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Your Complaint Solution Playbook

Being Prepared Is The Key To Effective Complaint Management

By John Hall - October 3, 2018

Let’s take one more look at complaint handling. Previously, we talked about LAST (Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank), and how each of those steps is essential to effective complaint handling. Steps 1, 2, and 4 are the easy ones. No matter what the complaint, you are not really doing much differently.

It is Step 3: Finding a Solution that really requires you to be on your game - incorporating your experience and your community knowledge to arrive at solutions that keep your residents happy. All of the listening, apologizing, and thanking in the world cannot overcome the lack of a workable solution.

Fortunately, you can ensure that you are offering the best solution every time, while removing much of the stress associated with complaint handling.

How?

Create your community’s complaint solution playbook.

What are some of the characteristics of a useful playbook?

1) It gives you the resources to easily solve most complaints, and allows you to focus on the other parts of good complaint handling.

2) It allows you to quote realistic time frames immediately.

3) It will include the steps to the complaint handling process, so that you don’t forget any in the heat of the moment. It also gives you confidence in the solutions you have to offer, so you can focus on the other (often neglected) steps.

4) It creates a log of the process for every complaint, so that subsequent inquiries can be handled by any leasing agent.

5) It lays out all of the important steps to the follow-up process, and reminders to confirm resolution of every complaint.

6) It is a changing document, allowing you to avoid shortfalls from reoccurring, and ensuring that future complaints have optimal solutions

How do you build your playbook? It’s pretty easy!

1) Make a list! Organize potential complaints by type, and list as many as you can. Most complaints within each type will be handled similarly, so classifying them in advance gives you a jump start on your solutions.

Here are the complaint types you should be ready for:

  • Maintenance issues 
  • Issues with neighbors (noise)
  • Pets
  • Pest control
  • Safety
  • Communication

2) Under each type of complaint, list as many specific complaints as you can, and then give preferred solutions and expected turnaround types for each.

3) Incorporate a system to track every request, and include checklists for follow-up and resolution.

4)When complaints are resolved, circle back, and make any changes that will ensure future complaints are handled better.

Maintenance issues are usually straightforward. You need to know who gets called, and what time frames should be quoted. Neighbor and pet issues are more complicated. They are handled as mitigations, and require contact and follow-up with both parties. Pest control can be tricky. You need to gather information to determine the extent of a problem, but you don’t want to sound an alarm about a problem that might be isolated. Safety issues - such as physical hazards or potential crime - should always be treated and communicated as your top priorities.

Communication plays a part in most complaints that you get. So why does it get a category of its own? Well, it is the communication about all of these other things that really comprises the bulk of complaints that you will hear from residents! Resident complaints are often more about their frustrations with getting issues addressed than they are about the issues themselves.

[Here is a great article we found about communication and resident complaints.]

Which brings us back to your playbook, and the most essential part of making it effective. Your complaint process has to have something in place that makes it less painful and more productive for your residents. You can’t use your playbook if you have created barriers that keep your residents from complaining.

So, make sure that you have open lines of communication. Office hours should be available where real attention can be given. E-mail and instant messaging should be encouraged, and rapid response times should be guaranteed. (This has the extra benefit of removing some of the added emotion of a face-to-face meeting, but only if it is does not become another source of resident frustration!)

Do you have a complaint solution playbook? How could yours be better?

This is the final installment in our Handling Resident Complaints series. If you missed the others, catch up here: 
Part 1: Get Excited For Complaints!
Part 2: Crush Those Complaints
Part 3: The Complaints You Cannot Solve
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The Complaints You Cannot Solve

Being Realistic About Problem Complainers

By John Hall - September 27, 2018

We have been talking about resident complaints - why they should matter to you, and how you can maximize the opportunities they present.

This post is about a different kind of complaint. These are the complaints that cannot be solved with a single meeting, or sometimes at all. Often, these complaints are more about the people making them.

What are we talking about? Let’s look at the more challenging residents that you will meet from time to time.

1) The Contrarian
Sadly, there is nothing in this world that is universally liked. Try and think of anything - pizza, Harry Potter books, cookouts, anything! - that you think everybody likes. Now, guess what? There are people out there who do not like those things. There are even people who absolutely and passionately dislike those things.

When you get complaints about things that you think all of your residents like, you might be dealing with a contrarian. Do not fear them! At the end of the day, most contrarians are likeable and interesting. They just seem to march to a different beat.

Strategy: Get to the bottom of things! What often seems to be irrational is, more often than not, really about something else entirely. Find out if there is a legitimate underlying complaint, and deal with that.

Contrarians want to be heard more than agreed with. They are used to their opinions being dismissed as outlandish. If you show them respect, they will provide a unique perspective that might help you see things in a different way.


