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What Your Clients Really Think of You

by Jason Porterfield

Getting Responses

Getting feedback from clients after the sale isn’t always easy. Agents can hand out questionnaires after the closing, remind their clients to rate them on review websites like Yelp and Zillow  and even ask them for testimonials, and they might never get an answer. So, how do you get clients engaged?

Beth Alberts of Baird & Warner gets honest feedback through her managing broker, who sends a questionnaire to clients after the closing. She sets expectations by letting her clients know that it is coming and asks them to fill it out. Their comments then go up on her website as testimonials. She is also a premier agent on Zillow, which lets her send out automated requests for feedback, though it doesn’t net the same volume of returns as the questionnaire.

Baird & Warner asks its clients to rate aspects of their real estate experience and their agent based on criteria that includes presentation, reliability, communication, how they handle problems and overall professionalism. The form also solicits suggestions on how service can be improved. Thus far, Alberts has not received any negative feedback from the questionnaires, but the positive reviews have affirmed for her that she is taking the right approach and reinforced her belief that she’s on the right track.

“It tells me that what is important to clients is my responsiveness, my honesty and my integrity,” she says. “That’s a theme that goes from client to client to client, across the board.”

Managing Your Reputation

In addition to the questionnaires, Alberts has not received any negative feedback online. Her clients like what she is doing, and she uses her positive reviews to generate more business. But not every agent is as fortunate. Online reputations seemingly last forever. A bad review from one customer can pull down an agent’s ranking and cost them a client.

Since many sellers turn to the Internet to find an agent that they believe to be trustworthy, online reviews of agents have taken on a bigger role in where clients go to buy or sell their homes. Referrals still play a big part in helping agents attract new business, but even referrals are checking agent reviews.

A 2014 study by the marketing research firm BrightLocal revealed that 80 percent of about 2,100 survey participants trusted online reviews of businesses as much as other forms of testimonials. About 88 percent of respondents had read an online review to check out a local business, and 39 percent said that they regularly study reviews. Consumers were diligent in their assessment of reviews, with 85 percent reading at least 10 before making a decision.

Positive reviews garner trust among consumers looking to patronize a local business, such as a real estate firm. In the BrightLocal survey, 72 percent of respondents said that they have more faith in a local business if it receives mostly positive reviews. Negative online feedback was likely to turn customers away, making it clear that businesses need to closely monitor their online reputations and do what they can to address unfavorable reviews.

Real estate agents’ reputations can be particularly vulnerable online, and can be affected by any negative reviews of their business. The National Association of Realtors’ 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers revealed that 92 percent of buyers use the Internet in some way during the homebuying process. Typically, they spent 10 weeks looking at properties online before contacting an agent. Most got in touch with only one agent. From the agent side, 15 percent said that a buyer they had never met before contacted them.

Clients cited the agent’s integrity and reputation as being very important to them. Most buyers wanted help in their home search and said they benefited from having someone assist them with understanding the purchasing process. Sellers looked for an agent who could make a sale within a specific timeframe, market it effectively and get a competitive price.

The percentage of clients who find their agent using online reviews remains relatively small, but NAR found that the number is likely to grow in coming years. Most clients did not use online reviews to find an agent, with only 19 percent saying that they had and only 10 percent agreeing that an agent’s reviews influenced their decision as to whether to choose that agent. However, 38 percent said that although they did not use online recommendations to find an agent, they would consider doing so in the future.

J.D. Power’s 2014 Home Buyer/Seller Satisfaction Survey found that reputation was the key factor in choosing a real estate company for many respondents. Thirty-five percent of first-time buyers and 27 percent of first-time sellers said that they selected an agent based on their reputation, as opposed to other factors, such as past experience and recommendations from family and friends. The survey also found a higher level of satisfaction among people who have more experience buying or selling their homes than first-time buyers and sellers. Scored on a 1,000-point scale, experienced buyers and sellers rated their level of satisfaction with real estate companies at 840 and 821, respectively. Scores were lower among first timers, at 835 and 820. While the difference may not seem significant, a negative experience for a first-time client can turn into a negative review for the company, and therefore, any agent who is part of that brokerage.

Review platforms often make it very difficult to remove a negative review, and such sites generally show little interest in arbitrating such disputes between a business and a reviewer who has had a bad experience. The efficacy of such sites depends on letting both positive and negative reviews be shown. Highlighting any positive reviews that appear and encouraging clients to write good reviews may be the only way to escape from the drag of a one-star or two-star rating on any review site.

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