By Marc Gittleman & Kayce Hawk
The New Year typically brings many resolutions, many focused on “doing better at ______.” This is a natural time to discuss a primary goal of many enterprises: providing better customer service. Whatever you call it: satisfaction, experience, support, you know it when you experience it. Most strive to provide it, and everyone appreciates it when they receive it.
Common sense tells us better customer service creates more loyal customers willing to pay a premium. We inherently know this to be true; just think of how much you paid for your iPhone or how Amazon changed buying habits, or why you do not always fly on the lowest cost airline. Virgin America is a great example. Virgin successfully combines great service with a valuable product to drive their brand equity. These examples have high customer satisfaction rankings. You expect them to be popular, expensive, or both. You expect these companies to be profitable due in part to their efforts to provide great service. These companies are not always the lowest cost, but have driven their brand based on customer loyalty and excellent service. Anyone who has flown Virgin knows they offer a unique product and customer experience that no other airline offers.
Here is where common sense gets dumped on its head. Some of the most profitable, highly valued, or otherwise very popular (market penetration/number of customers) companies have some of the worst customer service metrics: Charter's stock is $296 as I write this, yet their three primary business lines, phone, internet and cable tv, all have abysmal customer service ratings. According to The American Customer Service Satisfaction Index, Charter is not alone....Comcast, Cox, United Airlines, AT&T, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Aetna, the list goes on.... have some of the worst ratings in their respective lines of business, and many are consistently declining, yet are more and more profitable.
Just as bad customer service clearly does not doom a business to failure, great customer service does not guarantee success. The lesson we learn from this is: great customer service is a choice, a philosophy about choices we make in running our businesses, and a part of a broader success strategy.
In the list of places we spend a great deal of our time, I intentionally left out the office. Most of us who occupy commercial office space do not think of our office building as a place where customer service can or will happen, nor do we expect it. This is the crux of what guides us at Rising in our goal of Property Enhancement. The general state of commercial property management has lowered its own expectations, and in general, this has been accepted by tenants. We take issue with this, correct for it, enhance properties, create experiences, and drive property value.
Our goal is to change the expectation by demonstrating to our tenants that they should expect and receive first-class concierge-level customer service. Our success proves happy tenants are willing to pay higher rent for a premium experience, and typically renew their leases at higher rates.
Why we do what we do:
It's alarming that businesses only hear from 4% of their dissatisfied customers and it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. How do managers reach unhappy non-complaining tenants? What happens to tenants that are unhappy but do not complain? At Rising, we strive to remove the triggers for dissatisfaction. Using the example of a tenant who is unhappy because their office is too hot: The cause of dissatisfaction is typically not the fact their office may be hot. Most tenants are rational, fair people. They understand stuff breaks and things need to be fixed. People get unhappy and mad when they feel they are not heard in combination with no action. Sometimes an issue cannot be fixed in 5 minutes. If a manager ignores emails and calls because they do not want to deal with an issue they can not fix immediately, they are guaranteeing themselves an angry tenant. The saying, “bad news does not get better with age,” is true. The non-communicative manager successfully converted an angry tenant to a dissatisfied tenant. Anger is an emotion. It passes. Dissatisfaction is a state of mind. One is much harder to rectify than the other.
How we do what we do:
We start from the mindset of “yes” not “no.” Rising tenants feel valued and heard. It is common for commercial office tenants to feel as though the landlord does not care about them; the industry often simply goes by the letter of the lease. Rising managers start with the tenant's need, review the lease, analyze ownership goals and are empowered to present multiple solutions to problems that satisfy the tenant's need while maintaining expected operation and income of the property. It is an individualized approach to customer service, not a one-size-fits-all.
At Rising, we know our success is largely driven by our tenant's satisfaction. Communication and the ability to respond to our tenants in a timely manner is imperative. However, customer satisfaction means much more than just being responsive. We proactively find ways we can make the lives of tenants and their visitors easier. Our entrepreneurial culture encourages our property management teams not only to find creative ways to resolve issues but also come up with innovative ways to connect with our tenants and maintain positive relationships. This relationship is the cornerstone of our concierge property management.
Effective communication starts with knowing your tenants. We understand every tenant's business is different and we manage each relationship in a meaningful way specific to each tenant. Communication can not merely be passive. Each property team executes a quarterly outreach program, contacting every tenant. Rising also trains all building staff as brand ambassadors to provide the highest level of customer service. Our engineering, security, janitorial and parking staff are typically the ones who tenants have the most frequent day to day interaction with, and our first opportunity to impress everyone every day. Not only does this make our tenants happier, it engenders long-term building employees who care about the tenants and the building.
The workplace today serves as much more than just a space to work. Your office is an extension of your lifestyle. Our tenants work hard at their businesses and have very hectic schedules as a result. The property management teams at each property examine the schedules, habits, and needs of each tenant and build programs to support the tenants. Whether we are bringing in healthy and convenient food options, on-site car wash services, pick-up and drop-off dry cleaning services, charity drives, or partnering up with nearby businesses to get the best money-saving offers for our tenants, our goal is to take at least one worry out of our tenants day, every day. These elements are valuable building amenities, resulting in higher rent, benefiting our investors. In addition to taking worries away, we provide an enriching experience through monthly events that go far beyond holiday parties and range from dog-day photo sessions to celebration of National Ice Cream, Doughnut, and Nacho Days.
We also want our tenants to experience being a part of the larger community. Every Rising-managed building dedicates itself to a specific non-profit cause. Community engagement starts with the building as a whole. We use technology to encourage social interaction. Not only do Rising Managed properties feature the fastest wifi in the world (400x faster than typical Starbucks upload speeds,) through 5x5 Telecom, we provide Connectible Square Footage: the ability for tenants to work on their own private secure wifi network, connected to their office network, at the same speed in their office, throughout many common areas of the property and surrounding public spaces.
How we keep our edge:
As Warren Buffet puts it, “Businesses are to delight customers, not merely satisfy them.” We want our tenants to be beyond satisfied with the services they receive from Rising. Our leasing and renewals demonstrate our philosophy is effective.
There is always room for improvement. Effective communication combined with our desire to take best-in-class properties and evolve them as tenants needs change creates an optimal environment to provide great service and delight customers.