2) The Aggressive Complainer
This person comes in with a head full of steam, looking for a confrontation, and will often say things that they later regret. Remember, most resident complaints are not about you, even when the frustration surrounding them can cause them to sound that way.

Strategy: Calm things down. Tell an aggressor that you want to be able to give them your entire focus, and schedule a meeting time that allows for a cooling-off period. Bring in reinforcements if you can, but make sure to let them know that you are doing so to better hear them - not to team up against them.

That said, personal attacks are forbidden. Abusive language or threats - against leasing staff or residents - are most likely prohibited by your lease agreement, and should always be shut down immediately.


3) The Chronic Complainer
Unlike the aggressive complainer, the chronic complainer is pleasant enough. You just see a lot of them. Chronic complainers don’t even know they are doing it. They think they they are there to help.

Warning!: Chronic complainers can be tiresome, but ignore their complaints at your own peril. You might miss out on information that is really important. Also, chronic complainers will not stop with you. If they are dissatisfied with your responses, they will make sure that everyone else knows about it.

Strategy: Wear them out! Know who your chronic complainers are, and check in with them from time to time just to see how things are going.* Let them know that you appreciate their input, and seek it out from time to time. Ask them for suggestions about things. Let them feel that they are a part of your team, and they will become your biggest advocates.

*Be careful, though. When you follow-up with any customer, avoid negative statements like “Is anything else wrong?”. Try statements like “How else can I help?”, or “I would like to get your input on something” instead.


4) The Discount Seeker
You know this person. They might have a legitimate complaint, but the solution they seek is always the same - money! This person might wait to report a problem in their apartment, in hopes that they can negotiate more taken off their next rent payment.

This can a tricky one. You need to be wary of complaints that are created in search of a cash break, but you want to avoid the trap of thinking that every complaint is an attempted con.

Strategy: Prevention! Your have policies about resident responsibilities in reporting problems in your lease. You need to make sure that those policies are reiterated throughout a lease term. If financial considerations are very seldom offered, there will not be an incentive to seek them.

5) The Lost Cause
Sometimes, the fit between a resident and a community is like a relationship gone wrong. It might have been great at first, but things sour, and you can’t seem to fix it. At some point, nobody benefits from trying to carry on.

How do you know when a resident relationship has gone toxic? Here are some of the red flags:
  1. They repeat complaints, and are dissatisfied with any attempted resolution
  2. They are surly and unpleasant with leasing staff and other residents, and create a bad atmosphere in which to work and live
  3. They are public with their complaints, posting negative reviews and comments about you wherever they can
  4. They seek allies among your other residents, by getting them to share in their dissatisfaction
Of course, you should make every attempt to turn things around. Always try to talk things out. Do not let a lack of communication be what leads you to determine that there is no way to mend things. However, if you have truly done all you can, it might be time to move on.

Strategy: It goes without saying that you can’t just get rid of every resident that you don’t like, and your residents have legal rights that you must respect. However, a toxic resident can have an adverse impact on your entire community, and you would be wise to do what you can to mitigate that risk.

So, how do you “break up” with your last cause? Schedule a meeting, and make sure that you have a witness present. Let the resident know that that it is your belief that they are unhappy, and offer to waive any penalties that might stand in the way of their leaving. Make it clear to the resident that they have the choice, but do what you can to make leaving a more attractive option. Put the entirety of your conversation in writing, and make sure that each of you have signed copies. 


Complaint handling is not always easy, and there are times when resolution does not happen. In those cases, it is wise to reflect upon your role in the situation, and use the knowledge you gain to do better in the future.

Go to Part 4: Your Complaint Solution Playbook

Catch up on our Handling Resident Complaints series: 
Part 1: Get Excited For Complaints!
Part 2: Crush Those Complaints
 
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Crush Those Complaints

(But Be Gentle On The Complainers)

By John Hall - September 20, 2018

Last time, we set out to convince you that resident complaints can be very helpful to your leasing. Today, we are going to talk about getting the most out of your resident complaints.

Ideally, you should be ready to handle complaints before they happen. Not being prepared for them usually results in even higher levels of frustration, and bad word-of-mouth for your community.

So, let’s start with a simple rule that everyone knows, and that most of us forget: Don’t take complaints personally! When residents complain, they are not complaining about you. Always remember, your focus is the complaint - not the complainer.

Next, have a game plan. You don’t need to wing it. Customer service has been around forever, and there are simple complaint resolution processes that are simple and effective. Although they can vary a little, most of them pretty much boil down to four essential steps.

(Spoiler Alert: Use the acronym LAST to always remember the following.)

Step 1: Listen
And when you think you are done listening, listen some more!

When handling complaints, it is a common mistake to think you have heard enough to know what happened, and to start the process of resolution. However, there are two potential problems you face when you don’t truly listen.
 
