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Both positive and negative online reviews can be a boon to business for senior living providers, but success is measured largely by how operators approach criticism of their brands.
Today’s senior living shopper is more tech-savvy than ever, and many are doing their own research online before ever actually making a phone call to a community. And with more than half of providers’ leads coming from online channels, marketers agree that first impressions of one’s brand, and that brand’s online persona, can make or break converting a lead into a move-in.
“It’s the new first impression, especially in this modern age,” says Cherie Dupor, vice president of marketing at Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp. “Consumers are making decisions before even speaking to someone at your community.”
The reality is that everyone is a critic and not all of the talk out there is going to necessarily be praise. In some circumstances, if shoppers do enough research, they will see the bad reviews and may even weigh them heavier than the good ones in their decision making.
Nevertheless, there are several initiatives providers can do to better position themselves and enhance their brands when responding to negative online reviews.
Voicing the brand
In responding to criticism lies the basic instinct of wanting to defend one’s self. But, responding negatively to negativity is a mistake that can have irreparable consequences.
“Anyone with a computer can get online and post a review,” says Rob Poyas, vice president of sales and marketing for Newton, Mass.-based operator Five Star Senior Living (NYSE: FVE). “The response should never be argumentative and it helps if it is in a consistent brand voice.”
The company’s approach when addressing unsavory feedback is to respond not only in a timely fashion, but in a manner consistent with its brand voice across its more than 260 operating communities.
At the highest level, this includes responding to reviews to facilitate a more personal approach. A Five Star team member may respond to a review by giving his or her name and contact information, inviting the reviewer to reach out to discuss the issue at hand.
Doing this lets reviewers know that their feedback is being taken seriously and that the community is proactively looking for a solution. It also allows a provider to take a non-defensive position when responding to negative reviews.
“The first thing we do in response is thank the reviewer for taking the time to write the review, listen to what their concerns are and invite them to contact us directly,” Dupor says. “That way we can learn more about the episode and follow-up to resolve a situation.”
How effective a provider can be in measuring success depends on a critically important variable: time.
Timing is key
When responding to a negative review, the mantra is “the sooner, the better,” with marketers agreeing that a community should issue a response no later than 24 hours since the review in question was originally published.
This window should give enough time to get to the bottom of the complaint and conjure the appropriate response, but it has to be done with timing in mind.
“The first priority is responding to each negative review quickly,” says Poyas. “Until a response is posted, the reviewer’s story is the only one out there.”
At Five Star, a single employee has the sole job of managing the company’s reputation for its more than 260 communities across the country. But the role goes far beyond simply managing and crafting responses for online reviews, Poyas says.
This reputation manager is also responsible for enhancing the Five Star’s “discovery process,” he says, essentially making sure that people can find the company online when looking for senior living services via search engines.
But having a single team member dedicated to the role of reputation management is key when it comes to timeliness.
“Our reputation manager can draft a response and have it up right away,” Poyas says, noting that it takes away from individual communities having to go into respective Yelp accounts and then crafting a response on their own. “One person can do it efficiently, quickly, and consistently, to ensure that all 262 communities are covered.”
Leveraging the silver lining
Establishing and preserving an online reputation is vital for any business to thrive amongst its competitors, especially in today’s world where the Internet has become a popular marketplace to shop for various goods and services—senior living included.
And while it may be impossible to please every person who has access to a keyboard and Wi-Fi, negative reviews undeniably present senior living providers the chance to make the case for their brands in light of criticism.
“As you build an online persona—your responses are a major part of that—you want it to represent your brand,” says Dupor. “Being aware of the reviews out there, responding to the negative ones, and trying to drive the number of positive reviews are critical.”
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Written by Jason Oliva