As I consult and coach businesses around the country, I spend a good deal of time reviewing what some of the gaps are to achieving satisfied customers, reducing conflict and complaints, saving time and ultimately growing of the business.
During this process often I review conversations in the office between staff, how the phones are answered, how issues are resolved and how effectiveness negotiations undertaken.
One of the main gaps we find are some basic customer service essentials that when worked on can lead to minimised conflict, better relationships and less time spent on resolving issues, and less stress for us all.
It is important to constantly develop our own customer services skills as well as develop a greater awareness of how we are perceived, and the effect that may have on our customers and the service they receive, and the relationships we are trying to build. Here are my top five skills for us all to work on:
This might be the single most important skill to develop, however, it can be one of the hardest in property management, as we become jaded with frustrating clients, situations and get tired over time.
But the best property managers still practise empathy after all those years – and when I say practise, I mean it. Empathy in property management is not something that will always come naturally; we may have to flick the switch and remind ourselves that each person, situation and problem is unique, and relative to those involved.
How can you be more empathetic? Pick up every phone call with a fresh head, open every new email with a fresh approach – take a moment to think about what it might be like to be in the other person’s shoes before responding with the automatic assumption that you know their side of the story. "Be kind to everyone, you never know what battle they may be fighting."
Another essential skill that requires work to be good at is patience – something we constantly need to practise in this crazy property management world.
Practising patience allows us to be present and allows space for the other person to talk.
Patience allows us to not just listen, but really hear what the person may be saying, or the message that is lying underneath – sometimes the problem is not the problem. Too often we are rushed to simply solve the problem without really listening to what is going on – our reactions can negatively affect the conversation and relationship.
How can you be more patient? Well, the obvious one is to take some deep breaths. But some other tactics include practising acceptance of what we cannot control, and that not everyone deals with things the same way we do. "Patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you're waiting."
Ultimately, your customers rely on you for their knowledge of your service and the legislation – our value lies in being the expert. Stay informed enough to respond to most inquiries and know where to turn if the questions become too detailed or technical for you to answer. But don’t be afraid to say 'I don't know' either. Clients will appreciate the honesty and your efforts to find the right answer – provided you get back to them when you say you will.
The industry and life in general is becoming more complex though technology, client expectations and needs, life situations, personalities – all having an effect on the outcome of different situations. And it is constantly evolving, therefore ongoing training and learning is essential. If you think you know it all, then you’re already on a path to failure.
Being up to date with legislative knowledge helps but will not be enough to keep our businesses pushing into the future. Look for training and education on customer service, communication, emotional intelligence, time management, technology and more.
"Everyone you will ever meet knows at least one thing you don't."
This skill comprises of a few components including confidence, a strong work ethic, and a having thick skin. One of the most common frustrations of a client is where the business or person will not seem to take ownership of the issue, grasp it, resolve it, apologise, and do whatever it takes to keep the customer relationship going.
"The customer is always right..." right? The ability to swallow one's pride and accept blame, responsibility or accountability is crucial. Defensiveness and emotions must be removed and the primary focus must be the customer's happiness must be kept in mind.
For us, this means that the we must have the confidence and authority to take the issue by the reins and ensure an amicable outcome is delivered. "Sometimes our most frustrated clients can turn into our biggest raving fans if we can take ownership of the situation."
This is the obvious one, but still one that we all need to work on. You need to know what the customer wants to be able to meet their needs, which means having strong communication and questioning skills to be able to determine this. Selecting the right enunciation, tone, volume and language can make the difference between making the client feel comfortable and important, rather than like a hindrance and disruption (a common one we see as a gap from the receptionist in the office).
Communication works two ways and listening is an essential communication skill to boost customer service. Practising good listening includes removing distractions, committing your attention, confirming what was said, removing judgement and preconception.
For us to improve here, we need an awareness of how we talk on the phone, write our emails, and speak to each other. Before we pick up the phone, actively chose your mood, tone, and language. When you write an email, select the appropriate grammar and read all emails before sending to review how your message might be received from the other party. "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."