Going from CYA to "C Ya"'

During last Friday's discussion on #Aptchat (which, again, happens EVERY FRIDAY on TWITTER at 4PM Eastern/1PM Pacific Time) Mike Whaling of 30 Lines led a great discussion on online reputation and brand management.  Things like responding to reviews, brand tracking, and best practices were topics, but as I watched some of these fine industry minds discuss these things, one thing that kept jumping out at me was that from time to time the discussion began looking more like ways to CYA, rather than to provide true customer service.

Don't misunderstand me here.  I do believe that we should be responding to every single review put up on a ratings site.  I think that it's the least we can do, no matter how crazy we might think the original poster is.  I applaud properties and companies that respond and utilize this transparency tool.  Carrie at Roscoe Properties in Austin, Tx expressed a lot of passion in reconciling online reviews with her properties.  She said that when a negative review is posted online, she responds within the day.  That's a pretty darned good response time, especially given the unpredictable nature of a property management job! 

But all of this talk made me ask myself - Okay, so online is taken care of, but what about the old fashioned method of complaining?  Are we teaching our people on the site level to respond to resident's complaints with the same level of urgency?  We've all been there - A bad day, stressed out, and there's that unpleasant voice mail that we don't really want to deal with.  After all, what's the difference between 5pm today and 9am tomorrow?

The difference could be the posting of that online review. 

By the time a customer feels that they have to go online and "flame" a property, 9 times out of 10, they've already been pretty well ignored. The normal pattern goes a little something like this: They had a problem -->They tried to ignore it --> Problem persisted -->They complained to a neighbor --> Problem persisted -->They called and complained to the office --> Problem persisted --> They came in to the office to complain --> Problem persisted --> Left without another option, it's time to lodge the complaint with the internet masses.  When they get to this point, almost half of them have turned their response to the situation from resolution to escalation.  The need to be heard is innate.

We can't catch them in the first two phases, ignoring it and complaining to a neighbor.  But that third attempt for resolution, we have complete control over responding to.  The toolbox for responding to customers might have expanded, but the method is still the same.  Catch it early, keep it calm, and address the opportunity (Gotta love Lisa Trosien's take on the words "problem" and "issue") for resident retention and REPUTATION REHABILITATION. 

Simple logic and math trumps here.  1 interaction with an angry resident that you could resolve, or explaining to the next 25 tours why you got a review on apartment ratings and yelp that says you are terrible people who only care about a rent check.  And yes, we respond to that review, but at that point, it looks like we're trying to cover our own tushies.  If I'm that resident who has been through the pattern above and the first time I get the problem addressed is when I go public with it, that says to me all you as a management company care about is how you appear to do business, not actually how you do business.  And to a customer or a resident, that appearance is tantamount to kicking a hornet's nest.  Want a case study to prove it?  Scroll in that memory Rolodex of yours and think about the Horizon twitter debacle.  They preferred to litigate rather than mitigate and their brand suffered massive damage because of it. 

Walking in to the lion's den isn't fun for anyone.  No one likes to go face to face with a ticked off resident, but the rewards for doing so are more than worth the stress of the situation.  Don't let a problem get so big that it goes viral and you have to make the massive public apology.  Otherwise, while you're trying to cover your own butt, you can say bye bye to that resident because CYA translates pretty clearly to C Ya.

A Few Maintenance Mentions for Fall - Written for NAA's UNITS magazine

The deal fell through, so why should I thank you?