Ellen Bathgate: How proactive feedback could save your client relationships

Do you have unhappy landlords sitting silently in your portfolio, waiting for you to make one little mistake before they take their management somewhere else?

Could you identify which landlords are sitting in your portfolio feeling this way?

Or are you afraid to find out if some of your landlords are unhappy?

Recently, I was an unhappy client, sitting silently in someone’s portfolio.

Not a property management portfolio, but another professional service.

After years working with a particular professional business, I was assigned a new staff member to handle my account.

Initially, the change wasn’t a big deal for me.

I trusted the business, and assumed they had appointed someone competent to handle my business account.

However, the more I interacted with this staff member, the more it became clear that they didn’t have the experience (or the personality) for the role.

I realised I was facing a decision that many people (maybe even some of your landlords) have to deal with.

I considered taking my business elsewhere.

To be honest, the prospect of finding a new service provider didn’t appeal to me.

I don’t like change, and I didn’t want to do it. But I also didn’t want to stay and deal with this staff member.

Tricky situation, after having almost 10 years of working with this business.

Fortunately, as a business owner myself, I know how important it is to proactively provide feedback to the business owner.

So, I reached out to them, and this ended up being a game-changer.

I spoke with the owner of the business and candidly shared my concerns.

I was clear about the issues I had experienced (with specific detail) and I asked to be assigned to a different (more experienced) staff member.

The response I received was perfect. The owner expressed genuine gratitude for my willingness to provide feedback.

Acknowledging the importance of my business, he promptly took action.

A new staff member was assigned—one who had much more experience and a much better personality for customer service, too.

To be honest, I’m more loyal and committed to this business than I was before we had this little hiccup.

I’ve been blown away by how well it was handled, and how great the resolution was.

But here’s where it could have been handled even better.

Had the business owner taken the initiative to ask for feedback proactively, this story might have been quite different.

I might not have even considered taking my account elsewhere.

In property management, we’re often managing a portfolio of people (notice I said “people” not “properties”).

Statistically speaking, some of those clients are going to be unhappy with our service at times.

This is where the opportunity lies.

What if we just asked our clients to see how happy they are?

What if, rather than waiting for them to blow up and terminate our management agreement, we checked in with them?

What if we had the scary conversations and found out if they’re truly happy?

What if we asked for real, honest feedback?

If you’re feeling brave, and ready to ask for feedback, so you can uncover unhappy clients before they leave. Here are my top four tips to do exactly that.

It’s not a suggestion box, it’s a relationship

When you’re preparing to ask for feedback from your landlord clients, you’re not installing a suggestion box outside your office.

You’re opening the door to valuable insights, and making room for deeper connections and rapport with your landlord clients.

From my own recent experience, I’ve realised that timely feedback can prevent a negative situation from escalating into something bigger.

We’re not mind-readers, after all (and if you are, you’ve gotta show me how you do it!).

We need that open line of communication to ensure we’re meeting (and hopefully) exceeding our clients’ expectations.

The bad news is the good news

When it comes to feedback, it all serves a purpose.

Which means that, whether it’s good feedback or bad, it’s all good feedback.

Focusing on the less-than-glowing feedback might seem daunting, but it’s an opportunity to spot brewing discontent before it boils over.

Instead of waiting until a client decides to take their business elsewhere, proactively seeking feedback can help us identify pain points and address them head-on.

Asking the question

So, how do we encourage our landlord clients to share their honest thoughts?

It’s all about creating accessible and inviting channels.

Here are some of my favourite ways to gather feedback (and the reasons why I like each for different purposes):

  • Surveys and questionnaires. I love surveys and questionnaires when we want to give landlords an opportunity to give anonymous feedback. But here’s the trick: keep them simple and easy to complete, with minimal questions and (ideally) multiple choice answers, to maximise responses. If you make them too difficult to complete, your landlords won’t do them. And that defeats the purpose.
  • Happy calls. Set KPIs in your team to make happy calls to your landlord clients and include aquestion at the end requesting feedback. Having a real conversation will allow you to listen for changes in tone of voice during feedback, and will give you the opportunity to ask more detailed questions where the opportunity appears.
  • Everyday conversations. Ask for feedback during everyday conversations. Pick a theme for the month, or a question for the month, and include this in your everyday conversations with your landlord clients. This will allow you to gauge how your clients are feeling, generally, about a particular area of service in your business.

Turn that frown upside down

Negative feedback isn’t a verdict—it’s an opportunity for growth.

So let’s discuss how to tackle negative feedback when it comes in (which it will, if you’re proactive about seeking feedback).

  • Listen actively. You’ve heard this before. Here’s what’s important with active listening. Even if you know the client is wrong, you still need to make sure they feel heard.
  • Apologise. If a mistake has been made, an apology is needed. Jus apologise if you stuffed up.
  • Offer solutions. Don’t just throw solutions at them. Offer your landlord options (if you possibly can) to help them feel like they have more say in the outcome.
  • Follow up. Once you’ve fixed the problem, check that the landlord client is happy with the outcome. Interestingly, if you’ve resolved the problem well, you may end up with a landlord client who is happier and more loyal than they were before.

My own experience of being dissatisfied with a business (who I had a long-term relationship with) really reminded me of how much I would have liked the opportunity to give feedback and resolve the issue.

How much more would your landlord clients like the same opportunity?

Whether you like it or not, some of your landlord clients will be unhappy with your service some time.

The question is: are you going to find out before they go looking for another property manager or after they leave?

Show More

Ellen Bathgate

Ellen Bathgate is the founder of Rent Roll Starter, and helps rent roll owners to start and grow their own rent rolls using affordable growth strategies. For more information visit