Remodeler's Exchange: Leveraging online reviews

This month, the Remodeler’s Exchange focuses on reviews posted online by customers to a wide variety of websites and social media channels. Professional Remodeler’s Tom Swartz spoke with Melissa Irons and Jason Parsons about how they manage and ultimately leverage online reviews.

December 02, 2013

TOM SWARTZ: What are online reviews and how are they generated?
 
JASON PARSONS: An online review is a pretty broad subject that can come from anywhere. Anyone on a website, blog, social media, or anywhere the general public can do a search for your business and find information about your company.
 
MELISSA IRONS: Online reviews could be submitted through our clients, colleagues, designers, architects, or trade partners through any of the online review sites including Google, Houzz, and Yelp. We have reviews that are done through client testimonials, whether they send us a card through the mail or they send us a reply letter at the end of a project. We actually use those in a couple different ways.
 
SWARTZ: Do you encourage clients to write online reviews? Which social media sites do you encourage them to use?

Melissa Irons, CGR, CAPS, CGP
Irons Brothers Construction, Shoreline, Wash.
Formed 14 years ago, Irons Brothers Construction is a full-service design/build firm. The company has an annual volume of $1 million and seven employees.

Jason Parsons
Design Build Pros, Toms River, N.J.

Launched four years ago, Design Build Pros designs and sells home remodeling projects, which are then built through the company’s network of preferred remodelers. The firm currently has three employees and generates approximately $5 million in revenue annually.

IRONS: We encourage them personally. For example, at the last client meeting for a project and I ask them to take a few minutes to write an online review. We also have an system built into in our calendar that reminds me at the beginning of each month to contact clients for a review. This system will remind me to contact four to five employees to then ask the client to submit an online review. I will provide the links to a couple different review websites. From there, the client can link to the site and take a few minutes to write the review very quickly and easily.
 
PARSONS: It starts off in our sales process in that we provide them links to our online reviews in order to set the stage. As the project goes on and is built, we further discuss the importance of those reviews as part of our business so at the end of the project, when we do ask them for a review, it’s not something that comes as a surprise and hopefully they were thinking about the different things they could write for that review. We use a review service through Houzz.com. We send a link directly through them, and we will pick out a few websites whether it be Yelp or the other online services, and we will send the client specific links to write us a review. If we are connected through Facebook, we will ask them to give us a personal testimonial so that it not only reaches our network but the client’s network as well.
 
SWARTZ: What are the links you send them?
 
IRONS: Honestly, I change them every month. There is no favorite site that we send clients to for an online review. What I look at are the various review websites and where we could use more reviews and feedback. It depends on the volume of reviews per link.
 
SWARTZ: How often do you check online reviews and how do you know there are reviews to check?
 
PARSONS: We use Google alerts, which is a system that searches keywords related to our business such as my own name, my brother’s name, or our company name. It sends a daily alert of what’s being said about us and the websites where our names appear. Over and above Google alerts, we will check other review websites at least weekly to make sure that if something does get posted and doesn’t make it into a Google alert, we are not missing it.
 
IRONS: We have a similar process to Jason’s. We have Google alerts so that if someone is writing a review about our company we are notified through that system. In addition, we are a company listed through Angie’s List and Yelp, so they actually send a weekly report of the reviews that have been posted and also the people that have viewed our links from that site for every single review site where we have an Irons Brothers listing. In addition, they also give us a weekly report for our business. Angie’s List is a good example. We are part of the company connect where they send us information to keep us updated. These notifications are the bread and butter for checking the latest reviews. I also Google our company name in order to see what comes up on the review sites.
 
SWARTZ: Do you respond to good reviews and how often do you respond?
 
IRONS: I respond to every review. Timeliness is of the essence and I will say if there is a negative review, we are responding right away. I am making sure all of the positive reviews that are in the same search engine or company listing are responded to as well. It’s very important that we look as though we are responsive to everything that is out there and are communicating and involved with our clients. We respond as timely as we can.
 
PARSONS: Absolutely, we will acknowledge them online and respond through promoting them. Specifically, when a client gives us a positive review we will reach out to them personally and thank them for the review and let them know how much it means to the business and us.
 
SWARTZ: How do you use good reviews in your marketing or sales materials?
 
PARSONS: We do use them in our marketing materials. We will take review quotes and snippets and add them to the testimonial page on our website so people can read through them. In social media, mainly on Facebook, we will post the review and tag the client in the review so their network can see what was said about us and they can then click on our link to view our Facebook page on their own, hopefully move on to our website, and then give us a phone call.
 
SWARTZ: How do you respond to bad reviews? Is it important to address the issues of the bad review and not provide excuses?
 
