Dealing with disappointed, unhappy residents and owner-clients is one of the realities of life for professional property managers. Even companies with customer-centric policies will most likely have to face an angry tenant at some point.

Whether your customer is justified in expressing his displeasure with your community, or he’s totally off-base, good intentions probably won’t be enough to remedy the situation.

How you respond in tense circumstances can make the difference between mending fences and widening the divide.

Your gut reaction may be to defend yourself against an angry client, but that doesn’t always work. And, “making nice” isn’t necessarily the proper response when tempers flare and emotions are raw. In fact, sometimes putting on a professional face and tone can escalate hurt feelings and frustration.

So what can you do when it looks like your reputation and your relationship are hanging in the balance?

Adjust Your Resolution Lens

So much focus is placed on developing a policy that exemplifies avoiding conflict that many residential property management professionals fail to plan for the occasional disgruntled customer.

Your team can tackle these challenges in one of two ways. You can take a legalistic approach, which emphasizes a resolution where one party is deemed at fault, and is therefore the loser. Or, you can channel your energy through a mediation lens, where your main objective is solution-focused negotiations.

Solution-focused tactics involve drilling down into the circumstances that led to the conflict to find a way to prevent future occurrences.

One of the most positive aspects of mediated conflict resolution strategies is that discussions revolve around future actions. This leaves the door open for unexpected remedies that might be overlooked when you’re trying to stomp out a small flame before it becomes a raging inferno.

Building a Solution-Focused Road Map

Planning for conflict resolution requires planning for exceptions, not problems. For example, if ninety-nine percent of your residents love the online portal for paying rent, but you have a few clients that complain, your road map should include strategies to overcome those objections.

Analyzing the why and what behind the outburst, rather than the current stimulus, enables you to develop a future-based solution.

  • Are you providing proper training for your residents?
  • Does your current system allow diverse payment options?
  • Would installing an accessible desktop computer in your lobby give tenants without digital devices an opportunity to pay on time without having to borrow a friends smart phone or laptop?

As you’re building your property management road map, keep these tips in mind.

  • Your clients control the conversation. Consumers have a preferred outcome in mind and already know how they want to achieve desired results. You may have a clearly defined solution for every conceivable complaint, but that doesn’t mean your customers will be willing to accept your terms.
  • If possible, move the conversation to a quiet place, away from other tenants and staff member.
  • Allow your tenant to express his frustration, without interrupting.
  • Look for body language clues that signal your customer is ready to enter the mediation phase.
  • Be open to unexpected solutions.
  • Admit fault, if warranted, but don’t take apologize for something you didn’t do.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t, or won’t keep. If your tenant wants an exception to your policy that requires online rent capture, but it isn’t feasible or desirable to accept cash payments, take time to discover roadblocks from the client’s perspective.

Dealing with difficult customers doesn’t have to ruin your day. It may be as simple as shifting your perspective from a legalistic approach toward solution-focused negotiations.