By Tom Gibson, Partner & Sr. VP-Nashville
Service organizations live and die based on their levels of customer satisfaction. A service organization has to ask, “Who is the customer?” If you are a property manager, your customer may be the tenant, it might be the client, or even the health system. If you are an accountant, you are a service provider to the client and the property managers. Balancing goals and providing consistent high quality service levels is difficult for everyone. There are, however, key points that are essential to customer satisfaction.
I have been asked how you deal with someone who only calls you when they have a complaint. I point out that our jobs exist to resolve the complaints and provide service. There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes with doing your job and doing it well. A customer who is satisfied will tell ten others and one who is unsatisfied will also effectively communicate their dissatisfaction. Word of mouth positive advertising should be kept in mind when we handle customer issues. Your mantra should be as follows:
- Time is of the essence. If a tenant or client is unhappy, the speed with which you respond to their issue is crucial. If you can’t resolve the issue immediately, don’t leave the complaint or the customer hanging. Communicate with the customer on the course of action and the timeline that you are pursuing to get the issue resolved. If it is an issue that takes a significant amount of time, stay in touch with the customer and communicate your progress along the resolution path. Problems are not like red wine; they do not age well.
- Don’t talk, listen. You can’t resolve an issue or complaint if you are not listening. Be sure you ask probing questions, define the nature of the problem, the location, and get all the details related to the issue. A successful resolution is dependent upon the quality and the quantity of the information you obtain in the initial contact. If a member of our organization or staff has failed to meet a standard, a heartfelt apology along with correcting the problem is a great way to build good will. If it is our issue, be accountable.
- Get organized. When you have an issue, be sure it is tracked. Certainly, our call center does this, but in some instances, a complaint might not be logged. If an issue needs to be escalated, you should escalate it up the organizational chart so that it can be resolved in a timely fashion, and you can get input for others on problem resolution.
- Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If you were on the other side of the table, what would your expectations be in the way of performance and service? How you would expect the situation to be resolved? Try to frame the situation in this manner and treat others as you would want to be treated.
- Be transparent as you work to resolve the problem. Again, communicate your critical path for resolution along with problems and issues that can affect that timeline. Share information with your coworkers. If a tenant is dissatisfied or irate over an issue, your engineering staff should know that and what to expect when they enter the suite. They should be prepared to be patient, tolerant, and polite with the customer. Conversely, our organization has a tremendous amount of knowledge. Be sure that you tap this knowledge as you deal with customer satisfaction. We are all here to help and support each other.
- Be calm and be sociable. Whenever an issue comes up, it is important to remain calm, think clearly, and seek input from vendors, coworkers, and others in our organization who can offer insights. These individuals may have had to deal with a similar problem or issue, and their input can be invaluable. If a tenant has an air conditioning unit down, bring the tenant water or snacks while our vendors or engineering staff work to resolve the issue. These actions go a long way towards building good will and let people know that you are doing your very best to meet their expectations.
- Be polite and respectful. When dealing with a crisis, there are times when one has to be ﬁrm, but in being ﬁrm you should always also remain tolerant and respectful as you work through difficult issues with tenants, vendors or employees.
- Failure Analysis. When you resolve the complaint, take a look at what happened and why it happened. What could you or the organization do to prevent a recurrence of this situation? Use the event as a learning tool. Do not be afraid to address failures and share what you have learned.
These ideas should be revisited, remembered, and practiced. We must continue to ask ourselves, “how can we be better tomorrow than we are today?”
While these steps have been created for employees of Holladay Properties, they can be applied to anyone in a customer service related industry. What do you think of these steps? Do you have any other suggestions for improving customer service? Share them with us in the comments below!