HABITAT

BUILDING OPERATIONS

Teaching Customer-Care to Co-op and Condo Staffs

Kaya Laterman in Building Operations on November 6, 2018

New York City

Customer Care I
Nov. 6, 2018

Jaime Sikorski, a charismatic and articulate instructor, stood in front of a makeshift basement classroom on a recent morning to talk about professional appearance, etiquette, body language, and effective listening skills. After her Power Point presentation, she conducted two games, doled out gift cards, and, most importantly, told anecdotes to teach her students about the appropriate methods of dealing with people, whether they were young or old, happy or frustrated. 

“Even if you didn’t think so before, know that you’re in the customer-care business,” she said to the 15 attentive students who sat in a semi-circle around her. Some nodded in agreement; others sat politely, with poker faces. 

To the uninitiated, it would seem that Sikorski, an employee of the property management company FirstService Residential, was leading a training session for new hotel employees. But Sikorski, the general manager at 15 Broad Street, a luxury condominium in the Wall Street area, was actually teaching the mechanics of high-end customer service to the office staff, porters, and security guards of a multi-building co-op complex in upper Manhattan. 

For boards in what were once working-class cooperatives and condominiums, the city’s real estate boom has brought on a new wave of shareholders and unit-owners: the young(er) and affluent. Besides expecting certain amenities, this new generation demands better building services and better-trained personnel

Even though there are continuing-education classes for technology, security, and skilled labor, Sikorski found it odd that customer-service skills weren’t being taught to residential building staffs. That has begun to change. Like hotels, which regularly train and retrain their employees, property management companies have been educating their staffs on the basics of first-class customer service. 

“Whether you’re in a hotel or an apartment building, you’re still dealing with all kinds of people on a daily basis,” says Sikorski, who worked for hotels for about 20 years before taking on her current role. She formed her own class curriculum and has been teaching various FirstService staff members for over a year. “In larger buildings, you need consistency” in communication and service, she notes. With smaller buildings, the staff, which can consist of three or four people, needs to learn how to handle difficult situations quickly because there’s a limited number of people around who can help. 

In many co-ops and condos, small and medium and large, there’s a growing awareness among boards that their staffs are in the customer-care business.

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