Reputation Management

Don’t Get Defensive When Dealing with Online Reviews

by Doug Pike

When a resident feels their property management company or onsite team has wronged them, one of the first places they turn for retribution is online reviews. 

Residents might rant at length about their perceived mistreatment and nitpick any community shortcoming they can dredge up or manufacture. Facts aren’t important. The only thing that matters is making the community or management company look bad. 

What should matter most to multifamily management companies in such situations is not overreacting. The knee-jerk response to an outrageous review, especially one that makes pointed personal attacks or false claims, is to reply with some form of, “That’s not true.”

Unfortunately, online review sites aren’t in the fact-checking business. 

Refuting a reviewer’s claims merely creates a public argument, and the debate won’t be waged on a platform where the community can win. From the public vantage point, and more importantly from the perspective of prospects, the management company almost always assumes the role of the big bad guy in back-and-forth disputes with residents. And picking on the little guy is never a good look. 

While getting defensive doesn’t work from a reputation management standpoint, there are methods to subtly refute a reviewer’s claims that don’t position property managers as the evil empire. Finding that fine line between standing your ground and alienating customers is crucial, and we’ll explore a few ways to walk that tightrope. 

Acknowledge the Issue

It isn’t necessary to agree with the statements made in a review. But denying that a problem exists or attempting to invalidate resident complaints demonstrates an inflexibility and unwillingness to view the situation through the resident’s perspective. Acknowledging the fact that the resident is upset or experiencing a challenge goes a long way in the eyes of anyone reading an online response. Set aside the validity of the reviewer’s claims and recognize that this is a situation that can be improved.

That’s not the same as accepting responsibility. It’s not necessary to take the blame for a false claim or an issue that falls outside the scope of management’s responsibilities. Instead, a response that says something like, “We’re sorry for any challenges you may have encountered,” or, “We understand your concerns,” will suffice.

Invite Open Dialogue

In addition to acknowledging the concerns expressed in reviews, use your online response to encourage further discussion offline. Rather than deflecting blame and disputing accusations, invite disgruntled reviewers to engage in a one-on-one conversation. 

Most importantly, this demonstrates a willingness to listen and learn, and to work with residents to address dissatisfaction with their living experience. Prospects who are considering the apartment community and reading reviews will take notice of management’s desire for open dialogue. 

Also, by transferring the conversation from an online platform to an in-person discussion, rental property managers can hopefully sidestep any further negative public exchanges. And who knows, maybe a solution can be reached when cooler heads prevail. Negative reviews often stem from the fact that a resident doesn’t feel their voice is being heard. 

Reference Community Policies or Documentation

Frequently, residents will post a negative review in response to an issue that they brought upon themselves through a failure to comply with community policies. Whether their vehicle was towed for a parking violation or they incurred additional move-out fees due to damage in their home, residents will air their grievances even when they’re at fault. 

In these situations, it’s an opportunity to subtly reference the community policy that wasn’t followed. However, be careful not to throw the book at residents. Your response isn’t the place to quote excerpts from your lease agreements. 

When responding, gently remind the reviewer that “in fairness to all residents” community policies are enforced consistently. Include an explanation of the policy and how compliance benefits residents and the community as a whole.

Again, encourage in-person dialogue rather than merely telling the reviewer that they’re wrong. Offer to clarify community policies and answer any questions the resident may have. Invite the resident to review their move-out charges or lease agreements in person, or propose a meeting to go over documentation that supports their charges or penalties so that everyone is on the same page. 

Resident concerns get resolved behind the scenes, not on public review sites.

The public response you submit should be crafted for prospective residents who may be reading reviews as they make their housing decisions, not for the resident who posted the review. So, take a step back, avoid the temptation to post a defensive response, and demonstrate compassion for even the most vitriolic reviewer. Because it’s the words that you don’t say in your online response that may land your next lease.

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