How to win the online ratings game

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

As SeniorAdvisor.com prepared to publicize the release of its Best of 2016 list honoring those operators that have received high marks from residents and families, Eric Seifert, president of the online ratings and reviews site, spoke with me about the common qualities of providers that are highly regarded and ways that operators can secure good online reviews.

To be eligible for recognition, operators must have maintained an average overall rating of at least 4.5 out of 5 stars from reviewers and must have received at least three reviews in 2015. Operators that achieve high ratings and good reviews, Seifert told me, have three things in common:

  1. An adequate number of high-quality staff members. “By and large, that's what consumers critique, and that's what they praise, more often than anything else,” he said.

  2. Openness to feedback. “This is a tough industry, and consumers, for the most part, are pretty reasonable,” Seifert said. “They know sometimes things will go wrong, but they want to be able to talk to someone if there's a problem, and they want to be heard. When care providers and the leadership at a community are open to helping fix a problem, they tend to still get good reviews.”

  3. Enhancement of residents' lives. Residents and their families increasingly are commenting on communities' approaches to improving residents' lives and are factoring those approaches into their ratings, Seifert said. “It's not just the enrichment activities, but just the concept that moving into a senior community doesn't mean you can't have an enriching life,” he added. “The communities that strive to make residents feel like their lives are more enriched by being there tend to be benefitting from those efforts.”

For those providers looking to improve their online ratings and reviews, Seifert had three suggestions:

  1. Ask for reviews. “Sometimes it seems so obvious, and other times it seems kind of incredulous to think that in and of itself is the biggest driver, but it truly is,” Seifert said. On average, he added, residents and their families are fairly satisfied with the care and services provided by senior living entities. “So if you're not asking your families to give you reviews, then a disproportionate number who are leaving your reviews are people who are upset and want to voice a disappointment in some way,” Seifert said. “That's not true of all communities, and certainly not of all reviewers, but if you look at the averages, the communities that are actively asking for families to give feedback are getting better feedback.”

  2. Take notice of feedback. “Once people give you feedback, whether it's in reviews or in person, you have to pay attention to it,” Seifert said “Just genuinely listening to feedback usually will diffuse bad situations and also encourage people to see you in a good light and give you good reviews.”

  3. Respond to feedback. “Apologize when someone has a bad experience, in person or online, and thank people when they give you good reviews,” Seifert said. “People want to know that you're listening and that you're open to feedback and that it's never perfect but you try your best to provide good care. You usually benefit a lot from that.”

On SeniorAdvisor.com, Seifert said, a large community may receive 30 or more reviews in a year, but the average community receives about 20. “That's really not a lot to respond to show people that you really are listening and paying attention,” he said.

The site typically can create a listing for a new community within a day, at no charge, Seifert says, and welcomes information about communities not already listed or those that have changed their service mix. Once a community has “claimed” its listing, it can upload photographs and convey information it believes is important. “They basically own their information on our site,” Seifert said — except communities can't alter or delete reviews.

To encourage residents and their families to submit reviews of individual communities, communities can send emails through the SeniorAdvisor.com site, and the company also offers postcards that can be distributed. “Residents can anonymously send those back into us, but we have the community's name on it,” Seifert explained.

To see the SeniorAdvisor.com Best of 2016 list of winners, click here.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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