Turning Bad Customer Service into Resident Satisfaction


I consider myself to be a pretty decent customer. Being in this industry has given me first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing those in customer service related positions. I understand and empathize with those who interact with people on a daily basis. Customer service professionals have to be prepared for any and every thing customers throw at them.

Putting a Refund Policy to the Test

For Christmas, I received a gift that was the wrong size – the gift itself was perfect and something I could really use, just off in sizing. Knowing I would have to exchange said gift, I decided to wait until the chaos of after-Christmas returns and exchanges died down before visiting the store. This particular store was also not found in my surrounding area, so a special trip would need to be made for the exchange.

As this was a gift, there was also no receipt – presenting its own set of challenges. Prior to going to the store, I went to its corporate website to read their return/exchange policy. The policy clearly stated that if the item was less than $25, a cash return would be provided; anything over $25 would be returned as store credit.

With gift in hand, I made the 35-mile drive to the store. Upon arriving, I was cheerfully greeted. The representative informed me that the item cost $19.99 and I could look around for an item to exchange. Unfortunately, the store no longer had in stock the gift I had received so a size exchange was not possible. Scouring the racks for another item proved futile so I walked up to the counter and asked for a refund.

Customer Service Don’ts

This is where it gets interesting. I was told only a store credit could be provided as I did not have a receipt. My response was that I had reviewed the company’s return policy online and was under the impression that I could receive cash. I also pointed out that I lived quite a distance from the store and would probably not use the store credit in the near future.

The customer service representative (CSR) was unyielding in her explanation of the store’s policy. In fact, she used the word “policy” almost ten times during her relentless lecture. She went even further to give me examples of previous customers who purchased merchandise, wore the items and then attempted to return them. As she could clearly see, the item I wanted to return still had the price tag attached and was clearly unused.

I stepped to the side, allowing another customer to make her purchase, and pulled up the company’s website on my phone. I double-checked to make sure I had not misread the information and then showed it to the CSR. The CSR’s response, in a tone that was a mixture of disdain and annoyance was, “I was never told that in training and I’ve always done my returns this way.” She proceeded to punch (literally) a bunch of keys on her register, scanned the price tag of my item, shoved $21.33 in my hand and walked away from counter. No apology, no “have a nice day”. Nothing-nada-zilch. Needless to say, a buy one-get-three-free sale would not have been enough to get me to patronize that store again.

First things first, companies do not expect employees to attend training and then immediately retain all of the information presented. There is such a thing as “on the job training.” And even with all of the classroom and real-world learning, mistakes are bound to happen. That to me is the beauty of being human. Mistakes and missteps are learning moments.

Resident Satisfaction Starts with Empathy

A gracious and humble apology goes a long way. Even with our residents. I say time and time again, residents don’t expect perfection, just a resolution. And when we mess up – ‘fess up. Its okay to admit fault and it works wonders for resident satisfaction. Residents want to know their management team is human; the team has heart and empathy and sincerely cares about the resident experience.

Removing phrases like “According to your lease”, or “Per our community policies” is a great place to start. Incorporating more empathetic language like “I’m so sorry to hear that” or “You know what? Let me double check,” softens your response. Also, avoid throwing other team members, or in my case, your training department under the bus.

A simple “Well, what do you know – I always thought this was our return policy” could have saved the day, and a customer.


(Image Source: Shutterstock)



Vice President of Education and Consulting, SatisFacts Research

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Lia Smith career in training, property management and marketing began in the mid 1990′s. Lia began her training career at Nextel Communications, where she was responsible for training over 1,000 Customer Care Representatives. She then embarked on a new career in property management as a Leasing Associate with Lincoln Property Company, and steadily moved up the ranks. Lia was able to merge the worlds of training and property management when in 2006 she became Director of Training and Marketing at SPM Property Management, a 14,000+ unit portfolio; this included creating SPM Academy and a Learning Management System. She also developed and managed SPM’s resident feedback program, and was responsible for providing post-survey action planning support for property teams and management. Lia has proven experience in solving training and resident retention challenges for market, affordable, senior, tax credit and student communities. These experiences have helped Lia relate to both onsite and corporate associates. Lastly, Lia has presented at key industry events such as MultifamilyPro Brainstorming on topics related to developing the operational and service skills of onsite and executive level teams. Lia Joined the SatisFacts team in 2011 as VP of Education and Consulting.

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