Improve the Resident Experience with the Art and Skill of Listening

 

“Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload. And yet we dare not lose it.”

(The Science and Art of Listening, New York Times, 2012)

Those of us who work in the multifamily industry (or in any public-facing role, really) are going to ruffle a few resident feathers at some point along the way. You can provide the best product, the best service in the industry, and the ultimate customer experience, but there will always be someone who just does not like what you have to offer. Combating ruffled feathers and even customer grudges can be extremely challenging, especially if you open your mouth too soon or too widely.

What is the best way to avoid failure in dealing with an unhappy customer? Close your mouth and listen.

While there are many steps you can take, the first one is pretty simple. By learning and applying the art and skill of listening, you can begin the process of winning over the unhappy customer.

Start with Identifying the 4 Customer Types

Every customer is unique, personalities can be very difficult to deal with, and some customers turn listening into an insurmountable task.  However, if you know who they are ahead of time, the listening part begins become achievable and moves up the priority scale.  Here is a quick snapshot of 4 very familiar customer types who most likely reside in your communities:

1. The Wronged One

From time to time, we mess up. Sometimes it’s a minor customer service failure and at other times it is enormous. However, what appears as a minor failure to us could be enormous to your customer—you have wronged the innocent. Not listening to this customer could result in some really ugly social media publicity.

2. The Dumper

They just want to vent. This is the customer who will sometimes make a “mountain out of a mole hill” simply because they can. Something else is going on that probably has nothing to do with you. Even so, they should be taken as seriously as possible, no matter how outrageous the call might be.

3. The Potty Mouth

Easily identifiable through their rapid breathing and their generous use of profanity, they are an intriguing customer. While many companies protect their employees by training them to warn abusive customers that they will terminate the call or meeting, this doesn’t cure the problem. Remaining calm, cool, and collected under pressure is critical. There is an emotional component that needs to be understood on both sides when dealing with this type of customer.

4. The Flame Thrower

This customer’s goal is to intimidate. Most of us have dealt with enough of them to know that the vast majority of their threats are empty, yet they can be the most annoying. We all need a good reminder not to react to intimidation; to do so gives them further ammunition and adds weight to a grievance that was, perhaps, bogus. Close your mouth and let them vent.

Next: Close Your Mouth and Listen to Your Residents

Your residents want to be heard and to air their tribulations.  It is best to begin a dialogue with an uncommitted statement, such as, “Let’s discuss what happened,” or “Please tell me….,” or “Can we talk about….” This connects you and your resident and lets them know you’re ready to listen.

But does this really happen? Not always. This is closer to reality…

  • We attempt to solve the situation right away and speak too soon
  • We jump to conclusions about what happened and speak too soon
  • We  plan out what we are going to say while they are still talking

These three points are examples of hearing, not listening (iO9.com). Taking these actions can really work against your cause because sometimes the customer is so angry that they are not prepared to solve the problem or ready to listen to you yet. Moving immediately to a solution without listening to what they have to say can cause more headaches for everyone involved. It’s best to listen and wait until they are calm enough to partner with you on the issue.

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Understanding the Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Hearing, in short, is easy—that’s why we do it so well.  But listening is difficult because we have so many distractions leaping into our ears every second. Luckily, we can improve our listening just as with any other skill. Listening requires paying attention and interpreting—and it is only effective when it is active. Active listening implies listening with a purpose. When listening actively, we pay attention to details, get to know people, share interests, ideas, feelings, etc. And, yes, we ultimately solve problems.

Studies have shown that 20% to 30% of everything we say is not interpreted as we fully intended. The most pressing need of unhappy customers is to be heard, says Jonathan Rick, a director at Levick Strategic Communications in Washington. Listen to the customer without interrupting, he says, and then “show you understand their situation by finding common points of frustration.”

Listen to…

  • The customer’s frustration; do not simply regurgitate company policy.
  • The customer’s anger; it is not directed at you personally. Maintain your objectivity and professionalism.
  • The customer’s complaints; be prepared to take action to correct the problem.
  • The customer’s feelings about their current problem before you try to resolve it. You must understand what you are dealing with in order to rectify the situation.

At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion with the masses through social media and the web and negatively affect your online reputation. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an excellent experience for your customers to help develop your company’s relationship with them.

Taking Responsibility for the Resident Experience

The data speaks loudly.

  • As many as 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. (Oracle)
  • Up to 60% of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience. (Salesforce)

Regardless of the factors that influence the behavior of angry customers, it is your responsibility to listen in order to be able to mediate their concerns, solve their problems, and keep them as your customer—residents in particular. Listening to the complaints of your residents and where they are trending will also help you figure out what your target renter finds important. Letting unhappy residents tell you what’s most important to them will tell you where you’ll get the best return on your investment by making improvements to your products or services.

Yes, you are going to ruffle feathers along the way—it is inevitable.

  • Anticipate it.
  • Have to have a plan in place to deal with it.
  • Listen first. Then commit to fixing the problem and follow through.

Everything you do matters and you can turn things around. But it begins with the decision to close your mouth and listen.

 

(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.

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