covers this type of event, no lawsuits can repair the damage and the harder a business attempts to defend its actions, the worse the situation gets.
As you can see in the screenshot, even months later the top two review sites have yet to reset their ratings for the business. There are a couple of review sites who appear to have accounted for the attention in their ratings but consumers are now primed to prefer bad news due to the dominance of Yelp and Google as sources for ratings.
Once the initial wave of criticism has passed, Union Street Guest House now has to contend with the news stories associated with its poor judgement. Those links are from such high-authority websites they will never leave the front page when potential customers search for the inn.
The Union Street Guest House is a massive outlier that was the result of a bad policy which also made for a catchy news story. Even the most primitive reputation management policies all but guarantee you never see your facility in a light like this.
The internet brings many great opportunities to business but with those opportunities come a new set of expectations that customers are developing regarding how businesses respond to problems.
In the long run this has very little to do with technology and should result in a focus on enhanced customer service that avoids situations where a complaint could be posted.
While managing your reviews may take a few minutes a month it’s an investment in the long term success of your self storage facility. Self storage facilities rely on a customer base that changes at a fraction of the pace that an inn or restaurant’s clientele do. It’s significantly easier to develop a bad reputation that spreads beyond the internet and lowers your long term profits.
Once armed with the knowledge of how reviews can affect your facility common sense and a cool head are the best tools you have in maintaining a reputation that reflects the quality service you provide to your community.