Mastering the Art of Big Smiles and Sharp Teeth

Doug Brien
January 21, 2017

“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” You’ve probably heard this before–softly muttered by an old ex, mid-argument. How’d you respond? Probably with a dismissive eye roll? It might not have meant as much at the time, but there’s actually an incredibly valuable opportunity to explore behind that seemingly generic expression.

Whether it be for personal or professional purposes, relationship building relies heavily on communication. How you say things and how you manage certain situations can have more of an impact than what you actually say or do. When you’re conscious about your communication style and how it could be received, you have a better understanding of the effect it might have on whomever you’re communicating with.

Let’s flip the roles for a second. Let’s say you’re in the market to hire a professional service. What are some of the characteristics you look for? There are the more obvious traits that need to be checked off like trustworthiness, professionalism, quality of work, and positive reviews. But what kinds of qualities do you look for in the people you’ll be doing business with? You want them to be reliable, approachable, honest, diplomatic. There’s also a certain caliber of customer service you expect when working with any kind of professional service, and being a property manager is no different.

I’ve worked with a lot of different property managers throughout my career, and have had countless interactions with ones who really don’t understand the art of big smiles and sharp teeth. That is, they don’t know when to prioritize exceptional customer service and be as flexible as they can, and when to stand firm on certain issues, but do so with grace. More often than not, this results in mismanaged, unhappy residents and a potential loss in profit.

So, as a property manager, how do you strike the right balance between nurturing a positive relationship with residents and making sure your properties are still profitable?

A Smile is the Universal Welcome

Property management is a people business, and it takes individuals with great people skills and stellar management skills to get the best performance. If being a people person was never your thing, that doesn’t mean you can’t get there. It’s a skill you can develop over time, and there are tactical exercises you can practice to get you there faster.

First of all, greet your residents by name and avoid robotic responses. I can’t stress enough how important it is to establish a real human connection. If empathy flows bidirectionally, residents may be more thoughtful about how they approach you when requesting repairs or maintenance procedures. In the same vein, there’s more transparency behind these kinds of requests if you attach a real person to the name you see on leasing paperwork. You’ll know that Nancy or John feel heard and respected if you know them by name, and that hopefully, these requests are warranted.

When dealing with several residents for multiple properties, being a people person can be a difficult role to play. Still, it’s important to make yourself available, whether it be in person or online. Really listen to what residents have to say and ask questions. The tone in which you communicate can have a tremendous impact on how the relationship is shaped between you and your residents.

Lastly, as cheesy as it might sound, a genuine smile and compassion goes a long way in this business. A smile can positively influence any social or professional situation. Besides, life is short. Smile while you still have teeth.

Sharp Teeth for Sharper Managing

It’s a misconception that in order to score 5-star customer service ratings, you need to concede to every residents’ request. There are certain scenarios that require sharp teeth, like when you need to collect rent or when residents cause damage to property and action needs to be taken.
Dealing with these scenarios, though, don’t require an iron fist. Managing properties and responding to resident requests can always be executed with poise.

As a property manager, you can’t operate like a hotel concierge desk. Although maintaining a positive rapport with residents is essential, saying “yes” to every inquiry or repeatedly eating costs to repair damages can be detrimental. Be clear about what residents are responsible and accountable for and hold them to it. A good tactic is to politely but firmly remind them of their lease obligations, since it’s essentially the document that governs the business relationship. Also, saying “no” to one thing doesn’t mean you can’t say “yes” to something else and find a holistic solution that works for both sides. In my years around property management, I have seen managers that are masterful at the art of enforcing obligations yet still providing great customer service.

Finally, sometimes property managers make mistakes, too. It’s important to have some humility and communicate any shortcomings or mishaps appropriately. Building a harmonious relationship with your residents and reciprocating the respect they show you can yield long-term benefits.

How Technology Helps You Connect More Deeply

Implementing technology to help manage your properties can save you countless hours and a ton of effort. Managing several properties and dealing with scores of individual residents can be a challenge to maintain. What kinds of systems do you have in place to manage resident information, communications, and all maintenance and repair procedures? Tracking data is everything. If you have a paper trail of all interactions, you can uphold better customer service as well. Records also provide concrete proof if a resident happens to mischaracterize a conversation. If a resident files a claim against you to a rent board, you can documentation of conversations and paper trails to protect yourself.

With technology, you can be more consistent with the relationships you build and scale that effort. You’ll know exactly what’s going on because all the information you need is available on a dashboard. Having access to data and audit trails also allows you to identify trends among residents and properties better, which also provides more insight into how your properties are performing.

At the end of the day, property management is a people service. You’re working with residents who want to live comfortably, and your job is to be as accommodating as possible without breaking your own back, or bank. At the same time, this is a business, and you’re not necessarily here to make friends. Mastering the art of big smiles and sharp teeth is not as tricky as it seems. Being more conscious with your responses and demeanor, and committing yourself to develop better interpersonal relationships with residents will, in turn, allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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