PARSONS: Very important that we respond quickly. We have edict that we respond within  24 hours of a review, and I don’t think we’ve ever let it get to 20 hour at any point before we respond to reviews from the clients. The first thing you want to do is address the issue, but first address it offline with the client so you don’t get into a back and forth debate through a comments page. If you continue the comments back and forth on a website it’s going to be seen by Google as an active discussion, which leads to higher search results than just a standard positive review. We first want to address it offline with the client, find out what it was that caused the negative review, not to make excuses but just to rectify it as soon as we can, and then obviously ask the client to post the response saying, “I did have an issue but here is where the Design Build Pros were able to rectify the situation for me.”
 
IRONS: I concur; everything that Jason said is also how we operate. The first thing I am hoping for is there is not an issue with a client. If we are alerted there is a negative review, we need to verify that it was indeed a client of ours—there are a lot of spam reviews out there that we cannot associate with our company and that’s not just for remodeling but also for all companies in general. We’ve only had one negative review posted about our company and we addressed it offline as soon as we could. When a client writes something negative online, it cannot be taken back so it is a good opportunity for businesses and consumers to think twice before you click the send button. Secondly, it’s very important that if there is ever a concern that it is addressed directly. Communication over the phone or in person will handle most concerns. Something that is written like an email or online review can be very impersonal.
 
SWARTZ: Do online reviews lead to new business?
 
PARSONS: I know homeowners are reading peer reviews before they make a final decision. Eighty percent of our business is repeat and referral. If a client is considering us for business, all of the online reviews help them make their final decision. It shows our credibility from other people. I would say that we are definitely seeing more business due to positive online reviews.
 
SWARTZ: Websites such as Yelp filter reviews and feature reviews that have been chosen by data processing software. Do you see a problem with that?
 
PARSONS: Yes. Specifically, the software weighs the significance of the review based on the reviewer. So, if you are someone who frequents Yelp and reviews everything possible, they are going to weigh that review, whether positive or negative, more heavily than compared to a single client that you send a link to write a review, especially if they’ve never used Yelp before and had to create a username and login to create your review. It gets pushed down on the review list and the top three or four reviews from people who frequently provide feedback on Yelp will get priority. They may have never even hired your business; they may have just written a review based on an initial meeting, for example. A negative review from this type of user could pop up very high on the list.
 
IRONS: We have 18 reviews on Yelp and they are all filtered. It’s not doing us a service unless somebody understands how Yelp works. They use a computer technology; they don’t have control over the technology, as I understand it. It’s a computer-generated system. People put reviews on the site, and the computer system decides who gets filtered and who doesn’t get filtered. We have a great set of reviews, and we have a large number of them, but Yelp is kind of an anomaly. Yelp is a stand-alone review; it’s best for the retail industry and it doesn’t really service the remodeling industry very well, but it’s still something people use often.
 
SWARTZ: What advice would you give a remodeling company that wants to learn more about online reviews in an effort to generate more leads and business for their company?
 
PARSONS: First, I would direct them to read this article. After that, I would advise them to become active on the Internet. As a remodeler, even if you don’t think online reviews are important, they may be important to an upset customer and even a noncustomer. If you’re not monitoring what’s going on out there, it can hurt your profits. Even if you don’t want to actively participate in online reviews, you still need to monitor them to make sure that negative information isn’t out there hurting your business. As far as turning it into a positive, there is a lower cost investment but you will see some turnaround in terms of getting some projects. We have seen mostly through Facebook and LinkedIn where we’ve posted an online review, we’ve gotten a request to come out on a project and sold that project. It was based just on the posting of what someone else said positively about our business. First and foremost, if you are a remodeler and haven’t claimed your Google place—which is when somebody searches your company name and a map will pop up on the side of the screen—you want to have that and get reviews in there because it will help generate more response when people search for a remodeling business based on location.
I would also go back to customers from the last several years and ask them to write a review. Send a link to them and start to create a backlog of reviews.
 
IRONS: There are a couple things. If someone is not experienced and well-versed with the review process, the first thing would be to search out other remodelers that you are connected with or other remodelers in the community and ask them what they are doing. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. If you are not familiar or don’t know what to do, read this article, get going on some research, and decide whether or not this is something you have the time and resources to dedicate to within your company. Make sure the structure is in place and the personnel are in place before committing. If you don’t have the structure or personnel, look at outsourcing the work. There are plenty of companies out there that do social media work for your company as well as reviewing and search engine optimization. You have to determine what the best fit is for your company, and you have to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry. That means getting involved, getting out there, and getting reviews done. Whether you are going to do the review work yourself or outsource that work, you’ve got to be talking with clients from the onset of the project, the middle of the project, and again at the end to get feedback on the project. That feedback should be getting posted so you have online exposure. The online exposure is not just for local business, it’s a national exposure. It helps you grow your business not only in terms of clients and revenue but also opportunities. There are plenty of opportunities out there when it comes to showcasing new companies, and it helps with public relations. I would say don’t hesitate to talk to clients to get those reviews, find out if you have the right personnel, determine if you need to outsource the work, and get started right away. The last thing you need for your business is to have reviews being posted that you are not aware they are being posted and you don’t know how to correctly respond to them.

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