Customer Service is Crucial
By Kristi Novak, CAM, CAPS
Altman Management Company
Has this ever happened to you? You’re shopping in a nice clothing store or staying in an upscale hotel and you make a request that seems so simple, only to be told “No, we can’t do that.” Maybe the reason given has to do with company policy, or maybe no reason is given. At any rate, you’re left with a bad feeling, wondering why something that seems uncomplicated turned into such a negative experience.
Likewise, we don’t want our residents— our customers, if you will —to feel that their requests are being rejected without real consideration. True, current staffing levels are challenging and sometimes residents can seem demanding. At the same time, rents are rising, and residents are frustrated. Too many times, we say no without even trying for a yes. You know that great customer service can make a property excel, leading to renewals, new leases, and better net operating income, and bad customer service can make a property decline. Great customer service can also prove to be a measure of prevention when it comes to on-site conflicts.
So, how do you provide the best service with limited staff and few resources? There are three things the staff must have: professionalism, patience, and a people-first attitude.
As the saying goes, “Professionalism is not the job you do, it's how you do the job." Professionalism can set the tone right from the start, whether that’s how you sound when you pick up the phone or your appearance when greeting someone in the office. We all know that the office staff should stand, smile, and greet everyone who walks in the door, but do they? Do they even notice when someone walks in? Practicing professionalism until it’s second nature makes it more likely that staff members will respond appropriately to an unhappy resident. If a resident is upset about an experience with an employee or situation, it can be very easy to be defensive and react to their complaints with the same tone and volume. Keeping calm provides reassurance that the resident’s concern is solvable and that you are there to help. When someone complains, look at it as a chance to learn and improve. Usually, the team can dissect and learn from the resident’s complaint. Maybe the office hours need to be changed, maintenance associates need to be more tidy, office staff needs to answer the phone promptly, etc.
Patience is essential to good customer service, and that includes listening without interrupting. You may think you know what the resident is going to say next, but if you cut them off, you’re likely to be perceived as rude. That’s not exactly winning over your residents or guests. Have you tried saying no and yes at the same time to a resident’s request? Instead of just blurting out no, stop, think, and figure out how you can say yes while still meeting your company protocols. Example: “I am sorry that you cannot reserve the clubroom inside for a personal gathering. Let me show you our pool pavilion that you may reserve instead.” Take the time to really listen to the request and then think about how you can make at least part of it happen. Most residents will be so happy that you listened and tried.
A people-first attitude builds on professionalism and patience. With this attitude, your customer service strategy should reinforce the idea of human connection. You must build relationships with your residents. This does not mean you are besties with your residents, but rather that you listen to them, get to know them, and handle their requests with respect and timeliness. No matter what the solution or resolution is, everyone wants prompt follow-up. Unfortunately, follow-up is so lacking that a little goes a long way.
Staff members who are professional, patient, and have a people-first attitude can provide great service even when a community is short-staffed. Once you have built the relationships and truly taken the time to understand the concerns, residents will work with you on the timeline of completion.
A final note: Don’t forget about the employees. They also need you to carry these traits when working with them. Happy employees will lead to happy residents.