Stellar Customer Service

Web Admin - Thursday, February 18, 2016
Stellar Customer Service by Cookie Hooper MPMC RMP®, Past-President NARPM Denver Chapter

Do you want to minimize the negativity in your life or in your online presence?  Do you want to leave the office not feeling like you have been in a battle every day?  Do you want to turn an angry situation around and create raving fans?  This tested customer service plan can ease tensions and simplify your life.  After putting this plan into place in my office, we have recently received the following emails:

I just wanted to thank you for going above and beyond so that you could help us, I know you didn't have to do anything additional to try and help us so we could get everything together by today but I just want you to know how appreciated it truly is, also thank you for being so patient with all four of us and re-explaining everything to everyone. This will not happen again and we will make sure of it! Thanks for your time have a good afternoon.” - A tenant, after facing eviction

“Yes we have moved out as of yesterday. The keys are inside of the apartment. Thank you for being willing to work with us! I apologize that things have happened this way.      - Another tenant, after being evicted 

These fans were created thanks to the NARPM-Star steps that I follow.  Everyone in my office has learned how to offer stellar customer service and the atmosphere in our office has changed.  Moreover, customers who would have previously found reason to respond to situations with bitterness are thanking us.  Use these customer service steps and watch how your reputation is transformed and how much happier you are at the end of each day.  

Is my tenant really a customer, or more of a combatant? 

Oftentimes, our job is more along the lines of police work, rather than sales.  After all, we exist to serve and protect our clients (landlords); we are a thin line between our landlords and our tenants.  We do a lot of investigative digging before we place a tenant in one of our homes. We often serve in what has potential to become a hostile or even combative environment, and we are enforcers of the lease.  Doesn’t that sound like police work?

The police officer’s customer is the citizen.  It’s a different relationship than that of the typical retail-shopper relationship we think about when we consider customer service. Yet, a customer service relationship exists.  Now, consider the negative perception of the police industry.  A few bad apples, tragic events, unfortunate circumstances, and some power-driven attitudes have created such bad PR for police departments that the public has lost their trust in these public servants (most of whom are good people who are performing a good service), resulting in hostile relationships and a dangerous working environment. 

If you read the last paragraph again and insert “Property Management” in place of “police”, you can quickly see a correlation in the two industries. We have a duty to serve our customers and protect our clients’ best interests.  As a matter of fact, providing good customer service to your Tenant is part of your fiduciary duty to your client.  If your tenant is hostile, they are likely to take out their anger on the asset.  If they hate you, they are going to move out, and that costs your client money.  So let’s clearly understand that your tenant is your customer, and that each property manager has a duty to negate the bad press in our line of work and offer excellent service to our customers.

Excellent customer service the NARPM-Star way

The Apple store trains it’s retail employees to follow 5 steps of service, from the moment the customer walks in the door.  We should be listening to what Apple is doing.  Apple has an impressive reputation and has managed to create millions of satisfied customers who are also loyal, raving fans. Clearly Apple is doing something right. Apple’s 5 steps are:  Approach, Prove, Present, Listen, and End.  Now, we are not Apple, so I have gently modified their customer service plan to fit our industry. I have adapted APPLE to become a NARPM-Star 6-point approach to customer service.

N- Neighborly Approach

We all have moments of high stress, yet we know that it’s important to try to answer our calls “live” when we can. However, do not answer the phone or send an email message until you are sure that your approach can be neighborly.  When the phone is ringing, take a quick second to re-focus your mind before you answer.  Keep pictures on your desk of your grandparents, your grandkids, your kids, anyone who loves and accepts you without judgment and train yourself to look there and take a deep breath before you answer the phone.  Never allow the last call or previous stress to enter into this current situation. If you are in a negative mindset when you try to deal with a new problem, you are only going to escalate the situation.  As the song says, “Let it go, let it go”, and if you can’t get into a neighborly frame of mind today, get someone else on the phones or let calls go to voicemail while you refocus. 

A- Ask

Politely ask what you can do for your customer. If they are venting, allow it for a bit, but not forever. If need be at this point, especially if things are escalating, here are some tips to try:

-  If the customer is hysterical, remind them that you want to resolve the problem, but need to get their file or look something up.  Place them on a brief (no longer than 1 minute) hold with calming hold music.  Sometimes, we all need a time out.  This is adult time-out for either you or your customer.  The key here is brief. When you come back, thank your customer for holding. 

-  Care. Remember that even though your customer may be angry and seems to be taking it out on you, he or she is a person who is frustrated, scared, and has issues in their life that you would never know or understand.  Treat them like a human being who is worthy of compassion, no matter how they treat you.  Be the bigger person.

-  Really listen and empathize. Identify with them if you can, and find a common enemy whenever possible. I often blame the lease, the policy, or the system. 

-   Say “I’m sorry.” Saying I’m sorry is not an admission of personal or company guilt.  It is a normal human response showing concern for another. Have you ever said “I’m sorry” to someone who has just lost a loved one?  You’re not admitting guilt.  This golden phrase goes a very long way and may be all your customer needs to hear from you. 

R- Restate the Issue

  Once you believe you have the whole scoop, re-state the issue.  This does two things: 

1-      It lets your customer know that they have been heard. And that is what they really want. 

