I know a lot of contractors don’t think highly of online referral services, but at AccuTemp we’ve had great success with that avenue. We’ve put a lot of effort into our marketing strategy, committing about 5 percent of our annual revenue to it. Most of that is going to online marketing where potential clients can easily see reviews from multiple sources. The emphasis on providing top quality service through our review efforts has really paid off for us.
We felt that it was important to concentrate our efforts, so we started out with a push on Angie’s List. We found that we had only 1 review there, and it was a D-grade from a situation 3 years earlier. In response, we set a goal to get as many quality positive reviews there as possible over the next year and ended the year with 40 A-grade reviews. That accomplishment lead to us receiving the Angie’s List Super Service Award, which lead to us getting more phone calls from potential clients and more quality reviews, leading to 4 straight years of the Super Service Award. This “snowball effect” has been instrumental in our strategy and is what we strive to achieve with each new effort in online marketing and reviews.
The Good and the Bad
After the year of success with Angie’s List 4 years ago, they reached out to us with an opportunity to do some paid marketing on their site allowing us to offer coupons, pre-pay services, and give us better visibility as the award winner. To start, we were paying approximately $2,000; however, the price has increased drastically to about $5,000 per year now. The reason for the high increase is that Angie’s List followers are growing rapidly along with service company’s desire to be listed. Here in Baton Rouge the cost is currently $5,000; but in large markets such as Houston or Dallas, the price may be much more.
The rapid price increases have been frustrating to some contractors, but the business we get from the site is worth it. In 2016, we made $174,000 in referral business from Angie’s List, and this year we’ve already made $42,000 in referrals from Angie’s List – in the first and slowest quarter.
Angie’s List customers are very loyal as well, giving you a good chance of closing a sale with them. Our design consultants close more than 70% of leads ran with Angie’s List clients, compared to the average of 55% we typically see. We also find that Angie’s List clients value quality and are willing to spend more to get it. With returns like that, I’m willing to spend $5,000 every year.
On the other hand, we’ve tried Home Advisor three different times and dropped them each time. The first two times we held out about 3 months, but the last time we dropped them after just a few weeks and haven’t looked back.
The initial appeal with Home Advisor is that they’re a lot cheaper than Angie’s List up front, charging you only for the leads you get. With each lead only costing $35, it seems like a no-brainer; however, these same leads are also given to other contractors making it a race to see which contractor gets to the customer first.
We became good at quickly responding, averaging less than 5 minutes from referral to initial contact, but we often found people confused and unaware as to why they were being called. Typically, they were just checking out prospective contractors and entered the contact information simply to allow entry to the next page! As potential clients become more familiar with these tactics from different websites, they often put fake phone numbers in, leading to even more confusion by the caller on the other line.
The whole practice seemed a little bit like smoke and mirrors, and it didn’t really fit with our company culture of character, quality service, and transparency. To make things even worse, it was a fight to get refunds for the false-leads from Home Advisor, causing the true price per lead to be higher than most other marketing platforms. With that being said, I have heard of contractors that have experienced real success with Home Advisor, so I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss them. It may be something that works for some contractors in a certain market, it just wasn’t the right platform for us.
Multiple Reviews on Multiple Sites
Our current review focus is on Google+. Google+ is totally free, plus Google loves to promote their own reviews when people search online. Our closest competitor on Google+ only averages 3.5 stars with limited reviews, and some only have 1 or 2 reviews at all. It is definitely “low hanging fruit” and something I would encourage all companies to focus on. We pay to optimize our site to be on the first page of Google, but most clients who choose us there say that they saw our 95 reviews (4.8 out of 5.0 rating) and went with us for that reason.
Besides Google+ and Angie’s List, we work hard to generate as many positive reviews as possible on other sites such as Facebook and the Better Business Bureau. Clients are going to review multiple sites before they decide who to use, and if you’re dominant on multiple sites it increases your chances of being chosen. Having many positive reviews on multiple sites gives potential clients peace of mind.
Having a lot of good reviews also cancels out the effects of one or two bad reviews. Bad reviews will always come, but it is a better to have 25 good reviews when they do, than to have only 2 reviews with 1 being bad. When we receive a bad review, we make a point of responding professionally and going out of our way to try to convert that bad review into a happy customer. When people see that, they know we are committed to providing the best possible service, turning bad reviews into even more peace of mind for potential clients.
The Personal Touch
Our primary strategy to retrieve good reviews is to actively encourage our technicians to ask for reviews at the end of their service calls. We do training sessions with role-playing to get them used to making these requests. We have them practice saying things like “We want all potential clients to know that they will have the same positive experience that you have. Would you mind posting a review for us on Angie’s List or Google+ so that they can feel confident choosing us?”
It’s hard to get technicians to sell themselves, but the effort has definitely been worthwhile. I’d say one-third of the requests that technicians make to customers generate reviews. That averages about 3 to 5 reviews per week. People aren’t writing the reviews for AccuTemp, they are writing them for the technicians who went out and saved the day!
Another great way to generate reviews is to use a company like Review Buzz. We pay them $350 per month to make sure that every customer receives a one-question survey: “On a scale of 1 to 10, would you recommend this company to your friends?”. Respondents who answer between 1 and 7 are directed to a page asking for suggestions to make the experience better in the future. Responses of 8, 9, or 10 are invited to write a review on Angie’s List or Google+. Although not the same effect as a technician requesting a review face-to-face, this service has been another way of growing our review base.
For companies that are just beginning to try referral sites, I would suggest researching which one is dominant in your area and starting there first, rather than trying to dominate every site at once. It’s a matter of knowing your market and putting an honest effort into generating referrals without becoming overly aggressive. For instance, here in Baton Rouge, Yelp is not currently a big platform for our services, so we didn’t start out putting a lot of effort there. In other areas Yelp is huge, so that might be the place to start. As you gain success on one platform, you can move to the next one. This brings us back to that “snowball effect” where the success on 1 platform begins to self-generate more leads on other platforms.
The Wave of the Future
I sincerely believe that referrals will play an even bigger role in marketing in the future than they do now. The technology of Smartphones keeps getting better and better, and one day the companies that we choose may be dictated by Siri or Alexa. Potential clients will say “Siri, find me the best HVACR contractor in town,” or “Alexa, I’m looking for a contractor that stresses quality service.” They may then only recommend 2 or 3 contractors based upon the review database they find online. These contractors will only separate themselves from the pack further as they experience the “snowball effect” of online reviews.
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