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Brent Williams' Apartment Blog

Thoughts, comments, and ideas about the overall multifamily industry, as well as a property-specific focus on resident retention and apartment marketing.

Reputation Management – Taking Conversations Offline

If you search on ApartmentRatings.com enough, you will see several attempts to “take the conversation offline”, a strategy which was echoed at this year’s NMHC OpTech.  I can understand the desire to take a potentially uncomfortable conversation into private, as nobody wants to show their dirty laundry in public, but I want to throw out two reasons that potentially make this a bad idea, or at least presents challenges that you should understand:

1) Your dirty laundry is already in public. The moment that negative review gets posted on the site, it has become a public discussion.  So even if you are able to move the conversation offline, that will likely not remove the original post.  So from a prospect’s point of view, they saw an angry tirade, they saw the response to try to talk about it behind closed doors, but they didn’t see any resolution.  Even if you made things all great with the original person, that doesn’t mean you have rectified the situation with all the on-lookers.  It actually reminds me of when a couple who breaks up gets back together.  They may have resolved things between themselves, but all the friends and family who heard the horrible stories of the breakup have had no resolution themselves, so they continue to feel mistrust about the relationship.

Not only do the prospects not often get closure with the dispute, but it oftentimes looks extremely shady in their point of view.  The original angry resident was more than transparent, but to the prospect, the apartment community appears to be trying to be hush-hush and be secretive with the conversation.  For the onlooker who has no closure to the conflict, they might be likely to assume the resident’s original post was correct, because the apartment community was supposedly "scared" to talk about it openly.

2) You are asking a lot of an angry resident. By asking the resident to contact the office either by phone or to come into the office, you are essentially asking them to do something for you.  So rather be in full “I’m here to help” mode, the first thing you are doing is asking them to react to you, which can set a negative tone in the response.

This is especially bad considering there is a good chance that the resident has already talked to someone on-site about the situation.  So if you offer that option to a resolution, they will likely being thinking, “I already did that!!” with more than a small amount of frustration.  In all likelihood, that probably made them even more upset, compounding the problem.

I am not trying to say that taking the conversation offline can’t be done, but it appears that too often the writer of the response is only seeing the situation from the apartment community’s point of view, and doesn’t have a clear grasp on how it will be perceived by the resident and prospects.  So any strategy must have a larger view of the situation to make sure it isn’t accidentally made worse.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I agree with you Brent, I think as site personnel/Mgmt side should offer their contact information but ask if they may contact the resident/prospect to talk about solutions and hear their complaint live. It should be about making it easy for your "client" to do business with you, almost an 80/20 rule (this shows them you care). This contact information and request should be in addition to answering/responding to the complaint online so it is transparent on all ends.

  Carolyn Marriott
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Carolyn,
I agree completely about making it simple. And one of the things I hear a lot is that the community can't contact the person making the complaint because it is anonymous. And in that situation, I think the community can at least still make it apparent they wanted to proactively reach out to them even if they couldn't. For example, "I wanted to give you a call about this, but I don't see your number here. Would you mind sending me your contact information so I can reach out to you and help out?"

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You make an excellent point in this article. I know we try to address certain complaints in our comments with a general response/explanation, but I think it's a fine line to walk between giving a public response, and keeping someone's personal situation confidential.

Any suggestions/examples on how to actually accomplish this through these sites?

  Beth Hansen
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I think you are spot on, Beth, but I do also believe that if the resident is opening up the discussion in a public forum, then they are giving approval to discuss it somewhat in a public way, without giving out personally identifiable information. And as far how to respond, there are probably too many variables to make one simple answer to that. In a way, it is almost a flowchart situation, where you have to go through several questions to determine what type of response is warranted. For example, have they contacted the office before about it? Did the office truly screw up? Is there a solution to the problem that can be applied? The types of responses where the resident messed up is going to be completely different compared to if the community screwed up. And sometimes, the situation simply is what it is with maybe no clear resolution... There are a ton of variables in the mix.

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great post on communicating, Brent!

  Rommel Anacan
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks, Rommel!

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The problem with handling these complaints; is that they require a 'real world' response. So responding to a post with a 'please contact me directly so I can get to the bottom of this' kind of approach is a completely appropriate response. It is, however, an incomplete one. Since this complaint is already out there in the virtual world for any and all to see; a follow up response (or series of them depending on the nature of the problem and the path between the original problem and the eventual solution) from the ORIGINAL poster is needed.

If the original poster does not respond within say a week, then management can make a follow up post to the effect that they have made themselves available to reach a solution; management has no idea who the original poster is and cannot respond as needed. If the original post has more than superficial information; then there might be a solution with the information posted, but that is not often the case and management needs more details to proceed.

  Johnny Karnofsky
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The problem with handling these complaints; is that they require a 'real world' response. So responding to a post with a 'please contact me directly so I can get to the bottom of this' kind of approach is a completely appropriate response. It is, however, an incomplete one. Since this complaint is already out there in the virtual world for any and all to see; a follow up response (or series of them depending on the nature of the problem and the path between the original problem and the eventual solution) from the ORIGINAL poster is needed.

If the original poster does not respond within say a week, then management can make a follow up post to the effect that they have made themselves available to reach a solution; management has no idea who the original poster is and cannot respond as needed. If the original post has more than superficial information; then there might be a solution with the information posted, but that is not often the case and management needs more details to proceed.

  Johnny Karnofsky

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