Ronda Kaysen in Building Operations on October 24, 2013
A few months ago, the board of The Churchill, a cond-op in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, hired a customer-service consultant to help the staff pick up some hotel-style glitz — from what constitutes proper attire to how to handle an irate resident. The three-hour course included topics such as the "10 Deadly Sins of Customer Care" and the "Four Biggest Gripes of Shareholders."
"You go to a fine hotel and expect great service, but [the staff has] never been trained [in hotel-style etiquette]before," says Les Newlands, owner of Newlands Sales Consulting, which led the Churchill training session.
Overcoming Staff Skepticism
But getting staff to accept that their manners might need fine-tuning is not always easy. When the board of the Churchill presented its plan to staff, about half were skeptical about taking the course. However, once the half-day session was over, the overwhelming majority were happy with the results, says Ronald Kaslow, president of The Churchill's board. Newlands charges about $2,000 for a half-day course to train up to 12 employees. At the Churchill, he conducted two courses to train all 30 staff members.
Kaslow feels the investment was worth the effort. The training clarified who was supposed to do what when and provided straightforward guidance on how to interact with shareholders in various situations. "If you look at how some members on the staff conducted themselves before and how they conduct themselves now," he says, "it's a subtle change, but it's dramatic." To make sure the lessons have been learned, Newlands sends in a "mystery shopper" to observe employees' interactions without their knowing.
The property service workers' union, Local 32BJ SEIU, also offers onsite customer-service training program for its members. So far, more than 1,600 of them have taken the free course.
"These classes help workers navigate the gray areas and learn how best to respond in both emergency and everyday situations," Teresa Candori, a spokesperson for the union, says in an e-mail.
Jeffrey Cohen began working at the property-management company FirstService Residential six years ago, when it was Cooper Square Realty, after a career at the Marriott hotel chain. At FirstService, he began to apply his hospitality-industry knowledge iott to the residential side. Now, the company trains the staff of every new building it acquires. Throughout the year, Cohen holds refresher courses as well.
"If you want the building to run smoothly, if you want to maintain a long-term client, one of the easiest ways you can do that is by providing the tenants with great service, and that starts with the staff of the building," he says. "People want to be taken care of and when they're happy, it's easier to take care of the big-ticket items."
For instance, New York Guest, which staffs the concierges for many of the city's top hotels, provides a rigorous three-month training program. It begins with new hires "shadowing" current employees to learn about the position and make sure they even want it. A seven- to ten-day training program follows, in which they learn how to respond to various situations. Then, the new hires visit the neighborhood where they will be working, to learn about every grocery store, deli, hair salon, dry cleaner, or other service available. Finally, the concierge-to-be is paired with a mentor — an experienced concierge. This results in a staff that is well-trained and consistent.
"I look at that person on the desk as the face of the building," says Richard J. Williams, chief executive of New York Guest. "I look at that person as the one who sets the tone. He's the first person you see in the morning and the last person you see at night.
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