In today’s digital age, online reviews have become a vital source of information for individuals seeking an apartment. In fact, according to the most recent SatisFacts Biennial Online Renter Study, 79% of renters researched their community’s online reviews prior to making first contact. These reviews serve as a window into the experiences of current and former residents, providing prospective renters with valuable insights before making a housing decision. However, the unethical practice of review gating has emerged as a growing concern, distorting renters’ perceptions of service quality and fostering a disconnect between expectations and reality. This article sheds light on the math behind review gating, its negative implications, and the subsequent erosion of customer trust and satisfaction.
The Math Behind Review Gating
Today, many technologies and strategies are used to effectively gate or suppress select reviews from being shown online while promoting others. To understand the impact of review gating, let’s examine one possible scenario and its effect on consumers. Let us consider a community with 300 units, where 100 ratings and reviews were collected over six months.
- 60 one-star ratings
- 5 two-star ratings
- 3 three-star ratings
- 6 four-star ratings
- 26 five-star ratings
In this scenario, review gating would selectively post only the positive ratings, 4 and 5-star scores, to online review sources (Google, Yelp, ApartmentRatings, etc.). On the other hand, the remaining lower ratings and any feedback provided are channeled internally, shielding them from public view.
Positive: 32 online reviews
Negative: 68 negative experiences invisible to prospective renters
Of the possible 100% of authentic reviews that could have been shared publicly, the practice of review gating, as provided by this example, only allows for 32% of their renters’ authentic voices to be shared.
It is important to note that these calculations are based on an illustration of how review gating can selectively control the visibility of reviews, skewing the overall perception of a community’s reputation.
Unveiling The Unethical Implications
Review gating, while seemingly innocuous on the surface, bears significant ethical concerns. By actively suppressing negative feedback, management companies engage in a disingenuous practice that misrepresents the true nature of their existing service level. This practice effectively creates a false-positive feedback loop, promoting an inflated and inaccurate perception of customer satisfaction.
The Chasm Between Expectations & Reality
Review gating leads to a disconnect between the expectation of service and the actual experience after moving into a community. Individuals are lured into renting apartments based on an incomplete and biased community representation. This discrepancy between expectations and reality can have profound consequences, including high resident turnover rates and decreased referrals. According to the SatisFacts Online Renter Study, referrals have dropped 20% over the last ten years.
When residents’ experiences do not align with the rosy picture painted by selectively displayed ratings and reviews, dissatisfaction and disappointment can quickly set in. Frustrated by unmet expectations, renters may decide to refrain from renewing their leases, exacerbating turnover rates within the community. In fact, it is not uncommon for the multifamily industry to witness residents citing inadequate service experiences as a primary reason for not renewing their leases.
Domino Effect of Review Gating
When review gating is employed, negative feedback is suppressed, creating a domino effect that has far-reaching consequences. This approach not only hides critical feedback from the public eye but also puts pressure on management companies to address a growing list of concerns raised by residents. When resident concerns are ignored or left unaddressed, it will likely have a significant negative impact in many areas throughout the organization: deterioration of trust and satisfaction from customers, employee disengagement, and management exposure to liability.
Creating a Disconnect
When negative feedback is suppressed through review gating, a disconnect is formed between residents and management. As negative reviews and feedback accumulate internally, overwhelmed site teams who may already be understaffed or lack support find themselves unable to effectively address the growing number of concerns. This leads to frustration and dissatisfaction among residents, exacerbating the disconnect and straining the relationship between both parties.
Impact on Employee Turnover
Suppressing negative feedback not only affects residents but also has a significant impact on the site team’s morale and employee turnover. Overwhelmed and unsupported site teams experience a decline in confidence and job satisfaction. Overwork and lack of engagement lead to decreased motivation and diminished ability to provide exceptional service. This further perpetuates the cycle of negative feedback.
The consequences of disregarding negative feedback go beyond resident dissatisfaction. Failure to address genuine concerns can result in investigations and other legal consequences for management. If concerns are left unresolved for extended periods, local authorities may intervene, increasing the liability faced by management. This highlights the potential legal ramifications that arise from suppressing authentic feedback and failing to address resident issues adequately.
In January 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took action against review management platforms that engage in review gating practices. The FTC issued warnings to ten such platforms and imposed a fine of $4.2 million. This move signifies the FTC’s determination to crack down on brands and platforms that manipulate reviews.
Additionally, the FTC and several states filed a lawsuit against rental listing platform Roomster and its owners for deceiving prospective renters with fake reviews and fraudulent listings. As part of the legal action, a proposed order was filed, which would require a seller of fake reviews to pay $100,000 and cooperate in the case against Roomster.
These actions highlight regulatory bodies’ growing scrutiny and enforcement efforts to combat review manipulation and ensure the authenticity and reliability of consumer reviews. The FTC’s stance sends a strong message to companies and platforms that engage in deceptive practices related to online reviews, emphasizing the need for transparency, honesty, and fair practices in managing and presenting customer feedback.
Misalignment of Business Objectives
Beyond its impact on renters and employees, review gating misaligns business objectives from meeting the needs of renters and employees alike. By prioritizing marketing objectives that conceal negative feedback, management companies overlook critical opportunities for growth and improvement. Additionally, employees who may be genuinely dedicated to providing quality service are hindered by a system that prioritizes reputation management over fostering authentic customer experiences.
Embrace Transparency & Build Trust
Review gating in the multifamily industry has significant ethical and financial implications and, if not closely monitored, can lead to a distorted perception of service quality and a disconnect between renters’ expectations and their actual experiences. By selectively suppressing negative feedback, management companies create false-positive feedback loops, misalign business objectives, increase liability, and hinder the needs of both customers and employees.
To address these challenges, management companies must adopt a different approach. Instead of relying solely on the latest review-gating technology, they should prioritize using a comprehensive survey program that allows operators to evaluate service levels internally. By collecting actionable data and feedback directly from customers (residents and employees), management gains valuable insights that inform improvement plans and facilitate quality service delivery.
Furthermore, promoting online reviews should be delayed until management companies are confident that they deliver adequate service and support to their renters. Systematically rushing to promote reviews without addressing underlying issues can lead to the negative consequences outlined above.
By utilizing organizational listening tools like Insite by SatisFacts and prioritizing transparency and integrity, management companies in the multifamily industry can simultaneously address residents’ concerns, identify areas for improvement, and establish a foundation of trust and satisfaction. This proactive approach provides a more accurate representation of service quality, enhances the renter experience, and fosters a positive reputation within the industry. By employing internal evaluation surveys, delaying the promotion of online reviews, and consistently delivering exceptional service, management companies can align their business objectives with meeting the needs of both renters and employees. This holistic approach builds trust, cultivates resident satisfaction, and ultimately contributes to long-term success.