Episode 5: Riti Verma & Ben Sweet – Managing your Online Reputation as a REALTOR®

Erin Davies: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for REALTOR® brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association. We’re all about sparking conversation with inspiring people about all things having to do with Canadian real estate and topics that impact REALTORS® and really all of us. I’m your host, Erin Davis. 

Today in episode five, we are bringing in two guests to talk about the impact of online reviews with tips to get started and how to ensure a positive experience to land and keep happy clients. Our guests are Riti Verma, a real estate entrepreneur and founder of RankMyAgent.com along with Calgary REALTOR® Ben Sweet, proud holder of five stars on RankMyAgent. Let’s start with Riti. Welcome, and tell us how this website got started.

Riti Verma: RankMyAgent actually came from my passion for real estate and technology and also entrepreneurship. I come from a technology real estate background, having worked in emerging technologies for over a decade and also being licensed in Ontario as a REALTOR®. Now the backstory around RankMyAgent is that one day my husband and I were just sitting down having dinner and just chatting about online reviews. He is a physician and he was reading his recent reviews on another site. We were just amazed how accurate those reviews were and how detailed they were really representing who he is and how he does his business, how he does his work. Then he asked me, “Well, Riti what exists for the real estate industry. Is there a review platform out there for just real estate agents?”

That just really started the whole idea behind RankMyAgent. I started digging a bit deeper and did some research and found that while doctors, lawyers, teachers were being rated real estate professionals were not. What was out there was actually not so truthful and honest. There was so much slander online about agents. I really felt that we need to do something about this. There’s no way for someone who’s reading this review to even decide if the person who wrote the review actually had a real experience working with that agent or is it a competitor? The industry needed that transparency. That’s how we started building RankMyAgent and the basic idea was to raise the bar in the industry and connect the very best agents to the public.

Erin: Ben, you are a big fan of online reviews. Tell us how this came to you and your experience with RankMyAgent.

Ben Sweet: I am a big user and a big fan of RankMyAgent and we’ve been using it now for, I think we’re probably right around the five-year mark, maybe around coming up on six. It was a bit of an interesting story because I had gone into my office for a little bit of a debrief. My broker had just come back from a big Remax conference and he was both hands in the air. He’s like, “Oh, online reviews, they’re going to be the thing.” I was like, “Okay. Yes, sure, whatever. I’ve seen, lots of things come and go.” I didn’t really have any interest in it at the time. There was an agent that was also there and he was a little bit of a newer agent. He said “I signed up for this RankMyAgent thing that our brokerage has signed on for a corporate account with.

I had someone that she called me from Fort McMurray and she was moving to Calgary. She just placed her order.” I said, “What do you mean placed her order?” He said, “Well, it was a very different experience. She really is not a lead. She was just an immediate client before she’d even picked up the phone and called me.” In my mind, I didn’t have a space for that because that’s just not how real estate works. We’re used to getting calls that say, “Hey, Ben, I’m interviewing 19 REALTORS® and I’d love it if you’d come tossed your hat in the ring, and see if you’re good enough to list my home.” It’s a bit of a different story.

When someone calls you and says, “Hey, Ben, I read 15 of your reviews. You seem like a fantastic agent that my wife and I are really excited to meet you. We want to buy and sell. Come over and let’s do business.” That’s the quality of business and lead and client that it produces. That was our big jump into it was another agent saying that he was starting to have some experience with it and it was very positive. I couldn’t ignore that and I jumped on board.

Erin: How has the experience been for you, Ben?

Ben: In the beginning, it was challenging, definitely because I had to really get past myself in regards to just calling up my clients and getting reviews. Then I had a really interesting conversation with my mom, oddly enough. As a mid-40s man, I always find it interesting to say I had an interesting conversation with my mom, but anyway.

Erin: You can always have an interesting conversation with your mom. I’m here to tell you, Ben. Anyway, go on good son.

