Normal left montage imageNormal middle montage imageNormal right montage image

Forbes: Poor Customer Experience? Blame It On The Boss

December 18, 2015

As published in Forbes.

My husband and I just changed apartments in New York City – and it was all about the customer experience. Our old and new apartments are only a few blocks apart, and are roughly equivalent in size, cost and amenities.  We finally just got tired of dealing with a management company that seemed to consider us only as a source of income and operated to serve their own convenience rather than ours.

Example #1: When we were moving out of our old apartment, having lived there for seven years, the rental office informed us that we’d be charged for repainting, since the walls weren’t white (we had painted them a soft yellow). It took a couple of weeks to convince them this wasn’t reasonable, since they were going to have to repaint anyway, and painting over the light color wouldn’t entail extra work.  In contrast, the folks at the new apartment called to let us know that the paint we’d ordered had arrived, and asked us if we’d like to have them paint the apartment for us.  We hadn’t yet even signed the lease.  Delighted, we said yes – and they did a great job.

Example #2: The same woman had cleaned our previous apartment bi-weekly throughout the whole time we lived there.  Every three months for seven years, we had to remember to put her on our access list, or she wouldn’t be able to get into the apartment.  They had a policy that no one could be put on permanent access…not even our kids, let alone our cleaning person.  At the new apartment, when we asked if we’d be able to put our housekeeper and our kids on an “always OK to enter” list, the guy at the front desk looked at us, puzzled, and said, “Of course. It’s your apartment.  You tell us to let in whoever you want.”  Exactly!!

I could go on and on – but you get the point.  The policies and people at our new place are without exception focused on making our experience better and easier; at the old place, we always felt as though they considered us a necessary evil.

I’ve come to believe that, in most organizations, the customer experience starts at the top, with the senior executives of the company.  Who they are as leaders and people, how they treat their employees, what they say and do personally regarding the customer – all these things end up on the front line where employees interact with customers. To test my theory, I did a little investigation into the management companies in charge of our two apartment buildings.  Our old building (and the management company there shall remain nameless – what I found out about them makes me feel hesitant about putting anything honestly critical about them in print) has had a history of tenant difficulties, and the two partners recently split, citing “need for efficiencies” and other vague rationales. A look at their website shows no mention of the experience they hope to create for their customers.

In contrast, the partners of our new management company seem to like and respect one another, and have worked together for over 25 years. Their website focuses on the experience they hope to create for their residents, and what they do to make sure that happens. Tom Bozzuto, the founder, has a blog on the site that seems to indicate that he’s a kind, honorable, thoughtful human being who cares about other people. I also watched a 4-minute video the folks at Bozzuto put together to celebrate their 25th anniversary a few years ago, and my impression – of a company that cares about its employees and its customers, and takes pride in demonstrating that care in practical ways – was reinforced.

If what I believe is true, and great customer experience starts with the senior executives of a company, who they are and how they speak and act, then if those executives can look to themselves when customers are unhappy, vs. immediately blaming their frontline employees, they’re much more likely to be able to improve their customers’ experience. Recently, a client company of ours began collecting NPS (Net Promoter Score) data from their customers – and the results were disappointing. In a meeting of the senior executives, they started out by talking about all the things their front line people were doing wrong. I encouraged them to investigate themselves first, and to be honest about how their beliefs, policies and actions – toward each other, their employees, and their customers – might be at the heart of the problem. They were resistant to begin with, but as soon as they started acknowledging their own contributions, the whole tenor of the conversation changed – from accusation and frustration to useful problem-solving — and they started to take steps that would change their relationship with their customers.