If you needed a referral for an accountant or a hair stylist 15 years ago, you probably polled your family and friends for a recommendation. Now, thanks to the Internet, recommendations have gone global, and it seems everyone online has an opinion on everything from the just-opened restaurant to the best pediatrician in town, and now, the person they entrust as their real estate agent. A profile of home buyers and sellers from the National Association of REALTORS® bears that out, showing that “Internet Website” was the second most popular referral source in 2012, jumping 2 percentage points over the prior year.
The first step toward upping your online review game is managing your online reputation. Third-party syndication listing portals like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com have applied the online review concept to the real estate business. For proven tricks of the trade, we turned to Orlando-based Jennifer Wemert of the Wemert Group, who has seen her focus on online reviews yield big results.
Wemert is a real estate industry vet of 14 years who recently celebrated her 10-year anniversary with Keller Williams. About two years ago, Wemert got serious about online reviews.
“I realized that no other agents were really looking at online reviews,” Wemert says. “We got a couple organically and then it grew to about 10. All of a sudden the phone started ringing
for sellers, and we realized that this was a game changer. For the client out there that doesn’t have a referral, they’re going to go online.”
As the listing leads racked up, Wemert shifted the team focus, ramping up their online review count and putting a simple process around it.
“Fifty percent of our listings last year came from the Internet.So we are putting a lot of emphasis on getting ahead of everyone else in those reviews,” she says. Wemert’s goal is to earn a review from every single client.
Today, the Wemert Group ranks No. 1 in the Orlando area in online reviews, and they’ve reached that top spot by sticking to a strategy centered around listing portal sites Zillow and Trulia. The team has also had some success with Angie’s List.
“We focus first on getting our reviews in Zillow because they’re the ones that vet the reviews the most,” Wemert says,referring to Zillow’s commitment to verifying that reviews come from unique IP addresses and reviewing each review prior to posting it on the site. “It’s the hardest to get reviews on Zillow,so we have our clients go there first. Then we ask our clients to verify that they wrote their reviews and then post more reviews to Trulia and other sites.”
Wemert’s team consists of six agent partners (one of whom is her husband) and seven support staff,including a transaction coordinator who plays a central role in the group’s online review strategy.
“It’s part of the transaction coordinator’s closing checklist to request a testimonial from the client,” she says. “In a ‘thank you’ email, it’s explained how important testimonials are to our team and our growth. Whenever anybody says, ‘Thank you so much!’ or ‘You guys are the best!’ it triggers us to say that we are so appreciative and that at some point we will ask them to write a Zillow review so other people will see evidence of our success and choose us going forward.”
Each review is run through Jennifer’s Zillow profile and then posted to their Website, which is powered by a blog so the review can then be directed to the individual agent’s page. Wemert explains that the reason for the initial review is simple.
“It’s definitely a game of numbers – and of what your clients say about you,” she says. “We send the testimonial across the team, and everybody responds with ‘Way to go!’ so it’s been great to have an opportunity to cheerlead each other on. It’s definitely raised the game in terms of the culture of the team. You don’t want to be the team member who gets four stars and not five. We all work very hard to provide a high level of service to keep the bar high.”
No matter the level of commitment to customer service, it’s an undeniable fact that it’s difficult to please everyone all the time. Because of that, the occasional negative online review feels almost inevitable. According to Wemert, the best strategy for negative reviews is prevention. “We’ve only had a couple of negative reviews. For the most part, they originate from a lack of response to leads. You run the risk of other people coming back and posting that you won’t return calls,” she says. “We do everything we can to help everyone that calls, and we have scripts for everything. If we can’t service a lead, we don’t overpromise. We say, ‘We hate to let you down, but we’re at capacity.’ Make sure you respond to everyone. Two of our negative reviews came from angry leads that didn’t feel respected.”
In those instances, Wemert and her team reached out to the negative reviewers, apologized and asked for the reviews to be taken down. “We try to make it right,” she says. “We explained that something slipped through the cracks and made sure they understood the implication of what a negative review could do to our business. It all starts with good customer service. You’re not going to get good testimonials without raving fans.”
Reviews exist in other formats, and while Wemert is interested in video testimonials, she’s wary of changing tack.
“I don’t know if people are watching video testimonials, but until they change the game, it will dilute your profile if you branch out,” she says. “You really have to pay attention to how buyers and sellers are searching for agents and how they rank you. If you have a team, you want to make sure your entire brand packs a punch. Each of my agents has a profile online, but it all points back to our mothership profile.”
At the end of the day, Wemert stresses that without stellar customer service, you’ll never have stellar online reviews. “We’ve grown in the last two years more than 50 percent because of testimonials,” she says. “It’s a very straightforward process, but what stops a lot of agents is that they’re not 100 percent confident in their customer service. We call it giving ‘Disney service.’ It’s all about going the extra mile for your clients.”