Have you ever had a problem with a company or product and found yourself ranting on and on to whomever you could find to listen to you? Then, when you’d get the attention you feel you deserved have you ever found yourself turning from a disgruntled client into a reference for the organization? Why is that? It’s active, participatory “listening” and it makes all the difference.
Officing Today recently ran an article about the importance of business center owners listening to your clients. Of course it is relatively easy when things are going well. But what about when there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed? The last thing you may feel like doing is listening, yet studies have shown that by actively listening and demonstrating a desire to improve, even agitated clients can be transformed into strong, lifelong allies.
Start by Responding Quickly (when possible)
If tenants begin telling you the air conditioning is set too low or too high, make an adjustment. If tenants don’t like the coffee, change it. Those are relatively simple fixes and should be rectified quickly whenever possible.
However some complaints are more complex and are not always communicated diplomatically. You may have intended to act on a complaint and, given the day to day distractions of conducting business, inadvertently not lived up to your promises. Broken promises can become a breeding ground of discontent and resentment.
How should you respond to tenants who get personal with their complaints? “You have to teach your managers not to take complaints personally. Stay cool and calm, and see if you can find a win-win situation,” says Harris Plotkin, founder of the Plotkin Group, a management consultant firm in Carlsbad, Calif. “Generally, there’s a way if you listen.”
Experts agree that the best way to handle complaints is to listen to the customer vent the problem. If they begin listing off a wide range of issues, you may even want to take notes. Then move through your list, repeating each issue and tell them what you can do to fix them.
Even if you don’t have the power to help that tenant – it may very well be a building issue over which you have no control – you always want to tell them what you can do.
The bottom line: It’s very important to let your tenants know you are willing to help them, even if that way is just passing on that information to someone else who can make a decision.
Giving Tenants Your EAR
Listening to complaints requires a special “EAR” because there is often an emotional component involved. EAR is an acronym that stands for Empathize with the questioner, Acknowledge their point, and Respond.
“Solving the problem is only part of the problem,” Craig Harrison, a Berkeley, Calif.-based motivational speaker who specializes in communication and customer service. “People want to be recognized and you have to give them their due as human beings.”
Furthermore, solving problems together with your tenants actually strengthens the relationship. You are able to demonstrate how you tackle issues and that creates an atmosphere of trust. But it starts with understanding each tenant and how they want to communicate with you.
“We want to try to gauge their style of communication. They may talk fast or slow. They may speak descriptively or in a summary fashion,” says Harrison. “So we want to be attentive to that style because that will tell us something about how we have to mentally prepare to listen.”
Here are some additional tips for good listening to try next time you find yourself confronted by a less than satisfied tenant:
1. Keep eye contact
2. Face the person speaking to you at all times.
3. Focus intently on what’s being said.
4. Don’t allow outside distractions from e-mail, phone or people.
5. Keep an open mind.
6. Don’t interrupt.
7. Repeat what was said back to the speaker to make sure you understand.
Listening is an integral part of problem solving. Once you have given them your ear, make a list of the issues and steps towards solving them. A problem solved is an indication to your tenant that you take their business seriously and that you will likely continue to do so. You have, in effect, created an informal understanding or “contract” between management and your client and have earned their trust. Listening and problem solving go hand in hand. They also cement a strong relationship that will continue to build and prosper.
What other tips can you recommend to help keep your clients happy in the workplace?