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by Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC

e have all been customers at one time or other, and have all experienced the full range of customer service - from totally abhorrent to the most unusual "goes beyond" type.

When you think about it, there is no question as to which we prefer, is there? And - if you give it a little bit more thought - there is really no question about what kind we should give to our customers, is there?

The questions then become only two:

1. What can we do so that our customers interpret it as providing that "goes beyond" level of service?

2. Who are our customers?

Probably makes more sense to look at the second question first - since you can't possible know what type of service you are providing unless you know to whom you are providing it!

Robert Cavett said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." When you think of your customers, ask yourself if you have shown them how much you care, or just how much you know.

If you are a Community Staff Employee, you may think your customers are pretty clear cut - the residents, right? And you would be right, though not totally. Your customers are also prospective residents, friends of residents, vendors, suppliers, volunteers, and other persons in the civic groups and surrounding areas.

As a Community Manager, your customers not only include all of the above, but also your employees. That's right - your employees are your customers! And, with a little customer service thrown their way, you just may be surprised how well they respond. When you show your employees how to take care of a customer by taking care of them, they will begin to take care of your customers the way you have shown them.

If you are from a Regional Manager level or home office staff, your customers are - you guessed it - all of the above customers - PLUS the Community Managers! What a novel idea for some companies - that the Community Managers are also customers!

When a Community Manager is viewed by the Regional Supervisor and Home Office Staff as a customer it suddenly becomes important to make them happy, to satisfy their needs, to ask for their input, and to listen when they talk.

And, since we are all now viewed as a customer by someone, we all will be on the receiving end of better customer service - and consequently will give better customer service to our customers.

What is this thing called "better customer service"? Most every company calls it something different; I just call it doing things right. Do what the customer expects - and more.

Martin Newby Management of Sarasota, Florida, believes in it. They train their employees to take "ownership" of a problem and solve it - with plenty of customer communication along the way.

Chateau Communities, Inc., believes in it. At one of their annual manager's meetings in Denver, the Regional Managers served dinner to the Community Managers to demonstrate the level of service they believe in providing.

United Mobile Homes, Inc., believes in customer service to the nth degree. During recent flooding in Tennessee, a Regional Vice President was wading through water, right beside the Community Manager and staff, helping residents out of their homes.

Do more than your residents expect you to do - before they expect it to be done. Watch the surprise on their faces. They will truly appreciate it. And, contrary to the opinions voiced by some naysayers, appreciative customers will not continue to harass you with nit-picky things just to see if you will go "above and beyond" again. Ask the staff at some of the companies listed above - or better yet, try it yourself on your own customers!

"Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC, has been a hands-on Community Manager for over 16 years. She managed communities from 200 sites in size up to over 800 sites. In 1996, she founded Chrissy Jackson Seminars, A Division of Steiner & Associates in Tampa, Florida. Chrissy currently provides property management and sales training to state association conventions and private companies. She is also recognized as a nationally published author with several publications currently on the market.

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