First, even though you might know what the complaint is, your resident will not feel like he or she is truly being heard. There are often multiple frustrations that can arise from a single occurrence, and the person complaining will have a need to feel like those frustrations have been aired. Even if you fix the original problem, your perceived lack of empathy can leave a bad taste.

Second, letting a complainant talk until they are blue in face often leads to a unexpected transformation. Anger is transformed to gratitude (to you, for listening), and then is transformed further to mild regret and embarrassment, over having been so angry in the first place! When people are allowed to truly vent, they actually are able to separate their emotions from their memory of the events that caused them.

IIn other words, the more you actively listen, the more your complainers feel subconscious guilt for having unloaded on you. And, the more eager they will be to make it up to you by appreciating your solutions! Listening makes this whole process so much easier for you!

So, let them tell you everything, and then ask them for more.

Step 2: Apologize
This is where you get to start talking, and you will get the most mileage when you start by apologizing!

When it comes to service, apologies are not about admitting that a wrong occurred. They are simply about empathy. Your apology should be brief, clear, and sincere. You know how they feel, and you are on their side. Easy!

Step 3: Solve
You know how to address the majority of issues that walk through your door. Once you have diffused the emotional part of the complaint, you get to use that knowledge. Be careful not to promise a fix without specifics - create a concrete expectation for what satisfaction will look like. If you are unable to promise a time frame for resolution, agree upon a time when you will.

The most important thing here is that your proposed solution has been communicated clearly. Who, What, Where, When, and How!

Step 4: Thank
Because you are a complaint-handling ninja now, you have come to appreciate the value of a good complaint. So, thank your complainers! Let them know that you value their feedback, and that they are what makes your community great. Remember, when it comes to complaints, the ones that you hear are so much better for you than the ones that you don’t.

And that’s it. You’re done. Good job!

Except, as we all know, in property management, most problems are not solved instantly. So, how about one more step.

Step 5) Follow Up!
Complaint resolution is a process, and it requires a resolution. When issues are addressed, make sure that the complainant is satisfied - both with your handling of the situation, and with the actual solution to the problem. If there are third parties involved, be sure to communicate any changes that occur in the process.

Then, go back a step, and thank them again!

When you close the book on a complaint, take a few minutes to self-assess how you did. Then, congratulate yourself for developing the skills to turn unhappy residents into outspoken advocates for your community.

Read Part 3: The Complaints You Cannot Solve
If you missed Part 1, read it here: Get Excited For Complaints!
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Get Excited For Complaints!

They are an invaluable property management tool

By John Hall - September 13, 2018

If you like interacting with people, the leasing profession is perfect for you! Tours for prospective residents, visits from vendors (and wanna-be vendors), and residents doing the day-to-day things that residents do. Every day is different, and you never know what is going to come through that door.

Likewise, if you are like most people, you would rather not have to deal with complaints. Who needs residents coming by and complaining about any and all manner of things?!

Well, you do. And your community’s bottom line does! If you are doing it right, complaints go from being an unavoidable hassle, to being an essential part of making your community great!

Now, after you have had sufficient time to roll your eyes, consider these facts about complaints, and why they are essential to community managers.

1) No Complaints ≠ Happy Residents
If problems at your community are not being shared with you, it does not mean they don’t exist. In point of fact, most people do not want to take the time, and deal with the unpleasantness, required to make a complaint. Many people avoid complaining, and choose instead to opt out of their situation as early as possible.

2) Asking For Honest Feedback ≠ Asking For More Complaints
Actively seeking feedback on how are doing from residents and prospects alike helps you in two ways. One, it often lets you know about issues that can be easily addressed, before they become a drain on leasing and retention. Two, it lets your residents and prospects know that are attentive to their needs, and makes them less likely to be angry because of what they perceive to be a lack of interest on your part.

3) Complaints = Opportunities (To Improve Your Community)
You should always be looking for ways to improve your community. Complaints provide you with terrific ideas to make life at your community better. Plus, when someone sacrifices their time and comfort to complain, you can be reasonably sure that they are sharing a problem that actually needs addressing.

4) No Complaints = Bad Word of Mouth
Your residents talk to their friends, co-workers, and families, and nothing makes for better conversation than a juicy story about some problem at home, and how poorly it has been addressed! Your residents are more likely to share their displeasure with their peers then they are to share it with you. If you are not aware of the issues that your residents are having, you have no way of mitigating the bad things that are being said about you.

5) Complaints = Opportunities (To Improve Resident Loyalty)
Conversely, dealing with complaints quickly and honestly is a sure-fire way to create new ambassadors for your community. The positive experience of being heard and having concerns addressed actually leads to greater loyalty, and stories about good customer service are even more likely to be shared than stories about unresolved problems. More often than not, your online reviews and star ratings - positive and negative - are the direct result of how complaints are handled.

