This morning I walked into a quaint coffee shop, tucked away beside the freeway. A hidden little gem. I was greeted with a warm smile and the calming presence of a friendly barista. I ordered a mocha and avocado toast and sat patiently for my order to be ready. I took in my surroundings, brick walls displaying local artists paintings, various seating options from tables and chairs to comfy couches. Soft lights hung along the walls. The space itself welcomed me to relax and stay awhile.
As each customer came through the door, I watched the barista welcome them into the shop - many of them by name. There was pleasant conversation and sharing of life events and stories. Many of the customers were regulars, eager to come back and share a piece of themselves with the kind barista. This got me thinking of the importance of customer service.
Like this coffee shop, every day our clients and customers come to us with a need. Sometimes they want to share the wins in their life, other times they are voicing their frustrations. How do we prepare to provide stellar customer service in each situation and allow our owners and residents to feel welcome?
- Create a Welcoming Space: If you have a physical office space, create a welcoming atmosphere. Just like the coffee shop, its important to have a place for residents to sit down and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. In single family property management, this may be a reception area with couches or chairs or a conference room. In multifamily, this may be a reception area or clubhouse near the leasing office. The vibe should be calming and relaxing. You can achieve this with the colors you choose, the comfort of the furniture, and the overall appearance of a planned and well thought out space. Choose a clean scent for your office, our sense of smell triggers memories and powerful impressions. Your space also includes the perception of your employees; have a dress code for your office employees to maintain a professional appearance.
- Pick People Who Like People: You've heard the term "People Person", well not all people like people. When you are hiring, make sure you choose applicants who enjoy people and service. Choosing people who have customer service experience is helpful because it allows you to gauge whether or not they enjoyed that aspect of a previous job. There is a difference between being outgoing and liking people you mesh well with vs having the ability to assist people you wouldn't choose to hang out with. By choosing a people person, you are increasing your chances of being able to provide stellar customer service without burning out your employees. Can non people persons do the job? Likely yes, but they wont enjoy it long term and your retention rate will decrease.
- Provide Customer Service Training: Whether you hire employees with customer service experience or not, it is important to provide customer service training. Chick-fil-a employees are not hired because they are already good at replying with "my pleasure". They were trained to serve their specific customer base in a consistent and professional way. Similarly, our industry requires our employees to be able to respond to customers and clients in a specific way. You have to be able to deescalate difficult situations, stay positive and friendly even when you're frustrated, and have clear boundaries to protect yourself in toxic encounters. You are dealing with a very sensitive part of life - people's homes. Emotions are often high and someone who is not trained in customer service is more likely to make problems worse rather than better.
- Maintain a Professional Tone: The way we speak is just as important as what we say. Ensuring you and your staff always approach a client or customer with a positive tone can create a more calm stage for conversation. Some employees may be tempted to match the clients tone, but they should be trained to keep it professional. If the tone can't be controlled and the client or customer refuses to be respectful, employees should be training in how to gracefully exit the conversation until emotions simmer down.
- Ongoing Training and Support: This industry is always changing and everyday brings new challenges and rewards. Your staff will continue to come across situations they have never dealt with before. Training can be formal or informal. It's important to have ongoing fair housing training and team support. Create a culture where your employees are encouraged to always be learning and sharing what they learn with one another. Have an open door policy and make sure your employees know they can come to you with difficult situations, anytime. Make space in your weekly meetings to share weekly wins and for employees to bring challenges to the team for troubleshooting and support. This will create an atmosphere of collaboration and continuous learning that doesn't stay siloed.
- Do the Little Things: Sometimes the small gestures and extra niceties make a bigger difference than we think. It's the small things that take the experiences we create from good to great. Greet people with a smile. Offer your clients and customers a bottle of water when they come in the door. Have a candy dish or stickers available. Send hand written thank you notes and provide welcome gifts - but be intentional in the presentation and thoughtful in selections. In my coffee shop experience, the barista took extra care in the foam motif on top of my mocha and the way she evenly spaced the avocado slices. She took pride in the presentation and it showed.
- Make it Personal: Ask your customers and clients how they are, if they had a good weekend, or how best you can help them. Remember the details they have shared with you. For example, I watched the barista behind the counter as a customer came in. She immediately greeted her and asked how things were going with the kitten she rescued. I watched warmth light up the customers eyes as she told the barista the update on her newest family member. If you aren't great at remembering things or have too many clients and customers to keep it all straight - encourage staff to make notes in your property management software and bring up the client page when they enter the building or call. Those personal touches make people feel heard and valued. It creates relationships. However, be careful that your employees keep it professional. I was cautioned early in my career to be friendly, not friends. It's a fine balance, but will come in handy if ever you have to take action against a resident or owner.
Remember, just like the quaint little coffee shop - this business is built on customer service. The customer isn't always right, but they should always feel heard and validated even if the outcome isn't in their favor. It is easy to get jaded in this industry and stop doing those simple things to create a customer experience that will set you apart. However, we are dealing with real humans and the places they call home. If you are getting to a point where you find yourself snapping at customers and clients, hating people, or dreading going into the office - it's time for a break, some self care, some balance. Remind yourself the importance of stellar customer service, hire the right people, retrain, and get back in there!