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Do You Really Please Your Customers?

By Linda Day Harrison, theBrokerList, Chicago, IL

In the history of property ownership and property management, as far back as the Stone Age (maybe not that far back), we have always called our customers “tenants” and for some reason it just stuck like glue. We can try to shake the term, but no matter how we spin it, turn it, or twist it the relationship comes back full circle to calling them “tenants” and not customers. It is rather maddening to say the least. Even though I preach this and believe it, I catch myself using the term because nobody understands who I am speaking about when I say “customer!”

What drives me batty is that when you consider all of the blood, sweat, and tears we put into marketing, promotions, “tenant” retention, newsletters, “tenant” parties, and “tenant” appreciation, why do we not refer to our “tenants” as customers? It just does not make logical sense.

If you go to Disney World, the tourists are called “guests” NOT “tourists”! Disney had a good idea and they pushed that idea so hard that it is ingrained in everybody, including the “guests!” If you have ever been to Disney World or Disney Land you know what I mean. The point is Disney believed that each person who entered “the property” was a guest and NOT a tourist or even a customer. Disney wants everyone to feel special and privileged, just like a guest.

So back to my original point, why in our industry of property management, do we not refer to our valuable tenants as customers? I think we need to understand this concept; even if we are stuck on the word “tenant” the meaning still needs to be customer. As an industry, let us all put the word “customer” back on the table. First of all, let’s start with who our customer is, as that may be the core of our problem. The conflict now arises in your mind because you are all thinking, “Wait a minute Linda, the owner of the property is my customer too!” Yes, that is correct and that is a fact for us as property managers. Without our property owner, we have no job! So, our property owners are customers as well. Now there is a pull and tug for some of us. It may also cause a debate. Which customer do you please or better yet which customer is more important?

The answer is quite simple. You do what makes both customers happy! Yes, it is actually achievable. Okay, so there are exceptions to everything, but for the most part, if your customers are happy, your other customers are happy too!

How? Well for instance, every single time a customer (tenant) moves in, your customer (property owner) is happy. Now, the job is to keep that customer (tenant) happy so they do not move out. Again, that is keeping your customer (property owner) happy. What is the point of doing all of the work to keep a customer (spending money on improvements, marketing, and signs), and then they move out of your property because of something you control? So what does this boil down to? Customer service, of course! Customer service is the core of it all. You can twist it, turn it, tweak it and maneuver it, but no matter what you say or do, good customer service will always win! Is it easy? Absolutely not! Nobody said our jobs were easy. Remember, if it were easy, they would not need us. (Read Circle of (A Property's) Life).

However, no matter the difficulty, your job must be done to the best of your ability; with the talent and the cards you have been dealt. You owe that to your customer (property owner), and by contract you are legally obligated to deliver those services. The same holds true for the other customer (tenant) because they too have signed a contract (lease). Funny how there are so many parallels to these business relationships.

For example, if you manage a building that was built in 1904 you cannot expect it to perform like a building that was built in 2012! So if you think your building is old or tired and needs upgrading, you are probably correct. However, it should still be impeccably clean, painted, safe, and in good repair. No it is not high-tech or state of the art, but those occupying the property and those who own the property expect you to do the best you can with what you have! In other words, if you know who your customer is at all times, you can deliver what the customer needs and cater to what is there, not what is not there.

Now that you understand these simple points you need to go back and think of ways to deliver the excellence. Every single day we need to ask ourselves and our team, “What have we done for our customers (tenants and owners) today?” Make this a question your entire team thinks about. What is it that you can do around your property that would actually please your customers? For a property owner customer it may be timely information, accurate reports, 100% occupancy, community awards, maximization of real estate value, and return calls, etc. For the tenant customer it might be clean common areas, friendly staff, responsive maintenance technicians, follow up, etc. In any case, no matter what type of property it is and no matter its age, there is always room for improvement. Just keep the focus on customer service every single day, and you will naturally begin to deliver the excellence all of your customers expect!

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Linda, a very well-written, common sense piece. I am a senior executive with a vendor company who has had a long career in customer-facing roles in the financial markets and who has only just recently begun working in the multifamily industry. One thing which your piece doesn't mention is that all of us, whether vendors or managers (I have limited the number of groupings for simplicity's sake) can be, at one point or another, be each others' customers.

When I write, when I speak, when I serve customers, I do so in the exact manner in which I would want to be written to, spoken to, or served. I take no interaction with any person or business for granted.

  Charles Fiori

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