Have you ever had a chronic issue that simply couldn’t be resolved in a cost effective manner? In fact, maybe there isn’t any sort of solution at all. What do you do – especially if the situation has a negative impact on customer satisfaction? Here’s an example of what we encountered on one of our apartment communities. In this particular case, there is an issue with our water supply lines. Very simply – they break a lot. When this happens, apartments flood; sheetrock is damaged; carpet is destroyed, and residents are inconvenienced. We’ve spent huge sums of money to clean up the aftermath and have looked for every way possible to prevent the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, the piping material is flawed and short of re-piping the property, there isn’t another solution. And re-piping could run into the millions of dollars, so it’s just not an option.
The impact that this issue has had on our team and our residents has been profound. We’ve lost staff over this problem. A number of residents have moved out. Our team is weary of dealing with a challenge they cannot solve. Unfortunately there’s a lot of negativity on display among our team members. This negative energy feeds on itself and everyone holds their breath each day hoping that the phone doesn’t ring with more bad news.
But all is not lost because there is something we can do. We can (and must) take a chronic situation like our pipe-break dilemma and turn it into a positive. We accept the fact that we are going to have pipes break from time-to-time. Acceptance is the first step in this process. For far too long we’ve operated in a state of denial. But this doesn’t have to be. Knowing that this problem will persist, we next amass as much data as we can generate and continually pore over it, looking for patterns or any other key elements that might help us identify where the next break might happen. Is there a particular location in the piping runs where most breaks occur? Does temperature or water pressure play a role? We obviously focus on higher level units first since breaks on those floors can wreak more havoc than a first floor apartment. Ultimately we take whatever proactive steps we can to prevent the breaks – even to the extent of making some repairs before a break occurs.
The next part of this turn-the-negative-into-a-positive process can actually be fun. We develop a comprehensive plan for how we are going to create a wonderful experience for our residents when a pipe breaks and their apartment floods. Sounds crazy – right? How could anyone think wet carpet and water coming through the ceiling is a “wonderful experience?” But here’s how we make it happen. We mobilize our clean-up and repair team that is highly trained to deal with issues like this. We communicate clearly and often. We do everything in our power to minimize the inconvenience to the resident. Knowing that we are going to have a certain vacancy factor built into our financial model, we take a few vacant apartments and fully furnish and equip them with all of the comforts of home. When a flood occurs, our team quickly moves clothing and other necessary items for the resident(s) affected, into one of the furnished units. We treat them to a nice dinner out and provide them with gift baskets. Perhaps we’ll even offer them movie tickets or send them to an amusement park. In other words, we try to create a positive experience for them that they might not otherwise enjoy. Meanwhile, our team is working fast and furiously to repair the leak, clean and sanitize the carpet, repair the sheetrock and put the apartment back the way it was before the flood. Then, as quickly as possible, we move the resident back into their original apartment. And I can’t emphasize enough the need for clear and constant communications.
Probably the most critical aspect of dealing with chronic problems like I’ve described is the mindset of the team. If the attitude is negative – we’re doomed from the start. When we look for creative ways to “wow” the customer, we can create goodwill AND it can be exciting and stimulating for our team. No, the problem doesn’t go away and coping with it may still be costly. But when our team finds a way to turn a negative into a positive for the customer – we will experience even greater levels of success than we might have otherwise.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.