Every business gets complaints. In fact, complaints are a sign that you’re in business!
There seems to be a denial in every industry about embracing complaints, as though it’s best not to talk about them and certainly not to have a procedure for them. Having a procedure suggests you plan to receive lots of complaints! Well, I suggest you do plan to receive complaints, because if you’re in the estate agency business, you’re going to get them.
Complaints to estate agents are often very emotional because the process of moving home is usually crucial to someone’s future. Losing a property, being gazumped, having no viewings or a sale falling through are all majorly upsetting for people.
You are going to have two types of complaint: rational ones about your service standards (calling people back, turning up for appointments, politeness in conversation, telling lies, etc) and irrational ones where something hasn’t gone to plan and someone needs to be blamed. Whichever category they fall into, the way in which you deal with complaints should form an integral part of your estate agent’s marketing strategy, particularly when complaints are more and more public on social media channels and review sites.
Whether or not someone’s complaint is valid, always listen to them as though it is. Let them get everything off their chest, take notes if you like, and, most importantly, DO NOT INTERRUPT, CONTRADICT OR CORRECT until you know they are absolutely finished. It is vital to make sure they are allowed to say everything they need to say, and you need to ask them to confirm that they have. And if there is anything else they would like to say, invite them to say it. Keep them going until they completely run out of steam. All you need to do is listen. And I don’t mean simply be quiet. I mean LISTEN.
Then you need to decide whether you think their complaint is valid. If it is, apologise unreservedly and tell them what you plan to do put things right. If you think their complaint is unjustified, explain yourself clearly, simply and without any hint of disdain. You don’t have to agree with each other, but you don’t have to cave. After that, you simply need to decide whether you both feel you can continue a business relationship. If you can, great. And if not, stay courteous and wish them well.
When things go wrong, the estate agent gets it in the neck: thus was it ever so. But it’s ok, because we all know that and we accept it. It’s a part of the job and it allows people to blow their top, often followed by an apology to the agent after nerves have calmed. And it’s fine. They’re upset, their plans have been shattered, and the only person they can talk to is you. But what if they want to take it further? What if they truly believe that you have destroyed their moving home experience?
I suppose the best way to handle this is for both parties to write down how they see the situation and then to meet up and talk things through. It will fall to the estate agent to keep everything calm, professional and adult, so make sure you do that. It’s very difficult for people to stay hysterical when the person they are talking to is not joining in. And again, listening is the key. When people feel listened to, they feel better. Often the simple act of engaging in a mature discussion can be the solution in itself. Remain respectful, sympathetic, understanding and kind.
After that, well, you just have to see.