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With all that goes into unpacking a complaint, facility managers might be tempted to just avoid addressing the issue altogether and hope it goes away. “Blatantly disregarded. Done,” said one survey respondent when asked for strategies in reducing frivolous complaints. Facility managers might be motivated by a variety of factors when choosing to ignore a complaint, says Tuveson. To be clear, ignoring complaints is not the norm in the industry, but it’s also not unheard of, especially if the complaint is deemed frivolous. Tuveson offers four reasons facility managers might “not respond in a way that’s in the best interest of their organization.”
First, the culture in the facility management organization might not be focused at all on customer service. Second, there might be no policy or procedure for addressing complaints. Instead of addressing the complaint, the FM might ignore it until someone significant enough in the parent organization starts complaining.
Third, acknowledging the complaint might be an embarrassment and the facility manager doesn’t want to personally look bad or make the team look bad. Lastly, the facility manager might worry there’s no budget or other resources to address complaints, and so avoids them.
“Most of those are perceptions,” Tuveson says. “It’s not uncommon to have a facility management or service organization saying no before they understand what (the issue is), because it looks like a Pandora’s box.”
But ignoring complaints is at best a short-term solution. “Ignoring the frivolous complaints does work in the short term, since the complaint comes off of today’s to-do list, but sometimes ignoring the problem won’t make it go away,” says Bob Cottrell, principal with Facilities Management Partners. “I found that often the best way to deal with it is not to deal with the frivolous complaint, instead deal with the frivolous complainer.” A nice chat, perhaps explaining why there is no solution, or that the solution is cost-prohibitive will go a long way, he says.
Schlenkermann says conversations with complainers often yield potential avenues for a resolution. “Any time that a user has a complaint, they usually come to the table with a suggestion on how to fix it,” he says, so these are modified and incorporated any time it makes sense. “Listening to their suggestions, incorporating their suggestions towards a resolution typically resolves a lot for us.”
Ignoring complaints can also inspire facility occupants to creative solutions. “If you ignore a complaint and it goes away, it’s probably because somebody fixed it and you won’t like their fix but you won’t know about it,” says Mazur-Stommen. “It’s like toddlers. If it’s too quiet, you should worry.
“Or they now hate you,” she says. “They just think about it every time they see you — there’s that guy that didn’t listen to me. Unaddressed complaints do not go away.”
And in the end, fielding complaints, frivolous or not, is just part of the job description. “We’re in a business where we’re providing service and our offices are the complaint department,” says Virts. “If you take it personally, if you’re not tuned up to handle people’s complaints and dissatisfactions, then you’re really in the wrong business.”
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Survey Results: How Facility Managers Handle Occupant Complaints