Today, online reviews are very important for consumers making purchasing decisions on holidays, restaurants and all manner of products.
It's fair to say that TripAdvisor – the UK's 43rd most popular website according to Alexa – has revolutionised the hospitality industry, but where does this leave the world of property?
Considering the modern consumer's enthusiasm for reading online reviews before committing to purchases, it perhaps comes as no surprise then that there are now online review sites covering estate and letting agents.
AllAgents has been offering its core services to agents since 2011, while raterAgent launched in 2015 after a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Review sites have not always been popular with wary agents - so we thought it was time to take a closer look at the pros and cons of this fledgling part of the industry.
Building your brand – Managing a portfolio of feedback via a review website can be an effective extension of an agency's social media activity and website testimonials. The more potential landlords search for information about an agent before instructing them, the more it pays to have a presence on every digital platform available.
Dealing with negatives – Considering the large volume of clients a letting agency deals with, every now and then there’s the possibility of a customer who isn’t fully satisfied. If they leave a negative review, this flags up an issue that you may not otherwise have known about and gives you the opportunity to make a mends and potentially retain that client in the future.
Repairing public relationships – Estate and letting agents haven’t always had the best public reputation, but the good work of the majority goes a long way to challenging the stereotype. Review sites offer an additional way for agents to interact with the public and, if potential customers are able to see the thousands of positive reviews left for agents every month, it could change their perceptions.
Staff and market barometer – Online review sites also offer another way for agents to monitor their staff. If one lettings negotiator is consistently being praised by happy customers, maybe it's time they got a promotion? Staff can also be incentivised – get good reviews and get a bonus, it could be win-win all round. Online reviews also give agents the opportunity to check up on their competitors – how are they faring? Where’s their service falling down, or doing particularly well?
Fake reviews – The one consistent criticism that’s been levelled at review sites – especially those covering estate and letting agents – is the potential for fake reviews. In fact, last year raterAgent reported that one in every eight reviews submitted to its website were written by agents themselves. Some agents have been accused of faking bad reviews of their competitors, while others have been alleged to have blown their own firm's trumpet via forged reviews. The potential for this malpractice is always likely to remain, but the review sites themselves are confident that the scope for fake reviews is reducing all the time, as they tighten and improve their systems.
Can one bad review tarnish a brand? Some businesses' aversion to online reviews is the possibility that one bad review could outweigh all the positives. For example, if an agency has hundreds of fantastic reviews and a single negative one, will this put prospective clients off? What's more, negative reviews are not always contextualised by the client, which could also leave the agency having to deal with unfair negative publicity.
Online isn’t enough – It's well documented that tenants and buyers start their property searches online, but there isn’t much supporting evidence to suggest that all landlords do the same. Online research and reading reviews can certainly be beneficial. However, nothing can quite replicate meeting an agent in person and finding out if they’re the right representative to let a landlord's property.
Online reviews have been in the news in recent months as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has made it known that it’s been conducting an investigation into the large number of online review websites which now cover a wide range of industries.
In February the CMA published its first batch of results, announcing it had updated its guidance for review providers and had worked closely with a number of care home and DIY review sites to improve their systems.
The CMA says it has three concerns about the online review sector and that is why it is running this investigation. It’s concerns are websites not checking reviews rigorously enough, important information not being brought to the attention of users, and the potential for genuine negative reviews not to be published.
So far there’s been no specific mention of the various review sites associated with the home moving and property industry, but it’s believed that the investigation’s covering all review sites and so it’s certainly something to keep an eye on in the coming months…
As with most public forms of feedback, an agency with a strong reputation and nothing to hide has nothing to fear. Agents who embrace the transparency offered by online reviews are likely to prosper as the nation's thirst for online research and feedback only grows greater.
If the current estate and letting agent review websites can continue to weed out fake reviews and limit their creation in the first place, this side of the industry will get stronger and letting agents who use it effectively can bolster their online reputations.