2-      It makes sure that your solution will fit the problem.  Have you ever tried to solve the wrong problem?  It might go like this: 

“OK, Tammy, thank you for letting me know that you are extremely frustrated that I haven’t called you back.” (Side note: this is not the time for judging or educating.  Do not tell her that she did not follow protocol by submitting her request online or that it is unreasonable for her to expect a call back between 1 and 5AM.  That escalates the situation and can be handled more effectively via a friendly email message later).  “I’m really sorry for your frustration.  I would feel the same way.  That must have been a pretty terrible start to your Monday.  What I’m hearing is that moving forward, you would like to have the garage door repaired this morning, is that right? …… Oh, you have to take Timmy to his orthodontist and won’t be there, so you need the repair person there between 3:45 and 8PM today, correct?” 

P- Present Options (as many as possible)

Giving a customer options really reframes their thinking.  Instead of battling against you, they have now been brought onto your team, working together to find a solution:

“I can get you taken care of today, Tammy.  I’m a bit at the mercy of the schedule of the garage door company.  If they can’t be there between 3:45 and 8, would it be ok if I met them at your house?  Oh, Timmy is home today and can actually let them in?  Great, that helps a lot.  Would you mind if I did some troubleshooting with Timmy over the phone?  I want to make sure that someone hasn’t accidentally pushed the locking mechanism on the control, and if that seems to be ok, I can schedule the door company to meet Timmy this morning or you this afternoon.  I can also tell you how to open the door manually if you need the car out sooner.  What plan best meets your needs?”

M- Motion

Put the solution in motion as soon as possible.

“OK, Tammy, thanks for having Timmy check the locking mechanism. All seems ok there.  While I still have you on the line, I’m going to put in a work order to Metro Door.  I am asking them to meet you between 4 and 5PM if possible, and to call you at 303-444-5555 to confirm, is that right?  They will make sure the door is functioning well, and will lube and tune as needed while they are there, so hopefully you won’t have this happen again in the near future.  Does that take care of the problem for now?  Great!  The other thing I’m going to do is email a link to our Tenant Portal to you.  We have a 24-hour maintenance service plan there for you and that should minimize some frustration in the future.” 

Sincerely Thank, and invite them to call or email again

You can sincerely thank your customer because they gave you the opportunity to solve a problem, become a hero, and turn a frustrated person into a raving fan.  Otherwise, they could have just bashed you on Yelp.  If they need anything in the future, they’ll get in touch with you, so inviting them to do so costs you nothing but keeps the friendly atmosphere going.   

“Hey, Tammy, thank you for letting me know about the problem and giving me the opportunity to take care of things for you.  Please let me know if you have further problems in the future, and I’ll do all I can to make things right.  Once again, I’m really sorry for the rough start to your day. I hope it gets better.  Your lease?  Of course, I would love to have you around for another year.  Let me set that process in motion by running rental comps and getting in touch with the Owner to confirm their plans for the next year.  I’ll be back in touch soon, hopefully with good news.”

The 6-Step Approach also works with email messages and letters, minus the “Ask” step, and it’s a great format for recapping phone conversations.

Special situations

If you can’t calm the customer down:

 - Never say, “Calm down”. That is always an escalator.  Instead, try quieting your voice which keeps you calm and works much better.

- Still thank them, say “I’m sorry” and let them know that you need a bit of time to look into things.  Let them know that you will get back to them soon, and follow up.

- Try playing good cop, bad cop.  If there is a clear personality conflict, try empowering someone else in your office to listen to this person and see what they can do, even if it isn’t typically their job.  Keep in mind who can negotiate and who can’t, but anyone can listen and take notes.

- Don’t take abuse. Remember the brief hold button, and if they continue to attack or spew hatred or obscenities, let them know that you intend to resolve their problem, that you need to disconnect the call so you can work on it, and that you will be back in touch via email soon.

If the customer continues to dispute after you have corrected the problem:

Resolution Team

- Ask them to mail or email the details of the issue, any evidence they have to present, and a suggested resolution to you within 5 days, and let them know that you will present their case to a resolution team.  Assure them that you will respond to them within 7 days of receiving their letter or email. Your resolution team can be made up of a few other property managers that you know, a group formed in your office, your attorney’s hotline, or the NARPM list-serve.  Present both sides to your group and ask them to evaluate the situation fairly, let you know if/ where you might be wrong, and to help you come up with a resolution.  This should take less than 15 minutes via email or a group phone call.  Get back to the customer, in writing, give them honest and professional feedback from the team and present the resolution even if it is, “I’m very sorry, but there is nothing more I can do”.    

A Token

- Offer a token such as a small gift card to a local restaurant or a coffee shop.  Where security deposits are involved, a minor monetary concession could go a long way, even if you are 100% right. I used to ask my children when they were arguing a point ad nauseam, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be friends?” Sometimes a token is all it takes to end the conflict and leave your customer feeling a bit better about things.

Utilize the BBB

- Your local BBB has a system for dealing with complaints, and it is often better to have a customer complain to the BBB than to spread their hatred throughout the internet or take things out on your client’s asset.  The BBB offers mediation and arbitration services free of charge if you are an accredited member. 

It’s always good to remember that in the age of Yelp, customers are more than happy to share their negative experience with the world, but courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.  

Now go be a NARPM Star and create some raving fans!

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