5 Ways Properties Can Fix a Broken Brand Promise


Customer service has shifted over the last few years from “hide the contact us page” to actually communicating with customers. Yet, despite this opportunity to hear what your customers have to say, few companies are using this dialog as an opportunity to enhance their brand with an amazing customer experience. Mistakes are being made, promises are being broken, and unhappy customers are sharing their dismay with their entire social network. When it comes to making mistakes, no company is exempt. Some customers forgive and forget. Some don’t.

According to a Gallup survey of more than 4 million customers, one in five actively disengaged customers feel that the brands they’ve advocated are breaking promises. What happens when you break a promise to your customer—and property management companies break promises with their residents and community partners?

Breaking Up Isn’t Hard to Do…When a Brand Promise is Broken

A business owner friend of mine broke up with his favorite popcorn brand this past holiday season. Why? The company missed every deadline for his client’s gifts and in some instances placed the wrong name on the thank you card. He sent a complaint via email on December 17. The company followed-up with him on January 7, wondering if his complaint submitted on December 17 via email (to get a fast response, mind you) had been resolved.

Sadly, this was a disappointing customer experience – a broken brand promise – for him from what he had always felt was a “fantastic” popcorn brand. At the end of the day, he summed it up very well on his Facebook wall, “XXX is way too big for their britches and very unconcerned about the way they broke their brand promise. Their customer service can make a cable company proud.” Ouch! He still loves their product, but he broke up with their brand.

Your company’s brand represents the value customers receive when they interact with your business. It’s a promise. When that promise is broken, you could lose the customer and damage your online reputation. This is even more important for apartment properties because the customer lives at the business.

How Should Your Brand Respond to a Broken Promise?

It’s important to realize that you are not only being measured by the quality of your product but by the emotional impact each service interaction has on your customer. Consideration of the customer’s feelings and level of emotional engagement helps you understand critical impact of emotion on the customer experience. How the customer measures you affects their likelihood to recommend you to others.

When you break a promise to your customer or residents, you have to be prepared for their reaction. Here are five ways to respond to a broken brand promise.

1. Seize the Opportunity to Make Things Right

Realize the opportunity when you receive an angry call or email from a resident. They want a response, and they are giving you an opportunity to make things right. See it as a challenge to win them over and create a new, more loyal customer.

2. Engaged Execs Can Do More Good

Believe it or not, every customer loathes that point when they realize they must take their complaint to customer service. Yet, service and support are the most important interactions you’ll have with your customers. How you approach these interactions influences what residents say about you, and in turn, how your brand is perceived by others. There is a lot at stake. Repairing a broken promise takes troubleshooting, identifying the problem, and apologizing for any shortcomings in the product and/or service.

Did you know that Steve Jobs got directly involved in customer service? He even fielded emails about broken laptops and intervened on Apple support calls. Once he called a customer and apologized for their incredibly long wait for computer repair. He went on to thank them for supporting Apple and told the customer how it made his day to see someone enjoy the product so much.

Loyal customers, who attach and associate themselves to your brand, become a massive asset. When you break a brand promise they don’t want to hear from a robotic employee with no power, an inexperienced employee, or have to wait long periods of time between responses or be herded up the corporate ladder one rung at a time.

Are your executives—even property owners and senior property management company executives—able and willing to get a little dirt on their hands to quickly repair a broken brand promise?

3. Make Brand Promises Believable and Achievable

If you have ever shopped online at Zappos, you know they are fanatical about their customer experience. Their coined phrase is “delivering happiness.” They don’t claim to have the best products or the best prices. Their most loyal customers return because they’re addicted to the Zappos-delivered happiness. This is the brand message they deliver on.

What brand promises are you making to your customers? Are they believable and achievable?

4. Give Property Management Employees the Tools to Act on Brand Promises

Use real examples (of both success and failure) that show how essential your people really are. Then make certain that your entire team understands what your brand message is and how to fulfill it each and every day. It’s no accident that companies with great brands have great people who consistently deliver an excellent customer experience.

  • Employees should understand the negative consequences of not doing their jobs well. It can be quite motivating to discover how acutely a bad experience can cause displeasure for the customer and loss for the organization.
  • Training becomes more meaningful when attached to actual events.
  • Employees must be empowered to take care of the customer.

The Ritz-Carlton’s brand promise is:

The Ritz-Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambiance. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t make employees guess what to do. Instead, it tells them exactly what to do in its 12 Service Values, which include statements like these:

  • I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  • I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  • I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.

Did you know that every single Ritz Carlton employee has $2,000 a day per guest to delight or make it right with the customer? Ritz Carlton’s success with branding lies in the way it has engaged its brand community in executing on the brand promise. Every employee “gets it” and they are able to deliver on it consistently. That is what makes the Ritz Carlton brand synonymous with extreme customer service, and that’s what turns customers into raving fans.

Do your property management employees really understand your brand promise and their impact? Are you giving them the tools to be successful?

5. Admit it When you Screw up Again—Because you Will

When you make another mistake, be upfront about it. Don’t blame the customer or come up with lame excuses. It never works. If they post something negative online about their experience, respond immediately. Be empathetic and attempt to take the conversation offline so you can resolve the problem. Admitting to your mistakes can help your company to improve.

No one ever said that keeping a brand promise would be easy. Much like a mission statement, a brand promise is just words until the rubber meets the road – or until the popcorn doesn’t reach the customer. Social media allows customers to quickly expose broken brand promises and publicly demonstrate your failures.

How you respond to a broken brand promise will make all the difference in the world to your customer, their likelihood to recommend you to others, and to your potential future customers.

(Image source: Shutterstock)



President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

One response to “5 Ways Properties Can Fix a Broken Brand Promise”

  1. Jessica says:

    Great advice Joanna! This was really inspiring for me. The Ritz Carlton idea of giving all associates more responsibility to handle resident issues faster and more effectively is key. I’m going to suggest to work towards something like this for Mills. Very inspiring. Thanks!

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