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Customer Service

Customer service is a non-negotiable in the restaurant business. If customers are not taken care of at their local McDonald’s, they will go across the street and eat at Burger King, A & W, Quiznos, or a host of other fast food restaurants.

Customer service is a non-negotiable in the restaurant business.   If customers are not taken care of at their local McDonald’s, they will go across the street and eat at Burger King, A & W, Quiznos, or a host of other fast food restaurants.   It is imperative for these organizations to take care of their customers, or they will leave and go somewhere else.   The same does not go for the strata condominium.   If a resident or owner is not happy with the service they receive from staff in their strata condominium, there are no viable, or easy options.  Unless the resident is a strata council member, their concerns may not only never be heard, but the cause of the poor customer service would probably remain unchanged.

How would a normal property manager deal with a customer service complaint?   It is impossible, and unfair to generalize but we can discuss the environment and circumstances a property manager must deal with.   First, the property manager has no obligation to speak with a resident.   He can inform them to speak with their owner.   This is a smart tactic for him, as he can reduce his workload, stall the complaint, and possibly even dissuade the resident from having to go through ‘another hoop’.

Second, the property manager is only required to be in the building for the monthly strata meeting.   All other communications can be dealt with by email.   This is an impersonal and easy way for the property manager to deal with the complaint.  A typical strata property manager with a large portfolio may field 100 emails per day.   Not a great deal of time and concentration can be spent on any one issue otherwise the property manager would quickly fall behind.   From a time management perspective, it just makes sense to reply with a “we’ll look into it” but the issue can easily get forgotten.   Sitting in a office far away from the building, the property manager cannot know the implications on the culture of a strata condominium complex when a complaint does not get dealt with.

An easy way for the property manager to deal with a customer service complaint is to fire the staff.   Many concierge staff are hired through a third party.   This eliminates the liability of the strata corporation, and the necessary administration that hiring employees requires.   It requires little investment on behalf of the property manager, and it may seem a negligible loss to him.

But what causes a staff member to have poor customer service abilities in the first place?   The reasons are varied, although a look into what it’s like to work in a strata condominium building can help shed some light on the problem.  The specific challenges of working in a strata corporation can be incredibly stressful, frustrating, and disappointing for a staff member who wants to make a difference for their residents.

For instance, the concierge staff member must do the bidding of  their immediate supervisor.  Unless this supervisor has an in-depth understanding of strata, building maintenance, and a personal relationship with the property manager, the staff member’s knowledge will be limited as well.  This classic bottleneck of information, power and responsibility is the crux of the reason they are often ineffective in helping residents with their problems.  These staff members are on a ‘need to know’ basis, so they are often unsure of what to do.  It is also under the guise that from a legal standpoint, only the property manager can deal with any issues.

So, most complaints are forwarded to the property manager, and the circle of ineffectiveness begins.   The resident then gets angry because their problems aren’t getting solved and it is easiest for them to take it out on the staff member who is paid to sit there at the desk.   The irony is that he is unable to do anything about it for fear that his supervisor, or property manager will fire him, or reprimand him for going above his duties.   He is also not given the information and authority to confidently make decisions that can benefit residents.

The residents and owners soon become the enemy, and the concierge staff is left in a difficult situation.

It is necessary to create a culture of communication and trust between the on-site staff, the property manager, and the residents/owners.   Often the concierge is the only staff member from 5 pm to 8 am and therefore can hold the key to exceptional customer service – but only if he is given the power, authority, and responsibility to do it.