Agent reviews were a hot topic at Real Estate Connect San Francisco. While the number of review websites is exploding, there are serious issues with both the technology and the process.

Agent reviews: here to stay

With multiple listing services, companies and third-party vendors such as Trulia, Yelp and Zillow all posting agent reviews, there’s no escaping the fact that agent reviews are here to stay. About 20 percent of sellers currently receive a post-closing follow-up, as do about 25 percent of buyers.

In contrast, approximately 60 percent of consumers go online prior to contacting an agent. Moreover, the research shows that not only are consumers shopping agents via reviews, so are other agents who are directing relocation referrals.

Larry Romito, the CEO of Quality Service Certification, said he sees two forces colliding when it comes to agent reviews: Consumers want to know about other people’s experience with the agent, but they don’t have the time to investigate it. The review process meets the consumer’s need to access agent performance ratings in an objective, reliable format.

Editor’s note: This is the final column in a five-part series.

Agent reviews were a hot topic at Real Estate Connect San Francisco. While the number of review websites is exploding, there are serious issues with both the technology and the process.

Agent reviews: here to stay

With multiple listing services, companies and third-party vendors such as Trulia, Yelp and Zillow all posting agent reviews, there’s no escaping the fact that agent reviews are here to stay. About 20 percent of sellers currently receive a post-closing follow-up, as do about 25 percent of buyers.

In contrast, approximately 60 percent of consumers go online prior to contacting an agent. Moreover, the research shows that not only are consumers shopping agents via reviews, so are other agents who are directing relocation referrals.

Larry Romito, the CEO of Quality Service Certification, said he sees two forces colliding when it comes to agent reviews: Consumers want to know about other people’s experience with the agent, but they don’t have the time to investigate it. The review process meets the consumer’s need to access agent performance ratings in an objective, reliable format.

The upside of agent reviews

Agents who participate in the review process receive 150 percent more traffic than those who do not post reviews. Furthermore, agents who participate in the review process have 52 percent more satisfied clients and 80-82 percent fewer dissatisfied clients.

In other words, consumer feedback about agent behavior is improving the customer experience. As Romito put it, "Agent reviews separate the performers from the promise-makers."

A case study in frustration

A major flaw in most agent review systems is a lack of standardization. Sites such as Trulia and Zillow verify that the person actually did close a transaction with the agent. In contrast, sites such as Yelp.com and RateMyAgent.com post reviews without vetting them.

Savvy consumers search multiple sites. Because there is no standardization, however, it’s hard for the consumer to know which sites accurately report the agent’s true behavior.

To illustrate this point, one of our private coaching clients contacted us about an issue she was having regarding her agent reviews. She opted in to the review system provided by her local multiple listing service.

She works very hard to deliver five-star service, but is getting dinged because of repeated lender delays on short sales. Although the rating system asks clients to rate agents on their performance (not the lender’s performance), the complaints she was receiving were all about lending issues over which she had no control.

She’s now seriously considering opting out because a recent review brought down her perfect 5.0 record. The question she asked is a valid one: "Is it better to have no rating than it is to have a rating that isn’t 5.0, especially when some of your competitors are still ‘perfect’?"

In fact, one person at Real Estate Connect remarked that an agent in her office was so concerned about the review process that the agent decided to fire two clients rather than risk a bad review.

The agents who are being honest in how they use the system are also frustrated by other agents who are "gaming" the rating systems by having their friends post positive reviews on their behalf.

Some surprising facts from Yelp.com

Many people believe that review sites such as Yelp contain mostly negative reviews. According to Yelp, 83 percent of the reviews on that site are positive. What Yelp is designed to do is to help consumers understand the difference between great, good and poor.

What’s very surprising is that a review of a 3.5 actually generates more traffic on Yelp than a review of 4.5. Having entirely positive reviews makes consumers wary. Also, for every person who posts on Yelp, 99 others are reading those posts. Furthermore, 40 percent of all Yelp users are accessing the site via their mobile devices.

How to handle a negative review

Given that a 3.5 rating on Yelp may actually drive more traffic, the first thing to keep in mind is that a negative review is an opportunity to make things right with a disgruntled client. The best way to do this is the same way you would handle an angry person face to face.

While many people feel they must justify their behavior online or even slam the person who wrote the negative review, a better approach is to contact the person directly.

Research from marketing specialist Clotaire Rapaille shows that Americans actually have a higher opinion of someone who fixes a problem, as opposed to the situation where everything goes perfectly. Consequently, when someone does post a negative review, the first step is to contact the person privately and to say the following:

"Thank you for your feedback. It was never my intention to make you angry (or to disappoint you). What can I do to fix this situation?"

If at all possible, take the necessary steps to correct the situation. If you cannot correct the situation or if the client is being unreasonable, you can then describe your side of the situation online. For example:

"Mr. Seller posted a comment saying that we did a poor job on closing the transaction on time. The reason for the delay was that there was an encroachment that had to be resolved before the lender would fund the loan. This process required two attorneys to draft the agreement, approval by each of the principals in the transaction, as well as approval by the title company. Even though this was out of our control, we offered the sellers $500 to compensate them for the extra time and inconvenience."

When it comes to agent rating systems, consumers want them. As Romito put it, "Be fearless, be an early adopter." The sooner you embrace the agent review process, the more likely you will be to attract higher-quality buyers and sellers.

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