Ben: Thank you. The biggest thing she said to me was she said “These people are going to be happy to give you reviews. Not because you did a good job, but because you’re part of their team.” As a REALTOR®, as a professional, as someone who’s out there working on behalf of the public, every public has their own team. The vast majority of people are very, very happy to brag about how good their team is. I’ve got a guy. When I heard my mom say that it was a real game-changer for me immediately, I was like, “Oh yes, that’s right. They will.” Then of course, the response was tremendous. People were really happy to give reviews and not just reviews, but glowing reviews, definitely.

Erin: This has become the 21st-century version of word of mouth. Riti, how has the shift come through online reviews? How have we come to trust them as personal recommendations? Like Ben’s mom talking about the team, “I’ve got this great dentist” or “My auto mechanic is fantastic and honest” and that sort of thing, how has that shift happened? How do they help us guide and make smart decisions down the line?

Riti: The shift really has happened by the whole fact that the people writing these reviews are considered to be part of our peer group now. We’ve gone from just friends, family, neighbors, to believing, we know the people we are reading are part of that overall community that we have. This is how that shift has happened especially when you read reviews that are very detailed and display that the tendency is it really adds to that whole trust factor.

Erin: Trust, back to our chat in a moment, but here’s a question for you now. Where did online reviews from customers begin? Was it with A, TripAdvisor; B, E-bay, or C, Yelp? The answer in a moment. As you enjoy today’s podcast with a nice cup of coffee or even the last juice box you found in the pantry, here’s a reminder that for everything real estate made your way, visit CREACafe.ca, a cozy place for REALTORS® to connect on the latest real estate news and industry development, CREACafe.ca. 

Now back to real-time with REALTOR®, Ben Sweet, and founder of RankMyAgent.com, Riti Verma. Which answer is, right Riti? Can you tell us, please?

Riti: Yes, so the first online review began in 1999. It all started with the seller website E-bay, and then three other sites came up, Your Opinion, RateItAll, and Dacia. What was happening was that a lot of businesses started to go online and what they were doing was bashing their competitors, and trying to basically win trust through bashing others and hoping that they’ll win that trust. People found it really hard to trust those reviews. However, within a year that these three sites had over a million reviews that they had reached. They were really on to something.

Then Google came along and Google bought those sites, and then we had TripAdvisor, Yelp and Amazon, and then the niche websites started up. That basically is the historical perspective, it’s been about 20 years of online reviews. We certainly don’t see them going away anytime soon. Certainly, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations now.

Erin: You have a statistic too of how many people will go online after word of mouth. It used to be just word of mouth. “I have a great mechanic,” or “I have a great REALTOR®. He did a great job for me and you should absolutely talk to him,” but now what percentage of people are going online after word of mouth to confirm what it is that they’ve heard?

Riti: About 90% of people are actually going online to reconfirm what they’ve already heard.

Erin: That’s incredible. Does that translate the same, Ben in your experience in terms of REALTORS®? How many people will come to you and say, “Yes, someone told me about you and then I saw your reviews?” What is anecdotally the experience you’ve had in terms of online reviews and how people actually get to you in person?

Ben: Actually, what’s really funny, Erin, I had a call yesterday from a lady that I’m meeting with immediately after this call today. It was funny because it was the exact opposite of what we’re talking about. She Googled REALTOR® reviews, she found RankMyAgents. I know that because I ask everyone, “How did you find us or how did you hear about me?” She went through, she read some of their reviews.

Then of course, then she went over to check out some of our social media. She found us on Facebook, and she saw that I was connected to some people that were her friends. Not only that but also some people that I had done business with, some of her friends that I had done business with.

Then she reached out to her friends to double confirm, “Is what I’m actually hearing–?” It was the exact opposite of what you’re saying. The beauty of it is that I always tell people this is like, it’s like social media on steroids, because it supports everything, all of the marketing that we do, because these days, people, they want to do so much research before they even pick up the phone, or before they send you a text or an email or do anything. They want to look at the backside of everything and find out as much information about us REALTORS® as they can. Then at that point, when they feel comfortable, they reach out, which by the way makes for a much higher quality client, because they’ve already made their mind up.

