Providing good customer service can prove a challenge in almost any business. In Association Management, where we deal with such issues as covenant enforcement and collections, it can be especially tricky. No matter how challenging the situation the bottom line is: good Association Management companies should provide great customer service. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy task. Association management companies are faced with the challenge of having multiple customers to support including: board members, homeowners, vendors and employees. To add to the challenge, homeowner’s complaints/concerns are often emotionally driven as they are concerning their largest and most sentimental investment, their home. To maintain excellence, it is important that all of their concerns are validated and handled in a professional manner.
How can this be done? Leland Management manages over 380 communities with approximately 100,000 homeowners. We take hundreds of calls, emails, and fax a day from people who need assistance or have concerns. Over time, we have come up with some important customer service guidelines that have proven to be successful in dealing even with the most challenging situations.
One of the most important aspects of customer service in general is to listen to the customer. It is important to understand then restate the homeowner’s concern within the first few minutes of the conversation. Often, homeowners are emotional and may not be stating their concerns clearly. If you don’t understand the problem you are certainly not going to be able to provide a solution.
Once you establish the issue, learn what the homeowner wants and try to make it happen. This is best accomplished by simply asking the homeowner how you can make it better. Often what the homeowner wants may not be that difficult. It is important to know where you stand before you start working towards a solution. If you are able to fix the problem, fix it quickly (don’t wait until tomorrow or next week). If you are unable to meet the request, be clear about why you are not able to accommodate them, and offer some alternative solutions.
Knowing how to apologize is another factor in ensuring great customer service. We are all human and sometimes mistakes happen. Most people understand this. If you are wrong, admit it, apologize, and move on to resolving the problem. Knowing how and when to apologize is a great technique that if used appropriately will immediately change the tone of the conversation, and ultimately make a happy customer.
Remain calm. It is important to remain calm and keep a consistent tone throughout the conversation. The role of customer service is to help find a solution. Nothing constructive will come from a shouting match with the customer.
Provide an escalation outlet. If you sense that you are not getting anywhere with a challenging person and nothing more can be done, allow for escalation. Provide another avenue where the customer can state their case. The best option for this is via email or letter where the person can put down their concerns in writing. Often, the process of writing down the problem will take much of the emotion out of the complaint and may ultimately help facilitate a resolution. If it is something that is beyond your control, help them locate, or furnish them with the contact information of who can help. For example, if it is a problem with a city ordinance (such as parking on the street), help them find the appropriate contacts in the city.
Finally, get feedback and check back with your customers. You may think you have the best customer service in the world, but your opinion does not really count. It is the opinion of the people you serve that matters. Send out surveys frequently, follow up with people who have had problems in the past and find out if things are better. Knowledge is power, and knowing how people perceive your customer service will help you make adjustments for the future.
Ultimately, to achieve success excellent customer service should be woven into the fabric of the company. It should be part of the company philosophy (as it is at Leland) and be reinforced from the top down. When this is done, customer service will become second nature to all members of the team and will positively influence how they communicate with everyone they come in contact with.