CUSTOMER LOYALTY: Teach Employees How to Handle Complaints


In in previous blog, Go Ahead…Encourage Your Residents to Complain, I shared some examples of how encouraging resident complaints can improve their customer 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.

Before you pin your employees with the “I am the complaint department” button, teach them how to respond and effectively handle resident complaints.

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 customer 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!

Say You’re Sorry

There are times when a resident is angry over a legitimate mistake made by your company. Human nature seeks an explanation first, but 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 up front. Regardless of what happened or even if you were not at fault, they are dissatisfied. No excuses or explanations — just show genuine remorse.

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 and increasing customer loyalty. Open-ended questions divert focus from emotional frustration and reveal information about the real problem at hand. Open-ended questions help you establish rapport, diffuse 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 and improved customer loyalty.

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 way to do this is, “Let’s see if I understand you correctly. Are you saying ____?”

A University of Minnesota study showed that nearly 60% of misunderstandings in the business world can be attributed to poor listening. Summarizing and waiting for confirmation helps clear up confusion.

Resolve the Complaint—Offer a Solution

Resident complaints are gifts that offer your community a second chance to re-perform the service – even bend over backwards to fix the problem – and restore resident confidence and customer loyalty. When you fail to resolve the issue, the resident is left hanging, begins to lose trust, and feels like voicing the complaint  was a waste of time. They turn to their computer, iphone, or ipad, pull up their Facebook page, and tell all of their 500+ friends about their poor customer 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—also gifts.

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)

Teaching employees how to respond appropriately to complaints and empowering them to offer resolutions can be a game changer for your level of customer loyalty!

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear from you!

Maria Lawson