The Do's & Don'ts When it Comes to Negative Feedback

Apr 03, 2023

✍️ AUTHOR: Terri Handy       ⏱️ READ TIME: 3 minutes

I am sure everyone will agree with me when I say that most of our property management clients are, or at least seem to be, a little more sensitive than perhaps they have been in the past. 

It doesn’t matter who I speak with or where they are from, the message is pretty much the same. And although it may very well be that our client's expectations have increased, I feel it is actually more that their tolerance levels have decreased.  They are less forgiving or perhaps the word is accepting, they are less accepting of our performance if it is not top notch, if that makes sense.

And this dissatisfaction or unwillingness to tolerate when their expectations are not being met, is resulting in more owners than ever, making the decision to shift the management of their property to another agency.  They are not hesitating to move their business, whereas perhaps in the past, they were prepared to let things slide because they had a better relationship with their property manager. 

It’s the connection piece that is missing for them.

As a result, retention is a massive issue for many agencies causing heads of department and business owners everywhere to scramble to try to maintain their portfolio numbers.  It’s also a reason why we are seeing so many rent rolls currently on the market.

One of the things we can do to help with retention of our clients and improve our connection, is to ask them to let us know how they feel.  Get their feedback on their experience with us.  Once we know how they feel, once we have that line of communication opened up, we can identify those who are at risk and put a plan in place around service recovery.

It all sounds pretty good in theory, but asking for feedback is not easy, it feels uncomfortable.  BTW I am not talking about complaints here, I am talking about when we deliberately ask someone for their thoughts about their experience with our agency.  There has been a lot of talk about doing this in our industry for a number of years now and many agencies already have a process in place, which is great.

But for those that aren’t using NPS or something similar to understand how your clients are feeling, it’s probably because you may feel like you are going to get slammed with a heap of negative stuff all at once which is a bit depressing.  Also, once you know about how someone is feeling, the onus is then on you to fix it. You actually have to do something about it and this only takes time, but can feel very overwhelming.

I think this is the main reason that stops us asking for feedback. 

But the reality is, if someone isn’t happy, there will come a point where they find a way to tell us. It might be a complaint to the boss, a one star review on Google, some bad mouthing on social media or it might even be that you receive an email one day, out of the blue, advising they are moving their property to another agency.  

This is why I thought you might find it helpful if I share with you some of the dos and don’ts around receiving negative feedback so that you aren’t  frightened to reach out to your clients and ask what they really think, before they are cranky enough to tell you.

Once you don’t have to guess anymore, you can actually create a strategy to get things back on track and it is going to be so much easier to retain your very valuable clients. 

  1. Do pick up the phone straight away when you receive the feedback and thank them for taking the time to let you know how they feel.  Don’t put this off.  The faster you address what they have said, the more you demonstrate you care.  If they don’t answer, leave a very nice, appreciative message inviting them to call you back.  If they don’t call back, follow up with another call or an email.  The important thing here is to connect with them quickly.  A phone call is always better than an email.  Face to face is better than a phone call. Invite them to meet with you personally or at least over a zoom meeting if they are not in the area.
  2. Do listen carefully to what the person has to say, don’t get defensive, don’t take it as a personal attack.  It is human nature to react, you will have to consciously distance yourself emotionally.  Listen to hear, not to speak.
  3. Don’t try to prove them wrong or justify your actions, accept responsibility.  There will definitely be something you could have done differently regardless of what has gone on, because remember, we are not perfect.
  4. Do ask questions.  Not only does this show you are interested and helps you to understand their perspective but it also stops us trying to justify our actions. 
  5. Don’t interrupt when they are sharing their story or try to talk over them.  Remember, listen to hear, not to speak.
  6. Do apologise.  We cannot underestimate the power of a simple, I am sorry this happened.  Even if it was not your fault, you can genuinely be apologetic for how they feel.
  7. Don’t delay resolving the issue.  Make sure it happens quickly and fix the process that caused the problem in the first place.  Get to the bottom of why it occurred and put steps in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  8. Do confirm the action you are going to take in an email after your conversation.  Thank them for their time and outline what is going to happen next.
  9. Do followup to make sure that what you said would happen, does occur.
  10. Don’t assume that just because you have addressed their feedback, that this changes how they feel about you. Check in once the problem has been resolved to make sure they are satisfied with the outcome.

Often the way we conduct ourselves when there is an issue, how we recover a situation, is the way we strengthen our relationships or at least demonstrate our care factor.

I am all about preventing issues wherever possible, but am not so naive as to believe that they will never happen.  Once we have addressed the problem with the client, we definitely need to take time to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  Depending upon what the issue was, use it as a case study for the team to learn from.  Sure, someone may feel a little uncomfortable but this is part of learning to accept responsibility for our actions.  We don’t become better by avoiding hard things.

Often a client's dissatisfaction or their negative feedback is a result of lots of little issues that have happened, not just one big thing.  Don’t be dismissive because their negative feedback doesn't seem like a big deal and believe they are being petty - you will often need to dig a little to see exactly what has gone on previously. 

From little things, big things grow and that applies to how people feel about us too.