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How Facility Managers Can Handle Occupant Complaints

By Naomi Millán, Senior Editor - January 2014 - Facilities Management


Did you hear the one about the employee who noticed an ant on a raisin on the floor and instead of picking it up and throwing it away, left a note for the facility manager, who happened to be out of the office for three days? Guess how many ants he found when he got back? Or how about the one where it took an IAQ study to mollify the lawyer who insisted he could smell cigarette smoke? And then there’s that old chestnut: the toilet paper is too rough, or there’s not enough of it, or there’s too much of it. Knowing how to handle occupant complaints is a key skill for facility managers.

Of course you’ve heard these, and you probably have a stack of stories just like them. Maybe funnier. Maybe worse. But facility managers know that complaints are no joke. Attended to willy-nilly, they can multiply endlessly and suck up all your time. Ignored, they can breed resentment, even bigger complaints, and the perception that you’re not doing a very good job. Dealing with complaints, especially the frivolous kind, takes strategy, even cunning. They take a serious attention to customer service, some dabbling in psychology, and rock solid policies.

Recently Building Operating Management surveyed readers on complaints, asking you to share some of your stories and your best tricks. And boy did you respond — from baby geese wrangling to elevator scheduling to a whole bunch of stories we can’t quite print, here are some tales from the trenches. And, more importantly, strategies for handling complaints as productively as possible. (Click here to read some comical, frustrating, or otherwise memorable occupant complaints, as well as practical responses from facility managers.)

Kids in the Hall

Sometimes Larry Virts, local president of BOMA Corpus Christi and property manager with REOC San Antonio, says he feels more like a high school principal. He inherited a tenant mix with glaring differences in work and life styles. In one corner, a call center making up about 25 percent of the building’s population, filled with very young employees who are loud, brash, and often not used to working in a professional setting — at least as evidenced by their behavior. In the other corner, everybody else.

And worse, the call center was clogging the elevators. The tight scheduling typical of a call center was causing this set of employees to enter and leave the facility in large groups. Where other tenants had been always been able to get on an elevator in 40 seconds, now they were waiting two, three, or more minutes — an eternity. The complaints rolled in. When Virts hired on, he resolved to improve the situation.

“The tenant had assumed that complaints made about them were because of their appearance and their loudness, their unrestrained youth,” Virts says. “I think they just assumed that it was a personality clash, never realizing they could make it better.”

After first cultivating a relationship with the call center’s management, Virts says he approached them in a calm manner to find a reasonable solution to the issue. They were very receptive and a compromise was found in staggering start times and break times to relieve long waits for the elevator. It has helped the situation, some, he says.





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