Don’t Let Reputation Management Slide During Crisis

By Doug Pike

Google and Yelp deserve credit for taking early action last month regarding business reviews – specifically those referencing COVID-19 issues. Google indefinitely suspended all new reviews, new review replies and Q&A during the crisis. Yelp vowed to “protect local businesses from reputational harm” by disallowing negative reviews about a business being closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and removing any claims that a customer contracted COVID-19 at a business. Any review that violates these guidelines won’t count toward the business’s star rating.

The announcements were welcome news to multifamily owners and operators. It’s certainly not fair for apartment communities to be judged by the situation in which we all currently find ourselves. Nor would it be right for communities to be rated by their residents’ current satisfaction levels or by the modified tour and leasing experiences of prospects. The action taken by online review platforms means property managers get a reprieve from fighting this battle on a couple of fronts, at least for now.

It’s not the time to ignore complaints
Though communities have been spared the onslaught of negative online reviews that they may have anticipated, onsite teams can’t just wash their hands of their reputation management responsibilities. The situation doesn’t provide an excuse to dismiss resident complaints. Property managers are undoubtedly swamped, but making time to acknowledge and address concerns within the community will pay off in the long run.

Right now, residents can’t walk through the door of the leasing office and discuss their concerns face to face with a manager or leasing associate. They can’t post feedback on Google where they once had the clout of public exposure. During this crisis, if resident phone calls go unanswered or unreturned, or their emails don’t receive a prompt reply, they may feel helpless or abandoned. During this stressful time, whether a resident’s complaints are addressed or ignored, they likely won’t forget it.

Residents are frustrated, but don’t take it personally
Most renters will recognize that the measures their community has taken in response to COVID-19 were done with their best interests in mind. Yet, with leasing offices, amenities and facilities closed for precautionary reasons, and everyone instructed to stay in their homes, it’s understandable for residents to feel frustrated. Certainly, this isn’t what they signed up for.

While onsite teams aren’t to blame for the situation, it’s important to remember that most complaints are born out of frustration and aren’t personal. Try to avoid getting defensive and commit to empathizing with renter concerns. Property managers have a unique opportunity right now to strengthen their sense of community by assuring residents that they are still cared for and by delivering the message that we’ll all get through this together.

When the crisis finally subsides, residents will likely owe their management teams a huge debt of gratitude. But they might not be able to see that until the dust settles.

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