Why should you worry about your online reputation?
Because it's 2017. Online reviews of contractors - including you - are now big business.
March 29, 2017 by Heath Applebaum
Ask any veteran contractor how they grew their successful business and they will tell you, word of mouth. It sounds so simple; do great work, finish it on time, on budget and your happy customers will usually sing your praises.
As the expression goes, you are only as good as your last job, your reputation is what will lead to your next project.
Friends, neighbours and co-workers love to proudly show off their new kitchens, bathrooms and man caves. Guests in their homes will instinctively ask who did the work? One great job leads to another.
While word of mouth still matters, the big difference today, is that homeowners are doing it online. Sharing photos on social media reaching thousands of potential customers. Also, rating sites are now empowering consumers to do their due diligence online to make sure that contractor online reviews match up to the bold claims companies are making on their websites or direct mail flyers.
Can you blame homeowners? Renovations are a big expense, and their home is their biggest investment. So, whether they are hiring you to install new windows, repair a roof, insulate an attic or underpin and waterproof a basement, renovations mean inviting complete strangers into their homes. It only makes sense that people want to know they can trust your company before they pick up the phone and ask for an estimate.
For your company to earn their trust, attract a steady stream of customers and grow in 2017, it is no longer about word of mouth, it is word of mouse!
Just ask Matt Mulligan, Vice President, Great Northern Insulation (GNI) based in Woodstock, Ontario. GNI is the largest insulation company in province, with more than 230 employees and 37 years of residential and commercial experience.
When asked about the importance of online reviews, Mulligan says, “Online reviews are similar to word of mouth or referrals between friends and family, both of which have contributed to the growth of our core business. Now these avenues are available to our customers in a different medium.”
“For the team at GNI, we treat every review, great or not, as an opportunity for our company. For example, if a customer leaves a poor review of our company, it presents an opportunity for us to address the issue with the customer and look internally for ways to improve the customer experience. Similarly, if a customer leaves a great review of our company, we pass the feedback on to our team so we all understand what the customer values in terms of excellent service,” says Mulligan.
GNI must be doing something right, they have earned nearly 300 real customer reviews with an impressive 9.5 out of 10 average score, so they are clearly benefiting from the momentum of happy customers sharing their experiences online.
“We see online reviews as a reflection of the business. We recognize that there is more to insulating than just adding insulation. We offer our customers a one-stop shop for their building envelope and building diagnostic needs.”
Mulligan explains that they do several things to ensure the quality of the customer experience ultimately lead to positive reviews. “Whether it is our commitment to health and safety, providing insured, licensed, and certified staff, or our 100 percent customer satisfaction warranty, they all impact how customers perceive our company, be it through online reviews, word of mouth feedback, or referrals from other contractors.”
In this digital era, homeowners are increasingly reading reviews. In fact, 80 percent of Canadian consumers will not purchase products or services from a company with bad online reviews. Bad scores directly affect your bottom line because homeowners will be calling your competition for the next job.
Whether you agree with the ratings and online reviews that customers have left about your company or not, it is crucial that you respond. Homeowners are more likely to trust other homeowners. I always recommend that companies actively monitor what is being said, thank happy customers and respond to negative reviews too, offering to make it right. At the end of the day, no company is perfect, and each customer is a learning opportunity to improve your business for the future. In fact, if a company has only positive reviews, it may make homeowners suspicious.
The influence of online customer reviews was one of the hot topics addressed at the recent Toronto Buildings Show, North America’s largest educational and trade show event for the design, construction and real estate industries. The sold-out session as part of the Home Builder & Renovator Expo featured Nancy Peterson, CEO of HomeStars.com, Maanit Zemel, from MTZ Law, one of Canada’s top internet lawyers, and myself.
With 92 percent of Internet users reading online reviews and 89 percent of people admitting that reviews do influence their purchasing decisions, it is no surprise that HomeStars.com, has now become the Google for the trades. It is by far the most trusted website by homeowners to qualify and source contractors. Homeowners see a star rating, can view photos and descriptions left by previous customers, and contractors always get the final word.
HomeStars.com now has more than 1.8 million active contractors and that is growing by the day. Homeowners are writing nearly 8,000 reviews each month across Canada, so smart contractors are quickly realizing the need to get on board.
The business has become so popular with homeowners, that U.S. giant HomeAdvisor.com and their parent company AIC – a $3 billion publicly-traded company, recently bought HomeStars.com from its founder, Nancy Peterson, for a large undisclosed sum. (Nancy Peterson talked to Canadian Contractor about the sale of her firm in this exclusive interview.)
Adam Burrows, Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Emerging Business with HomeAdvisor spoke to me about the acquisition. “We view HomeStars as the number one marketplace in Canada for connecting homeowners and home improvement contractors. They are growing fast, both in terms of revenue and profit, and so they were a very appealing acquisition for us. Our intention is to grow the company in Canada. We will be sharing our global best practices to add new tools with the contractor in mind, to help them grow their business.”
When asked why online reviews matter to contractors, Burrows says, “Our market research shows us that millennial homeowners are more than twice as likely to go online than the previous generation to find home improvement contractors. So, if contractors want to have their business over the long term and you want to appeal to that generation, you better be online and have a really strong online presence.”
“It is becoming an inevitability for contractors, this is what homeowners are expecting in greater numbers. That they will be able to find you online and make informed decisions for their homes online,” adds Burrows. “The tools that we will ultimately bring to the HomeStars platform over time, are built with the contractor in mind. They are our end customer, so we want to make it easy for them to win more business, win more jobs and compete online. We want to help bring the homeowner to your front door, to build a great online storefront for you.”
Having worked extensively within the building, renovation and real estate sector to help companies from local contractors to multinational real estate companies, the most successful are those who have online reputation strategies to benefit from the powerful influence of online customer reviews as a marketing tool.
Ultimately, the best way to build a successful business, it isn’t about getting the job done, but getting it done right. It’s about the customer relationship. The most effective and inexpensive marketing is for happy customers to share their candid stories both in person and online to remain a trusted company today and for years to come.
Heath Applebaum is a reputation expert and freelance writer with 20 years of experience in the building, renovation and real estate sector.