March 16, 2017
Dealing With Difficult Residents
When you read articles about delivering outstanding customer service, it often relates to the B2C retailers, hotels or other typical service industry companies. This is all fine and well, and there is a lot that can be learned, but property owners and managers have an unique challenge: Their customers live on the premises. And, this adds a deeply personal connection that can amp up friction.
A person’s home is their castle. And, as rent is often the largest expense of a monthly budget, residents can have some strong feelings about how things should, or shouldn’t be.
Everyone in the PM industry knows that interactions with tenants are crucial to resident relations, referrals, customer retention and lease renewals. For the most part, people are understanding and fair. Tenants understand that you can’t control when an elevator conks out or when a pipe bursts unexpectedly. Yet, it’s understandable that when it affects their daily life and their home, there is a raised sense of anxiety and stress.
This can bring out a combative and aggressive side in an otherwise pleasant person. A renter doesn’t have to be a “bad tenant” with late payments or damage to their apartment to be a difficult resident.
Here are a few tips for dealing with difficult people.
- Don’t lose your cool. The first rule of the day is not to maintain your composure. If you react in anger or frustration, then sound judgment has just flown out the window. Worse, anger begets anger. If you resident has raised their voice, or is being unreasonable, take a deep breath and count to 10. A calm, even tone can help defuse a situation. Addressing a difficult person is much easier when you can keep a level of objectivity. If the person is in a public space, move the conversation away from other tenants to your office or a more private location.
- Listen, affirm and then move forward. Everyone needs to be heard. Let them vent for a few minutes, and look for body language that suggests they are ready to talk. (If you don’t see that, limit the vent session to 5 minutes.) Listen and acknowledge a tenant’s complaint. Use phrases like “I understand your frustration. I’m here to help.” And, “Don’t worry, we’ll find a solution.” Keep it upbeat and professional. Apologize for the situation and take responsibility if it is warranted.
- Focus on facts. Then shift from the problem to the solution. Calmly outline what is being done. When people are upset or in a negative state of mind, they might talk in extremes. “The elevator NEVER works.” Or “There’s ALWAYS a problem with the my air-conditioning.” The best thing to do is to underscore the facts of the situation and then outline how you are addressing them.
- Make sure it’s in writing. Use your tenant portal to send communication to your tenant documenting the steps you are taking to resolve their issue. It’s hard for a tenant to be uncompromising when there is a clear record of steps that have been made to rectify their complaint.
- Ensure a culture of availability and response. When a tenant feels like they cannot get in touch with someone, or there is no response, it can turn a bad situation into an even worse situation. Residents should have a way of registering their complaints (emergency or not) 24/7. Set up an automated response in your maintenance tool that lets your tenants know the request or complaint has been received.
Dealing with unhappy, difficult residents can be tough, but by following a few relatively simple steps, you can often turn people around.