by Paul Willis
Reputation management has always been a delicate balance of publicly acknowledging concerns, working to address them and holding your ground when necessary.
The entire process has become a bit more complicated in the multifamily world during the pandemic.
Typically, onsite teams can invite a disgruntled resident into the office to chat, or quickly deploy one of their several onsite team members to take care of a lingering maintenance request. But with many property managers working from offsite and maintenance teams also constricted during the pandemic, property teams have a greater challenge responding to negative feedback.
While an incomplete staff is certainly a justifiable reason for delays in some instances, residents usually don’t have much tolerance for excuses. Prospects reading online reviews and responses won’t be particularly enamored with them, either.
That puts property managers in a precarious position. So precarious, in fact, that some prominent review sites modified their practices in the early stages of the pandemic. Google put a pause on online reviews for all businesses from late March until mid-May. Yelp instituted a zero-tolerance policy with pandemic-related reviews at the beginning of the outbreak, but has since eased those restrictions.
So how can property management teams effectively navigate the current climate from a reputation management standpoint? Here are a few of the ways:
While ambitious onsite teams will try to address all concerns in a timely manner, it’s not feasible in some instances. Fewer onsite associates mean regular levels of productivity cannot always be matched. So when online reviews arrive complaining about service delays, this isn’t the time to get defensive about the unenviable position your team has been put in during the pandemic. Rather, thank the resident and the community as a whole for their patience during these irregular times. Instead of using team shortages as an excuse, you can allude to them while explaining that you remain dedicated to accommodating all requests in a timely manner. It will reflect better than blaming delays on the pandemic and insisting your hands are tied.
Encourage phone communication
To many residents, talking to another human is a purely secondary function of a phone. It’s primarily for texting, social media, driving directions and photos—and talking if desperately needed. But as property managers are well aware, problems are often resolved quicker and more thoroughly when you can communicate with a resident in person rather than digitally. But with many leasing offices still closed or with limited capacity, inviting a resident in to chat isn’t always an option. Encourage phone calls—or make them yourself—to foster that in-person dynamic. It can be challenging with an already brisk workload, but finding the time to communicate by phone will make a positive impact.
We’ve spent most of this time talking about how the pandemic has created a unique dynamic for property teams. Well, residents are under an equal—if not greater—amount of stress. The pandemic has affected everyone differently, whether it’s a loss of income, general job uncertainty, loneliness from isolation or someone close who has fallen ill. It doesn’t seem fair when residents vent some of these frustrations on your community’s review pages, but it happens. While it’s always important to identify with the reviewer and understand where their frustration is rooted, keep in mind that the uncertain times have affected them, as well. Be cognizant of that when crafting responses.
Nothing during the pandemic qualifies as routine, and that includes reputation management. It has become more obtuse over the past few months, but community teams can still make a positive impact for residents and reflect well in the eyes of prospects by adjusting efforts to fit the current climate.
Categories: Thought Leadership