“Oh no!  Here comes that woman from apartment 302.  You know, the one who’s always complaining”.

Nothing can ruin a good day more quickly than a resident with a complaint!  You see them coming through your office window and want to hide in the closet.  Or, you see their name displayed on caller ID and you let it go to voicemail.  Who wants to deal with an unhappy resident?

Well, if you’re smart, you do!  As difficult as critical remarks can be to hear, it’s much worse if unhappy residents choose instead to tell everyone else around them.  Statistically, only four out of 100 unhappy customers will never tell you what’s really on their mind.  96% of residents with a complaint will never tell you, but will tell on average 14 to 20 other people about their issue, situation or problem.

Properties that encourage honest feedback – yes, complaints – have the opportunity to not only remedy problems before they grow more expensive, but also have the chance to build strong resident relationships through extraordinary service and keeps residents from telling others about their unhappiness.

To assist you in making the most out of critical feedback, here are five easy steps to effectively deal with a complaint.

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1.     Be Present

Assure them you are listening through good eye contact.  Even if there are distractions around you, keep your attention on them.

Verbal and non-verbal attends (back-channeling cures.)  This is when you respond to what they’re saying with “I see or okay or hmmm.”  Be sure you don’t overdo this.  If you could record the sound in the room during this interaction, their voice would comprise of 90% of the sound and yours only 10%.

Questioning:  This lets them know you’re interested.  When you exude a “Tell me more…” attitude, they will be more relaxed and will more easily share what’s upsetting them.

Active Listening:  This is when you paraphrase what they are saying or restate it in your own words.  “Let me be sure I understand.  You say your refrigerator hasn’t been working for about a month and we’ve been in to fix it three times and it’s still not working.  Is that correct?”

2.      Value Their Opinion or Feedback
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey
3.     Tell Them Exactly What You are Going to Do
Instead of just saying, “Okay, I’ll let someone know,” say, “We have our staff meetings on Monday mornings.  I’ll bring your situation  up at this Monday’s meeting and then right after that, I’ll have someone let you know what we’ve decided.”
4.     Thank Them for Their Honesty
If they tell you, they won’t tell between 14 to 20 people how unhappy they are.  This not only saves your reputation, but raises the percentage of residents retained.

5.     Genuinely Apologize

(Even if you’re not  at fault or don’t feel like it!)  This is a bitter pill to swallow and a lot of people refuse to do it.  But, if you can get your ego out of the way and sincerely apologize, many times the situation will be forgotten, the mistake forgiven and the relationship saved.


Petra Marquart, CAM, is an international keynote speaker and best-selling author.  You can contact Petra at [email protected] or visit her website at petramarquart.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Association of Washington.