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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!