6) Rewarding Complaints > Avoiding Complaints
One of the most important parts of dealing with complaints is the follow-up. People who complain are often emotional, and can feel vulnerable as a result. Not only should you be sure to properly thank everyone who takes the time to complain to you, you should treat them as if they have done you a favor. Because, in reality, they have! When your residents are made to feel as if they were wrong to complain, there is no resolution to their problem that will satisfy them.

You are undoubtedly aware that resident renewals, and word-of-mouth referrals, represent less stressful and more cost-effective ways to lease than continually harvesting new residents. To that end, creating loyal residents is really the most important job that you have.

Know this: A leasing office that properly deals with a reasonable volume of resident complaints is probably doing a better job than a leasing office that hears no complaints at all. Not only are they are collecting valuable feedback - They have created an environment where residents trust that their issues will be addressed.

So, the next time that you are faced with a resident complaint, resist the urge to flee or get defensive. Approach complaints with the same eagerness that you have for potential leases. Take a breath, smile, and be excited that you are being given the opportunity to truly excel in your role of leasing professional!

Next, we will get more specific, with a look at the best practices for responding to complaints at your community.

Go to Part 2: Crush Those Complaints!

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Long-Distance Leasing

Making Virtual Connections With Prospective Residents

By John Hall - September 6, 2018

Recently, we discussed community tours - how to maximize their effectiveness, and how to best use your Pynwheel touchscreen on them. There is nothing like personal contact to help you close leases, and you should always be sharpening the tools that you bring to your community tours.

However, there are going to be times where you are unable to meet a prospective resident. You wouldn’t want to miss out on opportunities such as those created by companies that are relocating quality applicants to your area. Likewise, prospective residents often want to have their new home secured, even if they don’t have the opportunity to visit in person. If these are realities in your marketplace, there are things that you can do that will put you in the best position to reach quality residents, and have a leg up on your competitors.

How do you take the best practices from your in-person tours and apply them to virtual leasing? Here are some of our favorite tips:

1) Make the first move

People who are relocating to your market are often attractive leasing candidates, as they are often following enhanced employment opportunities, and have the wherewithal to rent from you. Are there large employers near you that bring new people to your neighborhood? Why not create an incentive for their employees, and reach out to their human resources departments? Likewise, your general marketing efforts should focus on the places where those from out of town are likely to look - namely, on the internet.

2) Polish your image

It’s not enough to have a good website and advertising that you pay for. prospective residents are going to go to third-party sources to see what is being said about your community. Know your online ratings, and take steps to make sure they are not sinking your marketing efforts! Remember, people who are new to your area do not know about your neighborhood like locals do, and they will search for information in places that you can’t control.

3) Connect virtually

Even though you can’t get face-to-face, it is still to your benefit to have the next best thing. Video calls allow you to make a personal connection. Interactive web pages allow you to be viewing the same things as you talk, so your applicants can rely on photos and maps, instead of just your words. If possible, you should take advantage of your management company’s portfolio. If prospective residents can visit a sister property, you can leverage the other leasing professionals at your company to help you get leases signed.

4) Keep your focus personal

Prospective residents who cannot visit you in person still respond to a leasing process that is focused on them. Overcoming the challenges of doing this from afar is a valuable skill. Try even harder to get to know your applicants, and make notes to remember what is important to them. (You will rely on these later!)

5) Pynwheel your virtual tours

Touchscreen interactions are a big part of what makes Pynwheel so powerful, but you still have access to some great leasing tools when your touchscreen is not available. Pynwheel community maps can be loaded onto your webpage, and are a perfect tool for walking an applicant through your available units and amenities. By making note of an applicant’s preferences, customizable e-brochures can be created and sent immediately directly from your touchscreen. Customization is always more effective than one-size-fits-all e-mail attachments or paper brochures. 

6) Sweeten the deal

Timed offers allow prospective residents to end their housing hunt before they have a chance to scope out the competition, as well as allowing them to eliminate one of the largest stressors of relocation. Use caution though! You want to make sure that you are as transparent as possible about your community’s offerings. Residents who feel that they have been deceived will spread bad word of mouth, and will end up costing you in the long run, especially if they work for an employer that presents the potential for multiple future residents.

7) Nail your follow-up

You should always send customized brochures, but the virtual leasing process offers you other opportunities to stand out. Note your applicant’s interests, and send them some information on places in your neighborhood that will specifically appeal to them. Offer concessions that are specifically tailored to each resident, and let them know about the social events at your community that will help them assimilate to their new neighborhood. Often, the best follow-up of all is a simple inquiry about how their moving process is coming, along with an offer to help in any way you can. Remember, if prospective residents develop a personal connection with you, they are far more likely to want to sign your lease.

How often do you rent to applicants before you are able to meet them in person? What strategies do you employ to make long-distance leases work for you?
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