To answer your question, it goes both ways. Some people will do the research, reading the reviews first, and then they followed up with social media and then by asking other people. The other part is that I have clients that are happy to even talk with a potential new client of mine. I’ve never actually had anyone that’s reached out, but I have a number of people that have said, “Hey, Ben, if you ever want, I’ll happily recommend you and have conversations with people.” It goes both ways.

Erin: You talk about a meeting. This just underlines that how during uncertain times, it’s so critical for REALTORS® to be online because there can’t always be face to face time.

Ben: I would agree completely. I’d like to say it’s just another check but the truth is, is that it’s not. There’s something very unique about reviews that are very different than any other type of marketing. Because it’s the whole thing of, I can say as much as I want about myself and show my statistics and all of those things look great and real and true, but when someone goes to a third-party website that I’m not related to other than being a customer, and they can read multiple reviews about how us and how we do business and it’s not us saying this, it’s word of mouth to a whole new degree.

Erin: Back to our chat in a moment. Looking for some inspiration? Just click on REALTOR.ca Living Room where you’ll find articles on market trends, developments in real estate, and even DIYs and all things design. We’ve got you covered. Go ahead, find the inspiration you need in one place on Living Room. 

Taking a seat with us today in the comfy chairs, Riti Verma from RankMyAgent.com and frequent user with a five-star ranking REALTOR® Ben Sweet on REAL TIME. We’ve talked about trust and communication in past episodes, have online reviews reinforced the importance of these values? Is this just one more layer on the cake of just pointing out to REALTORS® what really matters?

Riti: Certainly, I would certainly agree with that. The trust and communication are the cornerstone of a REALTOR®‘s business, and online reviews have basically helped showcase how trustworthy a REALTOR® can be. It also is coming from real clients. It holds so much weight, and definitely more accountability now that what you are doing is going online, and it will have a lasting impression.

Erin: As we know, of course, anything that can be used for good in this world also has a negative side to it. Let’s talk about that. Recently, we spoke with marketing guru, Terry O’Reilly on our very first REAL TIME. He talked about, on the potentially lasting implications of bad feedback on a brand. Now, obviously, there’s going to be bad feedback, but can one negative review really ruin your reputation? Ben, I’ll ask you to address that.

Ben: Sure, I’d be happy to. I spoke with a couple of agents that do have some bad reviews on some other websites. The one thing that they had said was that they actually ended up getting a good amount of quality business, quality leads, quality clients from some poor reviews because of the way that they handled the review. They didn’t just say, they didn’t slander the person, but they were open about creating a dialogue on that website specifically with that person so that other people can see, hey, look, you’re taking it out of context, or let’s put it into a bigger context or here’s the other side of the story. Here’s the actual discussion that happened, or here’s how we attempted to resolve the situation. 

I’ve also seen that happen on Google reviews before as well. It certainly counts for a lot. No, definitely not, one or two or even a few negative reviews definitely does not negatively affect anyone’s business. If anything, it’s truly about how you handle that negative review, what you do. The idea of an online review is that it’s open, everyone can see it. It’s about full transparency. It’s about, “Hey, this is how we do business.” If there is a negative review, then really how you handle it and what you do, and how open you are and the way that people can see that your response to those specific things, speaks a great volume about how you do business.

Erin: I find that fascinating, Ben. It’s a challenge to your character, and it gives you an opportunity to show who you are.

Ben: Exactly.

Erin: Riti, how do you know what comments are real, that they’re not just with somebody who is trying to use negative tactics in order to win people over? How do you tell what’s real and what’s not?

