EPMEPM: Customer Service

Tennis or Paintball?

COMMUNICATION WITH clients is key to succeeding in our industry, as we have all heard. However, many workshops and seminars fail to give us critical information on what to say within the conversation to achieve the goal, or how to get our message across effectively. Rebecca Fogarty explains how to serve up a great dialogue.

WE HAVE BEEN told to communicate often, make our statements clear, diarise the conversation and so on. Just communicating your agenda is not sufficient.

A good conversation ensures the second party not only understands you but comes away from the encounter feeling they have been heard, been informed, and ultimately trust you and your guidance.

Effective communication should be the key, but how do you communicate effectively?

Through my many years as a property manager and team leader, I have often compared the art of conversation to either a tennis match or paintball.

Like a tennis match, conversation is a volley of words put together to serve to your opponent or client while listening and preparing for their return sentence. There should be a good flow of to-ing and fro-ing, with each party contributing to the conversation.

First you start with the opening serve: ‘Good morning, Mr Smith, it’s Rebecca here from Blackbird and Finch. Can you spare a few minutes for me?’

The serve sets up the tone – I acknowledge that he is busy, but what I have to say is important.

The client returns the serve: ‘Of course, Rebecca, what do you need?’

The second hit is a gentle set-up of what’s coming: ‘Well, I have some concerns about the tenant in John Street.’

Mr Smith returns the set-up: ‘Oh no, what’s going on?’

So now we have a dialogue. The client is listening.

We can then enter into the real information, such as: ‘The tenant has not responded to any messages’, ‘The tenant’s inspection was not satisfactory’, ‘There is a maintenance issue’, or whatever.

The client then has the opportunity to ask any questions or make a statement: ‘OK, that’s not good’ or ‘How did that happen?’

We can then ‘run to the net’ and get to why we are calling – we have a problem, we have a solution but we need an instruction.

‘Mr Smith, based on the tenant’s previous history, it’s my recommendation to serve a breach notice at this point then re-evaluate the situation in seven days…..’ or ‘I do have a strategy in place that involves….’ or ‘I have consulted the team and believe the process moving forward should be…’

Quite often the client is satisfied with your plan of action and lets the ball go through. ‘Thanks so much, I agree with your plan. Let me know how it goes.’

A great tennis match.

A good conversation ensures the second party not only understands you but comes away from the encounter feeling they have been listened to.

Of course the structure of the game can be changed to suit your client’s personality type. If they are an emotionally connected owner you may choose a softer opening serve, starting with ‘How are you today?’ or asking about them in some way.

Assertive owners may require the solution before the problem to avoid statements like, ‘What do I pay you for?’ or ‘How would I know? – You’re the expert!’ Statements like this mean you have lost the game.

Using a solution-based conversation is just about changing the serves around. ‘Mr Smith, there is a concern with the tenant. I have a possible solution that I wanted to run past you’ or ‘Mr Smith, there is an issue with your property and I believe I have it sorted. I just wanted to make sure you are comfortable with my plan.’

Either way, a good conversation will involve communication from both parties.

Paintball, on the other hand, goes like this.

‘Hi, Mr Smith, Rebecca here from Blackbird and Finch. Just calling about the tenant in John Street. It looks like he is behind in rent again. Do you want me to serve a breach notice?’

Suddenly the client is hit with all of this information in one splatter, not being able to ready himself for a response or even listen correctly the first time. The client feels pushed into the decision and the conversation is not an engaging experience.

Are you playing tennis or paintball?

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Rebecca Fogarty

With over 12 years in property management, Rebecca Fogarty is Co-Founder and Director of new boutique agency Blackbird and Finch.