Customer Service: The Conversation Factor

A quick review of standard customer service tips, (smile, make eye contact, use the customer’s name, match your tone of voice with your words, offer solutions) make it pretty clear that excellent customer service is, at its core, a communications issue. While it’s vital to provide the service or product, the heart and soul of customer service is communication. Regardless of whether you are educating potential residents on your property or responding to a resident’s complaints about an on-going maintenance issue, maintaining an open, two-way dialogue is essential to providing excellent customer service.

Remember your mom telling you the reason everyone has two ears and one mouth? Because you should listen twice as much as you talk. Good advice if you’re in the customer service trade, and necessary in the leasing office. We’ve all heard and hated scripted sales pitches and generic “it’s our policy” responses to complaints. So why do so many leasing professionals resort to these tactics?

Improving customer service means training leasing office personnel to listen carefully to what prospects and residents are saying, and empowering them to go off-script and find real solutions. If a leasing agent is more worried about checking off a list of amenities during a walk-thru than really hearing what the prospects needs and concerns are, they will be less effective at converting leads to leases.

One of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your communication, and subsequently, the effectiveness of your customer service initiatives, is to match your communication to your customer. Linguistics studies have shown that it’s easier to build rapport when you notice and adjust your own speech to patterns and rhythms used by the other person. If their language is generally faster, try adjusting your patterns to approximate theirs. Paying attention to someone’s rate of speech and how often they pause can actually help you build a relationship with your customer.

Similarly, matching communication channels to your prospects and residents can help build trust. It seems simple, but paying attention to how someone has contacted you can help you decide the best way to respond. For example, if a prospect sends an email to your property asking for information, it’s safe to infer that they’d prefer to receive a response by email rather than by telephone. A resident that leaves a voicemail with a maintenance request would probably feel better getting a phone call confirmation than a simple email notification. Matching communications channels to your customers’ preference demonstrates that you’re paying attention and shows respect for their choices.

In an increasingly technological age, when communications choices abound, this may require a little flexibility on your part. Recent surveys published by Satisfacts.com show that resident preferences can change rapidly. For example, within the last year, residents indicating that they preferred to be contacted by text message rose from practically none to ten percent of responders. And the vast majority of renters still prefer to be contacted on their cell phone or by email.

How do you keep up? It may mean implementing systems that let you respond easily to SMS text, instant messaging, or email communications as well as the more traditional phone messages. Technologies exist that can not only facilitate sending voice, text, and email messages, as well as tracking the sources of customer communications. Finding the right tools can make the job much easier.

It certainly will require you to establish basic guidelines for your staff and train them thoroughly. For example, should abbreviations be used when responding to a resident’s text (i.e., thnx 4 ur txt) or not? What deadlines are established for responding to emails, phone messages, or texts? Same day? 24 hours? Take a good look at your situation and set appropriate standards. Then make sure that everyone knows what they are.

This brings us to the last point. Improving customer service through more effective communications with prospects and residents is founded in good communication with personnel. Keeping your ears open to ideas from the people on the front lines can help you find efficiencies, and allows your staff to be personally invested in the processes that can make you more profitable. They are, after all, the ones that are actually in contact with your revenue stream. Remember, we all have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

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