3 Best Practices for Handling Facility Complaints

Complaints range from legitimate and important to somewhat irritating to downright silly. No matter what you think of them, here are three strategies for dealing with them.

By Greg Zimmerman, senior contributing editor  

If you’ve been following along with FacilitiesNet’s ongoing facility occupant complaints series, you’ll recognize that there are frequent concerns from occupants that really have nothing to do with facility management. They’re pretty amusing for sure, and it’s tempting when you’re receiving complaints about calcified dog poop and bad-tasting coffee supplements to dismiss them and the occupant who submitted them as crazy. But it’s important to remember that customer service is a crucial, though often patience-trying, part of the facility management profession. In cases where complaints are out of your purview, it’s important to assure the occupant that their complaint – no matter how stupid – will be passed on to the appropriate department. The occupant just wants to know that they are being heard, in most cases. 

But how do you handle complaints that definitely do fall within the realm of facility management? No matter how good you are at your job, there are going to be complaints. It’s inevitable. The perception of the frazzled facility manager constantly answering hot and cold calls (sometimes for occupants sitting right next to each other) sadly isn’t too far off. In order to avoid literally spending your entire day dealing with complaints, it’s important to have a system in place that can either automate these complaints to work orders or delegate them to some of your staff. How do you do it? Here are three best practices for dealing with facility complaints. 

  • 1.) Be Visible – Thankfully, the notion of the old mop’n’bucket maintenance guy holed up in his basement lair, only emerging to empty a trash can once a day, is going the way of the dinosaurs. These days, facility managers are engaged, active participants in the leadership of an organization. With that elevated position comes greater responsibility. One of the most important pieces of advice experts give to new facility managers is simply to be visible. That means being visible not just to upper management but also to occupants. When people in the facility know you, they’re more likely to treat your time and energy with respect. Therefore, when occupants do have legitimate issues, they can bring them to your attention without any of the added animosity that anonymity can sometimes bring. If you’re just an anonymous name on the company org chart, or the occupants in the facility never see you or know who you are, they’re definitely more apt to respond to an inconvenience like space that’s uncomfortably warm or the bathroom being out of paper towels, with anger rather than patience. That goes both ways, as well: When you know the people who have an issue in your facility, you can respond to the complaint as if you’re fixing a problem for a friend or neighbor. 
  • 2.) Service Automation – One the ways to deal with complaints most efficiently is to automate the process. You're likely familiar with Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS). These systems have been available for years, and are getting ever-more sophisticated, as they’re being tied into IoT devices and can predict maintenance needs (no more complaints about towels being out – the CMMS will tell you when it’s running low). These systems can be used to respond quickly to complaints as well, automatically creating work orders or action items when an occupant registers a complaint. You can also sift through these items, and either delegate them as work orders to staff, or respond in another way.  
  • 3.) Make Sure to Close the Loop – One of the worst things you can do in regards to complaints, no matter how silly they seem, is to ignore them. Occupants always want to know that their voices are being heard, so no matter the “legitimacy” of a complaint, it’s important to communicate with the occupant before, during, and after the work to make sure their concern is met. Closing the loop on a complaint is a great opportunity to further your positive relationship with occupants, as well. Send out a post-work evaluation to ask the occupant how you did or how you can do better.  

Greg Zimmerman is senior contributor editor for the facility group, which including FacilitiesNet.com and Building Operating Management magazine. He has more than 19 years’ experience writing about facility issues. 

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  posted on 4/3/2023   Article Use Policy

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