Riti: That’s a good question, Erin. Now, with RankMyAgent, all reviews on the platform are based on firmer close transactions. As a user of a site, how do you know if a review is real or not? There are certain things to look for. One of the things is the quality of the review, meaning how detailed it is about that experience, how many reviews, how recent that review is. If you can run through these reviews and see these factors, you’ll be really able to judge what’s real. Then the way that it’s written, is it just something very simple as ‘amazing service’ or is it something detailed that actually walks you through what happened, how did that professional help you through the process? When you read the detailed reviews like that, it provides a lot of richness and helps build the trust.

Erin: Coming up, when it comes to reviews, can you rewrite, so to speak, the negative ones, and some tips on how to get reviews in the first place with Riti and Ben. It was the actress Audrey Hepburn who said, “As you grow older, you’ll discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” REALTORS® Care is a national brand that celebrates great charitable work by the REALTOR® community in Canada, you can help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to you by sharing your story at REALTORSCARE.ca. Now back to REAL TIME presented by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association.

Our guests are Riti Verma, RankMyAgent.com founder and REALTOR® Ben Sweet. I’m Erin Davis. Yes, I might just be looking to revise a little hypothetical history here. Riti, here’s a question, say I’m a REALTOR® and I did something that I didn’t know any better five years ago, but because I learned from that I’ve become a much better business person and I changed. Can I somehow get rid of that review from five years ago or is there a time limit or does it just naturally it’s scrolled way, way, way down? Is there a way to get rid of the bad stuff from before I knew better?

Riti: With RankMyAgent, there’s no way that you can just get a review removed. If it meets our guidelines, meaning it has to be something that is not slanderous, it has to be professionally written, and it has to have really actually happened. I love to bend suggestions on how you should respond back to the reviews, and how you should just owe up to it, and just show to the public that you are a real person and not expected to be perfect, it’s okay. We’re not going to get along with every single person that we have come across. As long as this is not a trend with you, and you can show that you really do care and you focus on customer service and meeting expectations, exceeding those expectations that generally your clients have, I think it’s fine. Nothing to worry about.

Erin, you did mention something about reviews getting buried over time. Sure, you can collect more reviews. You can go back and take a look at your database and from the time you started business if you have some strong advocates there you can start requesting reviews from them and hopefully that negative from many years ago can be buried deeper down.

Erin: Can I ask for reviews from someone even though I sold their house two years ago?

Riti: You can go back to any client that you have ever done business with. The rule is that it has to be a firm close transaction. Reviews cannot be from your family members. Mom cannot write a review for you.

Erin: Sorry, Ben.

Riti: Then other REALTORS® cannot write reviews for fellow agents. In a nutshell that’s from the REALTOR®‘s side. Now, from the reviewer’s side, it has to be one review per transaction. If it’s a couple, both partners cannot write two reviews for you for that one transaction. It has to be merged together. Then we request them to be honest, trustworthy, and helpful as well.

Erin: Just what we want from our REALTOR® as well. Now, how to get reviews. Ben, what is your best advice? You’ve got a lot of it, and we are all ears here on how to get reviews on sites like RankMyAgent.com.

Ben: You have to ask a lot and many people, and consistently. You have to follow up and ask again. The biggest part is, these days everybody’s busy. I don’t know anybody that’s not. Even retired people say that they’re busier now than they were before they were working. You have to be truly willing to ask people multiple times and in different ways. I often find the best ways to start off is by a quick little text. I just say, “Hey, I wonder if I can ask you for a favor. Would you be open to doing an online review for me?” Then in most cases, people will happily say, “Yes.” Then I just send off a link, and then we’re off to the races.

Typically, I would need to follow up with people multiple times. I find that maybe you’re going to get around 20% of people, 30% of the people will do it immediately, and then the rest over a period of time. You’ll need to follow up multiple times, but for me, I’m happy to ask someone as many as 10 times. The biggest thing is, as an agent without coming across as being salesy, you have to truly be comfortable and confident enough to just simply ask. It really does boil down to that. Again, you have to remember that people do want to do this for you. They want to brag about you. You’re a team member of theirs. They really do want to brag about you, so you just have to ask again and ask in different ways.

