When consumers first seek product information, often the first place they go to research is the Web. When borrowers search for reverse mortgage background and details, the results and information they find online can have a big impact on their impressions of the product and whether or not they decide to proceed.
Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that approximately four in five adults uses the Internet regularly, and the senior demographic is no exception. The Pew study found that 87% of Internet users in the “Older Boomers” group, or those who are ages 56-64, use search engines, and the percentage was only slightly less—82%—for those in the 65-73 age group. Further, Pew says, Internet users ages 56-73 are even more likely than younger adults to have rated a product, service, or person online.
As a result, reverse mortgage lenders are ramping up efforts to occupy the online space and some are using consumer feedback and other means to manage their reputations accordingly.
“As a small brand, the importance of our customers’ experience and their willingness to share it are becoming increasingly important now that organic search and social media have come together,” says Cliff Auerswald, an originator at All Reverse Mortgage Company. “Search engines like Google are now incorporating sites like Better Business Bureau Trustlink & Yelp into the SERPs (search engine results pages) enabling visitors to easily check our customer reviews and personal experiences.”
Not only is it important to bolster brands online and see what consumers are saying about reverse mortgage companies and products, but addressing the negative ideas about reverse mortgages is another important action to take, says Christopher Foltz, founder of communications strategy firm Christopher Foltz & Company.
“The best thing you can do is address the negatives, and more importantly, be the first one to address it and draw attention to the negative things,” Foltz says. With that, reverse mortgage companies are more likely to win the consumer appeal, he says. “One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to avoid having the conversations about the negative things.”
Detroit-based One Reverse, a division of Quicken Loans, has found benefits in an unfiltered feedback portal online where its customers can share their experiences with others. While the posts are not reviewed or edited by One Reverse employees before they are posted, the honest feedback has been very successful, One Reverse says, not only in informing future customers, but also in helping the company to improve.
“We were looking to give clients a way to give unfiltered, unsolicited feedback,” says Richard Mandell, vice president of One Reverse Mortgage. “We are also looking for those opportunities to improve. One of our philosophy is finding a better way. We are always looking for feedback from clients so we can improve and get better.”
The review site, which launched in 2009, has collected dozens of testimonials from customers, and an overwhelmingly positive response to the products. One Reverse encourages customers to rate their experiences using a star-rating system, under which the average customer rating is four out of five stars. While One Reverse does not currently market the site externally, its internal success has been worthwhile.
“It has been a nice thing for our clients. We are going to keep using it and trying to find more ways to expand the people that are putting their comments up there,” Mandell says. Further, One Reverse has seen that as the senior population is growing, its client base is becoming more savvy with online tools like its review site.
Additionally, says Auerswald, reviews online lend credability.
“A reverse mortgage is an important financial decision and trust is an important factor when choosing to work with any particular lender or broker,” Auerswald says. “These sites, our A+ BBB designation and handwritten reviews we post [on our site] helps build that extra credibility when competing with the bigger names.”
And while paid advertising is a proven model, it may also be the case that the best advice comes free.
“With the right amount of budget, bloggers can totally sway the public opinion on Yelp,” Foltz says. Unpaid reviews are the most credible, he says. “You can’t pay someone to be a fan.”
Firms like Reputation.com work to assist in making negative reviews harder to find and help get them corrected, but the help isn’t cheap. A recent New York Times column details the different levels of protection that companies can seek, as well as ways to go on the defensive when it comes to reputation management.
With consumers in control of the information and where it appears, however, a proactive approach may be best.
“When you deal with seniors, information is power,” Foltz says. “One thing that generally happens is peope spend too much time on the sales side. We focus more on the benefits side of what you can do by having this [reverse mortgage] opportunity.”
Written by Elizabeth Ecker