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CUSTOMER LOYALTY: I Am the Complaint Department? Now what?

Welcome back! In last week’s blog, Go Ahead…Encourage Your Residents to Complain, I shared some examples of how encouraging customer complaints can improve their experience and increase customer loyalty.  While it is important that employees make it clear that they welcome complaints, all too often they are not given the tools they need to handle complaints effectively. So, before you pin your employees with the “I am the complaint department” button, teach them how to respond, and effectively handle resident complaints.

 1. Shut Up and File Your Nails!

My first leasing job was at a community located in South Florida. The Property Manager always had a drawer full of finger nail files and polish at her desk. I found it odd that she frequently gave herself a manicure while at work—but did not dare ask why.  One day as I was walking by her office I saw her filing and painting her nails—again! I was really busy and a little irritated. How dare she look so relaxed while I was running around like a crazy woman trying to help residents! When I finally got my nerve up to ask her about this odd behavior, she openly revealed her secret to me.  Each time I saw her filing and painting she was on the phone with an unhappy resident.  She told me that it helped her to stay calm and listen intently to the angry residents that were screaming at her over the telephone. Genius!

If resident retention and loyalty is the end goal, listening intently and sticking with a calm, collected approach will help troubleshoot even the toughest complainer.

A University of Minnesota study showed that nearly sixty percent of misunderstandings in the business world can be attributed to poor listening.

When people complain, more than anything else, they want to be heard. When you listen, their stress level goes down — and so does yours. The first – and most important step to take when dealing with an angry customer is to be quiet and listen—or in the case of my managershut up and file your nails!

Get to the Core:  Are you an 18 Second Listener?

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwB7NAvKPeo 433x300]

2. Say You’re Sorry

There are times when a resident is angry over a legitimate mistake made by your company and you don’t need to know exactly what happened in order to say you’re sorry. If someone is complaining, it is a sign that they didn’t have the great customer experience they had hoped for, so apologize. Regardless of what happened or even if you were not at fault, they are dissatisfied. No excuses or explanations — just show genuine remorse.

Get to the Core:  Does Your Company Know How to Apologize Effectively?

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

These are the type of questions that encourage your residents to talk rather than scream at you. Open-ended questions can be a powerful communication tool when it comes to handling resident complaints. They divert focus from emotional frustration and reveal information about the problem at hand. Open-ended questions help you establish rapport, defuse anger, gather information, establish trust, and eventually arrive at a solution.

  • What do you suggest?
  • How would you like to resolve the problem?
  • How could we improve our customer service?

Open-ended questions stimulate conversations that can lead to a great customer experience!

Get to the Core: Open or Closed?

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKJMZDqRI8Y 433x300]

4. Summarize What You Heard

It is important to summarize your understanding of the unhappy resident’s position.  By stating it in your own words, and asking if your understanding is accurate, this tells the resident that you were listening AND that you care about their problem. It also creates an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. My favorite is, "Let's see if I understand you correctly. Are you saying ____?" 

A University of Minnesota study showed that nearly sixty percent of misunderstandings in the business world can be attributed to poor listening. Summarizing and waiting for confirmation helps clear up confusion.

Get to the Core:  A 99 cent Misunderstanding (Warning: This video is a little edgy but funny and makes a good point)

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe0-E6S7qJ4 433x300]

5. Resolve the Complaint—Offer a Solution

Resident complaints are gifts that offer your community a second chance to re-perform the service and bend over backwards to fix the problem and restore resident confidence. When you fail to resolve the issue, the resident is left hanging, begins to lose trust, and feels like voicing the complaint in-person was a waste of time. They turn to their computer, iphone, or ipad, pull up their Facebook page, and tell all of their 426 friends about their poor experience.  Take that!

A 2006 customer study revealed that a customer who goes to the effort to complain, but remains dissatisfied is usually 50% less loyal than someone who did not bother to complain. (Goodman, 2006)

Resolving the customer’s problem quickly will have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. A speedy service recovery can also lead to a more positive resident survey and apartment review—a gift.