The biggest thing that I find is that you have an understanding of where they’re coming from. They have kids, they’ve got businesses. They’ve got all the activities. They’ve got all the different things that they need to do. To find the time, well, definitely asking at the right time of day certainly helps. Trying to find some time, I find in the evening is often the best time to ask people when they’re winding down. They could do it from their phone sitting in front of the TV. That’s a little easier than when they’re getting ready for dinner and that kind of thing. Making sure that you’re asking at the right time, asking enough, and then having a good understanding of where they’re coming from.

Saying, “Hey, look, I know you’re probably crazy busy. I just wanted to check, did you get the email? Did it come through? It did. Great. Perfect. No rush, please do the review whenever you have time.” Then I’ll tell them straight up. I’ll say, “Hey, just so you know, I’m going to keep bugging you until you do it.” Then you make a joke out of it. You have a little bit of a laugh with them because you have to remember, these are your clients. They love you. You love them. In most cases, they’re happy to give you a really good review.

Erin: Do you let them know from the get-go that you’re going to be wanting that review, Ben?

Ben: I do. Actually, in a lot of cases, the first time I sit down with people, the first time I have a discussion with them, I tell them straight up. I say, “Hey, look, you found us as a result of these online reviews and the reason we’re having this conversation is because we have lots of great reviews. I am after a great review with you as well. I want to let you know that we’re going to do a fantastic job for you. At the end, I’m going to ask you for a review.” I’m very blatant about it right up front. It really does pave the way for getting a review and getting a good review more easily without a tremendous amount of work.

Erin: Coming up. How do you use sites like RankMyAgent to leverage your business and your visibility? You’re going to find it fascinating. if you’re not a REALTOR®, here’s some valuable information for you, REALTOR.ca is the most popular and trusted real estate website in Canada. Connecting local REALTORS® with Canadians to help with the biggest purchase of their life. Visit REALTOR.ca to meet a REALTOR® near you. We’re coming right back with a glimpse into the future plus a little freewheeling we call Open House. If you are a REALTOR® first off, thanks for listening. When you hear good advice, you should always do two things, take it in and pass it on.

Every podcast we ask REALTORS® like you, yes, you to share the best advice they’ve ever received with respect to Canadian real estate and their profession. We’re going to give you the number shortly and share one REALTOR®‘s call. Shouldn’t it be you on our show? Yes, I thought so. 

Now, back to Riti Verma, founder of RankMyAgent.com. Now, there’s a word that we hear a lot about and that word is leverage. How can a site like this leverage your reputation and help business?

Riti: A site like RankMyAgent can basically take the reviews from the site and get those to be leveraged on your social media, on your own websites, and even display on REALTOR.ca. Now REALTOR.ca has an area where on your profiles the ratings and reviews can show. That includes your active listings. Given that REALTOR.ca is the number one site in Canada for looking for homes, having that presence can really just help support what you do.

Erin: You bring up something interesting, Riti. Of course, once you get this good review well, that’s just great. You’ve got a diamond ring sitting in your drawer, but you want to show it to everybody. The best advice that I’m getting from you in this instance is, once you get a good review share it with everybody because your competition isn’t going to be out there bragging about you. You have to do it yourself.

Riti: That’s right. A lot of online platforms such as ours have an opportunity to add widgets to your own website, and to integrate the social media aspect so that automatically you can share these reviews elsewhere within your network.

Erin: Last word to you. This idea that came to you when your husband who’s a physician was looking at RankMyDoctor or whichever. First of all, I’m amazed that doctors actually read those reviews. Anyway, and said to you why isn’t there something like this for REALTORS®? You ran with it. Where do you see the future going for you now?

Riti: The future is bright. We are really going to raise the bar in this industry and just raise that profile of real estate professionals across the country. We see every single city, every single small town being represented from East to West Coast. We want to be the go-to resource.

Erin: Finally, before we get to our best advice call Open House. Here we go. Riti, I want you to imagine a word cloud. That’s that thing we see made up of words used most frequently and whatever you or people who write to you say. What would your RankMyAgent’s word cloud look like, Riti? What are the biggest and boldest words in your cloud?

