I’m always embarrassed when our marketing folks ask me to pen something on CRE best practices – largely because I’ve only spent a few years in CRE (way too many in B2B technology) and so, inevitably, I plagiarize the comments and thoughts of some of the clients and prospects I’ve met with recently. So, as I rarely included my citations correctly in college, I’m going to give my thanks and acknowledgement in advance to all of you reading this that recognize something stated below. It’s probably your secret. Sorry.

Good service, like good selling, starts with solid expectation management.

If you’re a tenant employee that wasn’t privy to the terms of the lease or other service agreements and you request a tenant service (such as a response to a hot/cold call) – how do you know when to expect your issue to be resolved? And if you’ve sat in an important meeting in an increasingly warm conference room, how might your desire to have the problem solved escalate? It seems simple, but the value of communicating the timeframe within which the tenant employee can expect resolution is a crucial determinant in tenant satisfaction. Without it, the tenant’s left with no idea as to whether the service you just delivered was late, on time or early – and without that context, you’ve created the risk of dissatisfaction when doing nothing wrong, or missing an opportunity to demonstrate above and beyond service. The crucial step in addressing this issue is when you communicate this expectation and, in my experience, it’s most successfully done at the moment the service request is made (whether online or via telephone).

Transparency trumps telephones.

For most call center agents that are managing tenant requests across multiple properties or regions, call wait times are the first indicator as to whether that tenant caller is going to start in a positive or negative state of mind. So calls received that are based upon tenants requesting the status of their current service issue/work order aren’t as productive as those spent recording and dispatching new work. Similarly, for tenant coordinators, time spent answering the “When will my technician be here?” question is time they could be using more effectively.

The other side of that coin is when – in the absence of any information – the tenant requestor’s  only option is to ask. And asking is, generally, a result of increasing impatience. Solving this problem is as straightforward as you’d imagine – being proactive and notifying the tenant of changes in status in real-time, or by providing access to a tenant portal that permits self-service access to the same status information. With the right proactive transparency and self-service capabilities, you’re effectively increasing the capacity of your call center and/or making your tenant coordinator more productive.

What gets measured gets done.

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What will you choose?

For most services we encounter as consumers, there’s always three dimensions to the service experience:

  1. The Service Level Agreement or Deadline (“When will the service be delivered?”)
  2. Service Quality (“Was the service performed to the requisite quality standard?”)
  3. Service Price (“How much did the service cost?”)

Without measures across all three dimensions, we’re getting an incomplete picture of how our service delivery program is performing and how it is being perceived by the tenant. We’ve all seen the “Good, Fast, Cheap” poster stating that you can pick any 2, right?

The reality of measuring across these three dimensions is complicated though. For instance, your brand (which is usually more a reflection of the property and your price or rent rates, rather than your company) really sets the tone for your tenants’ expectations:

FOR EXAMPLE: A Class A, downtown, hi-rise with beautiful vistas, underground parking, robust security services and great amenities will likely comprise a tenant base which requires a higher SLA and a higher quality expectation that their suburban Class B contemporaries. In fact, you will likely have differing “bars” for different tenants and for different types of service requests. As such, where you set the bar for all of these measures matters significantly, because these targets are how your team will begin to work and, ultimately, measure themselves.

The implication of this complexity is that it’s challenging to compare properties and manage across an entire portfolio – because your performance standards are different. So many clients begin to measure as deviations from the standard (reporting on exceptions to the standard) rather than using cumulative performance measures which are often less useful. The best performers that I speak with – those with exceptionally high SLA adherence and quality scores (coincidentally, also with premium rent rates for their markets) – are less concerned with the beautification of their data and more concerned with embedding their performance measures into their day-to-day culture and operations so they can prioritize appropriately, identify issues quickly and address them immediately.

When and how often you ask is as important as what you ask.

So how do we measure quality? Did I clean the floor well enough? Were the materials I used for the repair of a high enough standard? To be honest, neither of these last two questions matter.

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Take a Guess

It’s a lot like asking which of these contains salt and which contains pepper.

It doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what the guy filling the shakers thought. Similarly, what matters when measuring quality is the tenant’s perception, not our own. To understand that, we’ve got to embed a feedback loop into our service delivery program. Simply put, that means asking the question after the service has been performed.

Let’s first be clear on the “when you ask” aspect to this section. When I say you should solicit feedback after the service is performed, I mean immediately. The longer the period between service delivery and feedback opportunity, the less likely you’ll receive a response and, importantly, the less likely you are to receive their honest and visceral response to the actual work you just delivered. Ideally, you want the feedback loop to commence automatically upon work completion.

I’ve spoken to a number of clients about the ‘how often’ to ask the question and it does vary based upon your tenant’s service request submission model. I know that sounds complicated, but it really boils down to the volume of service requests made by an individual. The more they submit (as an individual) then the frequency with which you can/should ask for feedback should be dialed back. It’s an important consideration, because too many work completed surveys to the same person is both an irritant to the individual and also presents the opportunity for feedback to be inappropriately tagged to the wrong issue.

The primary factor that will influence the individual’s service request volume is whether every tenant employee is able to submit requests or whether the tenant funnels requests via an office manager or other employee. As a general rule, if all employees (or many) can submit requests, the frequency for feedback can be dialed to a 1:1 ratio for each request because the load is spread thinly across the tenant employee community. For a funneled tenant submission model (via the office manager), the frequency will be dialed out based upon the total work order volume anticipated on a daily basis, divided by the number of authorized requestor tenant employees. I frequently hear of high work order volume anchor tenants with a funneled submission model having their feedback frequency dialed to 1:5 or 1:10 – 1 request for feedback every 5 or 10 work orders.

Now onto the “what to ask” question. Feedback is like a drug – once you get some, you want more. The problem, however, is that the more you ask, the less you get. When I visit my car dealership, I’m going to get a survey via email within 48 hours of my visit. I’ve had a few of these now and I know that, when I open it, it’s going to take me 10 minutes. Ugh. At this point, if I get that email on my phone while I’m doing something else, I usually just delete it. You may get some completions on a tenant’s first request if you’ve a lengthy list of questions requiring thoughtful and considered responses, but your response rate will drop off precipitously for their second and subsequent requests. And that decline is no good if you’re trying to measure your service quality over time.

The best advice I’ve heard is to keep your questions to the bare minimum – did we do “good, ok, or poorly” and if they rate you as anything except good, ask, “Why?” Clients adopting such a simple approach generally realize the largest response rates and receive consistent repeated feedback over time from the same tenant community.

Wrapping Up

So, if you’re looking for the simple things that make a big impact in the service delivery approach of many of our clients, think about the things that they tell me have worked:

1) Communicate the right expectation to the requestor at the time of the request. Otherwise they’ll judge you against their own.

2) Make it easy for the requestor to know what the status of their request is. Tell them proactively where possible.

3) Create standards for your service delivery program that are consistent with your building’s brand and rental rates. Assess your performance against the resulting SLAs and quality benchmarks that would be expected by tenants that want to be in this type of property. And act operate to these standards, don’t just report on them.

4) Implement a feedback loop. Ask immediately work is completed. Don’t ask too often. Don’t ask too much.