Is the customer really always right?

Geoff Roberts
Geoff Roberts | 4 min. read
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Published on February 22, 2010

The customer is always right. Chances are, you’ve heard (and perhaps even doled out) this bit of advice many times over your property management career. Obviously, there’s a lot to be said for applying this philosophy to your own business dealings. Particularly in an age of automated electronic service, there is so much to be said for making each of your clients feel as though they are special and well cared for.

The bottom line is that, these days, good, attentive customer service is very much the exception rather than the rule. Which is great, great news for property managers who find themselves in one of the few high-touch industries where it’s still possible to actually provide one-on-one, memorable customer service.

That’s the good news.

More difficult is the fact that, though property management may be a high-touch industry that affords you the opportunity to make an impact on your clients, chances are when it comes to customers, you’re juggling a whole lot of them at once. Not only are you contending with the task of keeping the property owners that sign your checks happy but, in many ways, tenants are also your customers. Which means, depending upon your situation, you may have many, many customers to please. And sometimes, the best interests of your tenants and property owners simply don’t align. So what exactly are you supposed to do when situations like these arise? After all, you need to protect your property owner’s assets, but you will ultimately fail your property owner if you are unable to balance his best interests with those of his tenants, ultimately resulting in increased vacancy rates and a loss of rental income.

All of this is to say that, especially in property management, it’s often impossible for every customer to be right, if being right implies that each customer always gets exactly what she asks for. What this does not mean, however, is that every customer can’t be a happy one.

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Let’s look at this in practice. Say you have a long-term tenant who is adamant that you cut down a tree outside of his window that’s blocking his view of the park across the street. You know that your property owner will not want the tree to come down because not only does it aesthetically enhance the property and lower energy costs by providing shade, but it would also cost thousands of dollars to pull up the tree. On the other hand, you also know that the property owner would be extremely displeased to lose a long-term, reliable tenant—not to mention the steady rental income that he represents.

In the end, you know that the tree must stay, but you must also find a way to keep your tenant happy and, most importantly, to keep him in your property owner’s unit. So while your tenant (your customer in this scenario) can’t necessarily get his way, you can still let him think that he’s right by executing the following strategy:

  1. Carefully listen to your tenant’s concerns and argument in a sympathetic manner.
  2. Let your tenant know which points you agree with him about (i.e., “You’re right. It’s a shame that beautiful view is obstructed.”)
  3. Explain in a straightforward manner why you are unable to resolve the tenant’s concern in the exact way he proposes.
  4. Offer to meet the tenant half-way (for example, propose that some of the trees branches are cut back in order to afford him a more clear view of the park across the street).

In the end, most customers will be more concerned with feeling their needs and concerns are being taken seriously and attended to than that their precise desired outcome is met. And in this business, that is the most crucial part of customer service: Ensuring that each customer  feels he or she is right … even when they’re not.

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Geoff Roberts

Geoff is a marketer, surfer, musician, and writer. He lives in San Diego, CA.

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