Riti: I would say trust is right there. Trusting, reliable, all the words that resonate with expertise. All the words that relate with what a customer is looking for in an agent. Be it the negotiation skills but those are the types of words that do resonate through these reviews. We certainly have not done a study but that’s a great pointer, and we should certainly do a study about the most common words and write a blog about that.

Erin: I’d love that. I’d love to see the word cloud. I would love it. Ben, how have online reviews made you a better REALTOR®?

Ben: Anytime I have the intention to ask for a review which is on every single deal that I’m doing, I’m always focused on, I want to make sure that the review is going to be good here. I’m willing now to put in more effort probably than I did prior to working with online reviews. It’s really gotten me to up my game. As a result of upping my game, I get more referrals. I get better online reviews. The beauty of it is, it truly does. It’s made me a better REALTOR®, and it’s made my REALTORS® also better REALTORS® as well. We have a small team here, and it’s certainly something that’s just made us better REALTORS®.

Erin: It’s almost like the sale isn’t the finish line. You have to go to a higher level now to get the medal at the end of the games.

Ben: I would completely agree. You know what? That’s totally okay. Not only is it okay, I feel that these online reviews in the future, they’re really going to separate REALTORS® in a big way. Meaning, if you don’t have an online presence that is complimented by many online reviews, you’re going to get left behind because that check box that people need to check when they bring on a REALTOR®, is simply not going to be there. If they can’t make that check well, then you won’t be selected.

Erin: Thank you, Ben. Thank you Riti for that aha moment at the dinner table, and to both of you for your time here today. It has been fascinating. Don’t forget to rank me.

Ben: Thanks, Erin.

Riti: Thank you so much.

Erin: No, you don’t have to rank me. I was kidding, but we do want you to subscribe, so you don’t miss our next REAL TIME podcast. Finally, now to our real advice, where you get to share the best advice you’ve ever gotten with respect to Canadian real estate and your profession. Here we go.

Erin: Thanks for calling REAL TIME. Riti’s not here right now. She’s sitting down at the dinner table to go over their respective rankings with her husband. Leave your advice at the tone.

Marilyn Rossman: Hi, my name is Marilyn Rossman, and I’m a broker of record of Marilyn Rossman Real Estate Broker Limited Brokerage in Toronto, Ontario.

The advice I wanted to tell you about is what I was given which was ‘Your time is your most valuable asset. Use it wisely.’ Again, “Your time is your most valuable asset. Use it wisely.’ Thanks. Bye-bye.

Erin: Thank you, Marilyn, for what I can only say is timely advice. Hey, if you’d like to tell us the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, just give us a call. It’s so easy. The number is +1 888-768-6793. Leave a message and you could be part of an upcoming podcast. 

Hey, just before I get ready and set to go, have you heard about Ready Set Go? CREA continues to highlight the unique challenges facing REALTORS® in ongoing discussions with government departments and agencies. They’ve created this dynamic content hub, a collaboration between all CREA departments to provide valuable content and insight into all the aspects of how COVID has been affecting REALTOR® members personally, and in their work. The micro-site is populated with resources to help REALTORS® get ready and set to go outlining everything that you need to know and what you’re going to need to know in the future. Don’t forget to keep checking back for new information, go to CREA.ca for Ready Set Go. On that note, it is time for me to go. 

 

REAL TIME podcast comes to you from Real Family Productions and Ross Whitehead, and Alphabet® Creative. Don’t forget to click subscribe and you’ll catch our next podcast. Now you’ve seen the super catchy ads on TV and social media that CREA has been airing. The one where the boy is selling the dog, his dog house, and the great big lawn and the punchline about lots of bathrooms. It’s so cute. Well, meet one of the masterminds behind the ads, and he’s going to share his secrets for you to use too, camera optional. I’m Erin Davis and thank you for listening to REAL TIME. Bye for now.