Customer Service in Apartment Living

December 12, 2017 Cory Sarver Theory of Knowledge 5 minutes, 43 seconds

What would create loyalty from a person renting an apartment to the organization/landlord he or she is renting from? We are familiar with the idea of world-class service in the area of airline travel, or hotels. How can this be applied to the realm of apartment rental communities? Below are some components of creating great customer service:

Friendly, Professional Interactions

An enjoyable aspect of traveling in first or business class is the receptiveness and friendliness of those serving the air passengers during a flight. Air stewards or stewardesses (or at least those good at the role) understand that their job is to meet the reasonable needs and desires of the customer. It is important that the people serving in this role, enjoy being of service to others. This reflects in the employees’ interactions with customers, exhibiting friendliness, responsiveness, and courtesy. Satisfaction from satisfying customers is a key component to fulfilling the service-role well.

Responsiveness to Requests

A part of great service is being able to fulfill a customer’s request, and provide results. There is a timing component to the job, such as attending to issues promptly, and there is a communication aspect as well – keeping the customer informed of the status; this can be the key to the customer being satisfied. People need to know that their requests are going to be addressed, and how they are going to be addressed, i.e. it is helpful to communicate the process.
Ignoring complaints is clearly antithetical to good customer service. However, when institutions do not communicate their progress clearly, customers may very well feel ignored. For this reason, some sort of progress update is important – keeping the customer informed of the status not only reassures the customer progress is actually being made but that their request is not being ignored completely.

Problem resolution

Some problems are easily resolved, e.g., a clogged drain can be attended to by a maintenance professional with follow-up. Other problems may be less simple to fix, e.g., a complaint about a noisy unit. When the problem is more complicated, or where there is no immediate solution, it is important to keep the customer engaged and informed. This can lessen the impact of the disappointment the customer could feel from not having the immediate results (or specific results) they may desire. In the example of the customer complaining about a noisy unit, the first step may be to offer the necessary “ear” to hear the customer’s complaint. After the cause is determined, solutions can be explored with the customer, e.g. can a change of units solve the issue? If there is no unit at the moment, is there a time period in which one will become available? Could a maintenance fix, such as soundproofing windows in a noisy region of the complex, solve the problem long-term?
A customer should be engaged in the process, while also being informed of the limitations on what can or can’t be done. If possible, the customer can be made a part of the solution finding process. When limitations prohibit the result that the customer wants, it is helpful to decline gently which entails communicating the reasons for limitations, exploring alternative options that the company can offer with the customer, providing available concessions, with the hope that the customer can still have an experience that is satisfactory.

The Path to Resolution

Customers want direct advice and decisive customer service representatives. Many people will try to fix an issue on their own before contacting customer service. For common problems, this usually works well. For more complex problems, however, customers generally cannot solve them alone. By the time a customer reaches out to customer service, they may have already exhausted their knowledge on the subject. For this reason, customers prefer service representatives who lead by offering singular paths to a solution. Since quality reps understand the problem and the shortest path to its solution, they can offer direct advice that quickly leads to a solution with minimal effort on the customer’s part. Few people understand how to mitigate the effects of a broken HVAC system, and thus a representative giving one-path advice, rather than several options, can efficiently assist the customer. Systems are so ubiquitous and integrated into society that customers expect them to just work. When they don’t, customers want the fastest possible return to normality.

Problem Prevention

After fixing the problem in a timely manner, it is essential to preempt related issues. Since apartment management is, at its core, system management, and systems consist of several interrelated parts with delayed influence upon each other, it is possible other issues will arise. If the fourth-floor tenants often complain of clogged drains, after clearing the pipes, it is a good idea to mention possible causes to prevent future fourth-floor clogs and potentially more damaging backed up drains on lower floors later. Backed up drains on the second floor may originate from tenants on the fourth floor who often dump grease into their sinks. Major problems almost always spawn minor consequences in seemingly unrelated ways. Excellent apartment management recognizes and records these connections, and excellent customer service plays two roles: assisting management in recognizing and recording connections; and solving problems to ensure fewer future complaints.

Customer Feedback

A mechanism should be in place for customers to give their thoughts, provide feedback and ideas for the improvement of services, and express pleasure or dissatisfaction with service. Some customers will be driven to provide feedback due to dissatisfaction while others may do so due to appreciation of jobs well done. A good feedback system is one where a person does not have to do a whole lot to provide their input. Mailing-in forms is something few people have the time to do. Drop boxes or online/SMS surveys are more accessible.

Reduce the Burden to Finding a Solution

The recurrent themes of quality customer service are rapid responses and swift solutions. Customers want to know they are being heard, and constant communication is key. One way to lessen the burden on customers is to streamline and simplify your customer service interaction process. It is great to have several avenues for customers, but if the interaction is too complex, customers will become frustrated. A single access point (such as a directive website) helps alleviate the frustration in finding the right avenue. An emergency line is something that should always be maintained for apartment complexes, though – a flood resulting from a ruptured pipe doesn’t wait for office hours. As mentioned above, another way to reduce the burden on the path to a solution is giving the customer fewer options but more efficient suggestions. The highest-performing customer service reps are usually “controllers” – those who took control of a situation and offered a direct, swift solution, not a plethora of options for a confused customer to evaluate.