The Customer-Service Gap
March 1, 2003
“A customer’s satisfaction is the gap between what the customer expects and what she gets. Service below her expectations makes her dissatisfied–and the greater the gap, the greater her dissatisfaction.” — Harvey Beckwith from Selling the Invisible
What do your customers, tenants, expect from you as their landlord? If you or your managers, as many large apartment complexes and management companies do, provided a list of services when your tenants applied to rent from you, then they definitely will expect that from you. And, if you expect any kind of customer satisfaction, you’d darned well better provide it—and then some. Those services may have been the deciding factor for them renting from you rather than the landlord down the street.
If you don’t sell applicants with a list of services, they still have expectations. Some of them you know already, others you will have to ask about. Which ones do you know already?
One, they expect you to respond to their concerns. If they call with any concern or complaint, they expect you to do something about it. You have to decide what the appropriate response is. If it is something broken, the appropriate response is to fix it. If it is a loud neighbor, the appropriate response is to look into the complaint and get back to the tenant with a resolution.
Two, they expect to be told about things that will affect their homes. Those might be planned renovations, painting, roofing, anything that will or has the potential to disturb them.
Well, duh, that’s just basic stuff. Every landlord with a grain of sense would know to do that, even though some do it better than others.
But tenants also have “secret” expectations. They are secret because is that they have never told anyone, but sometimes they think “wouldn’t it be great if. . . .” They would also be more than happy to pass along what they think if someone asked them. Fulfilling these “secret” expectations is what will set you apart from the run-of-the-mill landlord and make your good tenants tell their good tenant friends about you.
I don’t know what those “secret” expectations are. Even if I did I wouldn’t tell you, because part of meeting and exceeding those secret expectations if actually finding out what they are. You do that by asking. When you ask you tell your tenants that you are interested in them and what they want in their homes.
No, some you can’t and won’t fulfill. You are not going to cut their rent in half; you are not going to pay for a complete redecoration of their house or apartment (probably); and you are not going to allow them to use their home as a kennel where they train attack pitbulls.
Lots more you can meet and exceed, though. And you won’t know what they are until you make the effort to ask.
What’s the best way to ask? A well-thought-out written survey will do the trick. Ask the usual questions about how well do they think you are doing your job as a landlord or manager with a way to rate each quality say from one to five. Then also leave space for comments.
Get them all, or as many as come, back, and tabulate the results. Do they think you’re doing a good job? Terrific, pat yourself on the back and keep it up. Did they check lots of “needs improvement” boxes? Terrific, now you know where you need to concentrate your efforts.
How about the comments? All of your tenants will have specific things they want to see improved or different. That means you have to address each individually to the best of your ability and in a way that does not destroy your bottom line.
When all is said and done, you will have narrowed to zero the gap between expectations and results. And if you’re really good, you’ll be on the plus side of results over expectations.