“I Understand You’re Upset…” – Managers Share Tips for Diffusing Angry Homeowners
As a professional in the property management industry, you want to serve your community members with the highest level of customer service. You want to help each and every one of them, and ensure their happiness. Then, one day it happens. You get a phone call from an angry homeowner…who is yelling at you! Now what? How do you handle it?
Well, several managers from Associa Mid-Atlantic in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, shared their answers to this question and provided some insight into dealing with difficult situations.
According to Community Administrator Kelly O’Donnell, most angry homeowners just want to be heard. “You have to put yourself in their shoes and be sympathetic. Let them be heard and get out their complaints,” she said.
O’Donnell shared a situation she recently dealt with that involved an angry homeowner who was upset about the length of time and poor quality of work that took place in clearing the snow following a blizzard earlier this year. “He was furious and rightfully so,” said O’Donnell. “He was yelling, but I calmly talked to him and told him I would do everything I could to help the situation.”
O’Donnell noted that the homeowner emailed her after he calmed down and apologized for yelling. “In our profession, customer service is the most important thing. That’s what our business is based on. It’s important to try to make them happy, let them be heard and make sure that they know that you are going to do something to get the job done,” she said.
O’Donnell’s advice to others in the profession is to let homeowners feel they are being heard and will be helped. “Tell them you understand what they are saying and will do whatever you can to resolve the issue,” she explained.
She added that those complaining don’t want to be passed along to someone else. “It’s important for them to feel that the call can be rectified with me and that I don’t have to push them off to anyone else,” O’Donnell noted.
Another important piece of advice is to be sure to follow up with complainants and let them know the problem has been taken care of after it has been resolved. “It helps ease their frustrations,” said O’Donnell.
Although every situation is different, some phrases O’Donnell uses to help keep homeowners calm are “I understand” and “We’ll get this worked out.”
O’Donnell’s strategy for dealing with angry community members is to always stay calm and always stay level. “Sometimes it’s hard, but you always want to keep it positive from beginning to end and not let your emotions show,” she said.
Assistant Manager Kathy (Kasey) Conklin also shared a personal experience in dealing with and resolving a problem for an unhappy homeowner. Conklin explained that the board had made her aware that a homeowner put up an awning before it was allowed. The board asked Conklin to issue a fine and also let the homeowner know that she failed to supply her liability insurance. Conklin called the homeowner and told her she would be sending out a fine letter. According to Conklin, the homeowner was very upset. Conklin carefully listened to the homeowner’s explanation. The homeowner apologized and explained that she did not realize her awning was up too early, as she thought it was allowed to go up at an earlier date. It was just a mix-up with the dates.
The homeowner told Conklin she would take the awning down immediately and produce the insurance. Conklin asked the homeowner to put it in writing so she could send it to the board and perhaps have the fine waived. The board was very understandable, said Conklin, and waived the fine. “The fine was diverted and the situation worked out very well,” said Conklin. “It went very smoothly. And the homeowner thanked me profusely for getting it done so quickly.”
What should a manager do when angry homeowners are not so understanding? Conklin said to let them know you are there to help them. “I tell them how I can help them and give them a solution,” she noted, which helps calm them down when they are upset. If someone is screaming, I let them get their frustrations out before I respond back to them,” she said.
Conklin’s strategy for dealing with angry residents is to listen to them and keep a low tone of voice.
How do they know you’re listening? “I usually reiterate what they’ve told me and tell them I am putting a note in their account. I also confirm with them that my note is correct,” said Conklin.
According to Community Manager Frank Boyer, it’s important to find out the root of the problem when dealing with an angry homeowner. He also said determining whether the issue is a one-time occurrence or a recurring problem is also essential in reaching a solution.
“Communication is the most important way to handle problems with both board members and homeowners. Let them know where you stand and what’s going on. As long as you tell them exactly what you’re going to be doing, how long it’s going to take, and exactly how that particular action you’re going to take is going to affect them, [the problem] can be disarmed relatively quickly,” said Boyer.
His strategy for dealing with angry customers is to listen. “Listening to them is one of the best things you can do. Just let them get it out of their system. It’s how you present yourself and how you respond to their concern that allows them to believe that you are generally interested in what they’re saying,” Boyer noted.
What are some tips for listening? “Make sure that you are making eye contact with them (when in-person) and repeat what they are saying periodically so they know you understand their problem,” said Boyer. “If necessary, they can write it out just so everybody’s on the same page. You have to make sure you can identify the problem first. As long as you can pinpoint the problem, it is easier to resolve. Once the problem is identified and agreed to, providing information as to how that problem can be resolved, who will be involved in resolving it and how long it’s going to take, goes a long way,” he said.
“It’s best to under-commit and over-deliver,” added Boyer. “Give the customer a certain timeframe or tell them something that’s going to be done and then try to beat that in terms of doing more than you suggested or faster than you suggested.”
Another important part of the process is to keep homeowners informed and in touch with those who are involved with resolving their issues on a regular basis, said Boyer.
What if someone is unruly? “Yelling and screaming is not going to get you anywhere. Not reacting to someone who is being aggressive or defensive, on the other hand, is disarming,” noted Boyer. His suggestion is to talk in a normal tone of voice and maintaining a calm, cool attitude.
How can you stay calm when someone is yelling at you? Boyer said to respond in the same way as if the person was not yelling. “Respond in a calm voice. Tell them to explain the problem calmly and make sure they’re aware that they won’t get anything done if they yell and scream,” he explained.
Boyer’s advice is “unless it’s directed at you personally, don’t take it personally.” He noted that oftentimes, the problem involves someone else or is a condition of the property. “Don’t take it as a personal matter. Also, make sure you know who can help you resolve it if you can’t. Don’t be a one-man band. There are people that can help you.”
According to Community Association Manager Tami Rutkowski, when dealing with an angry resident, it’s important to keep calm. “Keep your wits about yourself. Most of the time, they’re just venting. Let them get it all out. Once they’re done, they’ll usually apologize,” she said.
Her strategy is to listen to residents even when they are yelling. “A lot of times, other things are going on in their lives. For example, they could have a sick family member or another stressful situation they are dealing with. I try to keep that in mind,” said Rutkowski.
“It’s important for them to feel that you care about what they have to say. Don’t interrupt them and don’t go on the defensive. Give them the opportunity to say what they need to say and get it all out. Sometimes they just want someone to listen to them even if there’s nothing I can do. And they thank me for listening,” she added.
Rutkowski explained that she reviews rules, deadlines, etc. with homeowners so that they know what to expect. “Take time to go over things with them when they have questions. I try to educate homeowners, so if they’re late or in violation, I go over it with them and explain everything,” she noted.
Rutkowski also said it’s important to tell the homeowner how the problem is going to be addressed and then follow up regarding the results.
Most community association professionals agree that listening is the key to dealing with angry customers — whether board members or homeowners. Listening lets the customer know that someone cares and is there to assist in resolving the problem. Listening also allows the property manager or customer service representative to be responsive and diffuse the situation, ultimately leading to a solution. It’s also important to keep cool and maintain a high level of customer service even when under pressure.