EPMEPM: Productivity

The Lost Art of Conversation

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GOOD old-fashioned communication, the type where you get on the phone and talk to someone? Sophie Lyon discovers that, no matter where you go now, actually having a conversation about anything is almost impossible.

I bought a car recently and decided against one dealer because she continuously sent me text messages.

I may be old-fashioned but, if I’m about to buy a car from you, I think you can do a little more than send me an SMS. She would respond to my phone messages that way, rather than call me. We’re all busy, but that said to me that she was too busy to deal with me directly, so she didn’t get to deal with me at all. More to the point, she never asked me how I wanted to be contacted. Some clients may love an SMS; some (like me) hate them.

Clients who give us their properties to lease usually have a substantial emotional investment in the process. I’d even go as far as to suggest that the majority of owners fall into the ‘over-40s’ bracket, who may have embraced technology and enjoy an emoji or two, but they still want a human element in these substantial and emotional transactions.

Property management has become more and more litigious over the years, so every manager warns their team to ‘get the owner’s instructions in writing’ or ‘confirm it all in writing’ to cover ourselves. My theory is that, over the years, this has morphed into email being the default contact. Rather than have the conversation with an owner, we email them, they email back, we email again, they respond… It’s like tennis and it actually takes longer than having a conversation and then confirming it back with the client.

Building great, solid, business associations comes from building a relationship first, and the best way to do that is by talking or meeting with them in the office or at the property. Face to face is the best way to bond with someone. You become human, a face to a name.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule – clients who are overseas and in different time zones, for example – but in most cases there is an overlapping time when you are both available. In this case, employ some more technology: Skype!

I’ve had more than one person cringe when I suggest this, but if we are happy to walk into reception and have a conversation with someone who has come in to see us, why are we worried about Skype? Maybe just make sure you are in the corner of the room so no one can wander into frame… oh, the endless possibilities of what could go wrong! But what could go right? The client feeling special, developing a relationship by being human, building respect and trust because you are prepared to go the extra mile; it costs you nothing but impresses the client.

There is so much that has developed with technology. Don’t laugh, but in my first role in real estate I didn’t have a computer, rents were paid in cash and noted on a card and every owner got a cheque.  There are plenty of things I have been happy to leave behind over the years as innovation came through (Kalamazoo, anyone?) but, although it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, there are also things that have fallen away that have made us a little more impersonal, a little more distanced. A great quote I heard some time ago is “Never let technology get in the way of your humanity”.

There have definitely been times over the years when a bit of distance from certain situations would have been good. I’ve had more than my fair share of abusive clients, harassing clients, insulting clients and just complaining clients. In a way, though, I’m grateful for them because they taught me resilience. They also taught me better ways to communicate: verbal and non-verbal communication, conflict resolution tactics, empathy and honesty.

I confess I still retreat to email sometimes, but as long as it’s not our primary communication default I think we can all do that on occasion. There are some clients who prefer it, but there are definitely some who don’t. The easiest way to work that out is just to ask next time you are chatting to them on the phone.

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Sophie Lyon

Sophie Lyon is the Director and General Manager of Property Management at Jellis Craig. Sophie has over 25 years experience in the industry and leds businesses to new heights through her strategic yet people-focused approach