Ninety-five percent of complaining customers would remain loyal if their complaint was resolved on the first contact. This number dropped to seventy percent when the complaint was not immediately resolved. (Goodman, 2006)

Get to the Core:  The Profitable Art of Service Recovery

Teaching employees how to respond appropriately to complaints and empowering them to offer resolutions can be a game changer!

What are your thoughts? Can you add to this list?  I would love to hear from you!

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Maria! Love this topic and love how you approach this. (Somehow, now, I wish I didn't bite my fingernails!):D It is not fun to be the head of the Complaint Department, but it is much easier to attack and resolve situations if you can make it right yourself without always having to consult a supervisor. I've had a lot of practice so it doesn't rattle me so much any more. Confession: I really do employ the art of active listening and exhibit a great amount of empathy with Residents, so this has reduced the dread everyone involved feels. (I think.)

  Mindy Sharp
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks for this article, Maria. I think the key really is empowering employees to make corrections without jumping through three rings of fire to do so. However, in most companies, employees aren't granted this level of autonomy, I think this is for the reactive protection of "the bottom line."

Because of this, I tend to focus my efforts on dispute prevention with our site teams. As the "complaint department" for my company, I have mediated well over 1000 conflicts/disputes during the past 3 years (come to think of it, my number is probably now approaching 2000)and we can identify a "flash point" with nearly all of them. By identfying this "flash point" we can see where it all went wrong and implement prevention measures for the future.

In my role, I've been asked about what I think is "the one most important thing in preventing conflicts in property nagement," and while I always will first tell anyone that not ALL disputes can be avoided, written communication is the number one area in our business where we can actively begin dispute prevention; our advertising, our application, our lease & community policies, and our letters and notices to residents.

  Brandon Mathis
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I am glad you enjoyed this topic. I think sometimes "seasoned" professionals forget that handling complaints was not always an easy task.I remember being terrified when "those residents" would walk through the door early on in my career. That is why training is so important--it not only prepares it can empower, too. I would much rather take the time to listen to a complaining resident than damage control searching for negative online posts! BTW---I also have a tendency to bite my nails. Must be the business! :)) Thank you for sharing your great thoughts!

  Maria Lawson
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you for making a great point---one that a lot of companies should hear. I was one of the lucky ones that worked for a company that trained me AND empowered me to make decisions at the onsite level. I think it defeats the purpose to train an employee on how to handle complaints and then when it's time to remedy the situation they have to pass the resident on to someone else.Certainly, there are times when it is necessary--but not all of the time. Residents notice this and the employee feels it. I agree with your "reactive protection" point, too.I LOVE this idea of dispute prevention!We have so many prevention systems in place in this business--but few like this. It is a great idea--I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this topic such as trends you have seen etc. At the end of the day, we need to be open to hearing the resident's voice--we can learn so much from them. Thank you for sharing with us--I hope to hear more from you as I blog on customer loyalty.

  Maria Lawson
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article and a simple reminder of how listening is critical! We often times want to speak to "defend" ourselves that we don't realize this is truly an opportunity for a second chance! Well done!

  Kristyn Ramsey
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You make such a great point. We need to do a better job of listening to respond to their needs rather than speak quickly to defend ourselves. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  Maria Lawson
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is great. Finding this information has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. I’ve been a tenant in a community that I love for 2 1/2 yrs.; that was until I had a maintenance issue and the ball was not only dropped by maintenance, management would even acknowledge I existed. I asked for service and due to my concern to get it remedied, as they said they classified my problem as a maintenance emergency. A month later it was addressed and now property manager is retaliating and wants me o leave. She eEmailed me a 5 day invitation stating they would let me out of my lease If I was unhappy. WOW. All I wanted was problem fixed. I was already happy.;D

  Kim M
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Kim! Thank you for sharing your story. I read your post at least three times before I could really grasp what you were saying--I guess I was a little taken back. This is such a prime example of how a great experience can go wrong very quickly. Educating the front line people is so important---understanding that it is ok to embrace the complaint and then teaching them the "how to." In fact, if they had taken the approaches I listed you would have ended up more loyal than you already were. You mentioned "loving your community" and being "happy" before this specific incident. A great service recovery opportunity was handed to them---it appears that they didn't see it. Good luck and thank you for sharing!

  Maria Lawson

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