Today I was lucky enough to track down TJ Mahoney, the co-founder and CEO of Flipkey.com. I’ve talked about FlipKey a few times here – and I’m really excited to bring you some insight into how FlipKey works, who it’s for and how our clients and your guests can benefit from it’s Reputation Management platform.
The general premise is to allow guests to review individual vacation rentals and for shoppers to see reviews on those individual rentals. Until now, there really wasn’t a way for a potential guest to see reviews dedicated to the EXACT rental they’re looking at. Other sites that allow reviews aren’t really guaranteeing any aspect of the rental you’re looking at. Flipkey.com has a unique way of letting shoppers and reviewers know that the rental is part of their FlipKey Verified Program, which means they guarantee on-site property management and hospitality services.
I asked TJ some questions about the process and the product – here are his answers. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment box below and I’ll see if I can get TJ back to answer your questions.
Carrie Hill: The site just went live at FlipKey.com – what has been the hardest part of shepherding an internet startup from concept to fruition?
TJ at Flipkey:
People and pace. We wanted to create something useful for the vacation rental industry and not just another cookie-cutter listing service. In order to do this we interviewed hundreds of property managers, sat down with key industry consultants (such as, Blizzard Marketing) and invested in direct consumer research through Compete, Inc. Our efforts translated into one core service (“Reputation Management”) supported by 50 various features. To effectively build the service we needed people that understood the VR market and were willing to evolve the service quickly. It was very difficult to recruit the perfect team with a blend of VR market knowledge, solid technical skills and the willingness to work into the late hours of the night; however, we pulled it off and are excited about the future.
CH: Would You Say FlipKey caters to property managers or vacation rental owners? Or both?
I would actually say neither – FlipKey caters to consumers. The fact is, consumers who have stayed at a vacation rental love them. The vacationers on the sidelines, who are still staying in hotels, want to try vacation rentals, but do not trust the product. At FlipKey we concentrate on creating a new layer of transparency to help all vacationers feel more comfortable and confident in the vacation rental experience.
Many consumers prefer to stay with property managers to ensure a more predictable experience, whereas some consumers are purely driven by economics which makes them indifferent between managers and owners. At FlipKey, we provide the consumer with the right information to promote vacation rentals as a superior and predictable lodging experience. Ultimately, better information attracts more guests and yields higher nightly rates, making the consumer-centric approach beneficial to all experienced and reputable managers.
CH: What are YOUR two favorite features?
1) Verified Reviews: I feel FlipKey reviews are presented in a way that allows prospective vacationers to become genuinely excited about a well reviewed property. Because FlipKey verifies each review and rejects self-promotional or SPAM based reviews, the vacationer knows they are reading a real review. I find it very powerful from a marketing standpoint.
2) Extension Widgets: It’s not obvious to the average site visitor, but FlipKey offers its members Extension Widgets. The extension widgets allow managers to publish, free of charge, verified FlipKey reviews on their own website. The widgets are easy to add to the manager’s site and look pretty slick.
CH: How is the order of listing determined? I see you can sort by price, name and bedrooms – any chance of sorting by best reviews?
Order is determined by a ‘Reputation Score’. The Reputation Score is a combination of several factors, but the number of reviews associated with a property is the largest contributor.
For instance, we will rank a property with 5 reviews with an average score of 4 stars ahead of a property with only 2 reviews and an average score of 5 stars.
There are many factors involved in ‘Reputation’ and we have worked hard to develop a system that helps consumers find trusted vacation homes with reliable services. We’ll keep the full recipe to ourselves, but generally the Reputation Score reflects guests’ reviews of the home, a manager’s experience and the reliability of their services.
CH: Name one destination featured on FlipKey you’d like to visit and why?
I would love to visit Alaska. We feature a few listings in Homer, AK that look amazing.
CH: How will FlipKey change the way our vacation rental clients “remarket” to past guests?
FlipKey features a Guest Rating service that allows the VR manager to rate the guests that have stayed with them. It seems only fair that reviews should go both ways.
Is there a better way to attract loyal guests than to rate them five stars and leave a small testimonial of how great it was to rent to them? As the next season approaches, managers can automatically reach out to the guests they have rated on FlipKey reminding them to book early.
CH: Reputation Management is huge for travel and tourism businesses – how do you, as developer of a platform that handles reviews from good to bad, suggest vacation rental owners handle negative reviews?
Negative reviews are typically a good thing.
If prospective vacationers see that a property has received 100% perfect reviews they become skeptical of the legitimacy of the reviews. Negative reviews afford a manager the ability to cultivate a conversation about the property and established increased trust with future renters.
For instance, a FlipKey member received a below average review for one of their properties. The guest complained the home was not big enough for their family of 16. The manager posted a comment to the review through the FlipKey Reputation Manager, thanking the guest for the review, but clarifying that the home is listed to only accommodate 12 people. Rather than panicking about a negative review the manager was able to use it to emphasize his concern over his guest’s experiences and clarify who the home is ideally suited for.
CH: Do you think the individual property listings will rank well in Google?
Although we are investing in SEO, top placement on Google is not our focus. We are more interested in helping managers collect reviews, porting their reviews to their website and any other marketing channels they use to help attract and convert new guests. By collecting and managing guest reviews, FlipKey can help top managers receive preferred placement on large/established travel sites, negating the need to rely so heavily on Search to intercept prospective guests.