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Customer Service Comes to Co-ops and Condos

Kaya Laterman in Building Operations on November 16, 2018

New York City

Customer Care
Nov. 16, 2018

As the money continues to pour into New York City and the costs of co-op and condo apartments remain at stratospheric levels – despite some recent price chops – residents are demanding ever-higher levels of service from their buildings’ staffs. And management companies have been working, mightily, to meet those rising expectations.

Michael Berenson, president of AKAM Associates, says his management company’s first step was to bring in an outside consultant to teach senior staff members about hospitality training. Then AKAM developed an in-house training program for all the buildings it manages. “People pay good money to stay in five-star hotels during their vacations and dine in fine restaurants, so when the service dramatically decreases in their own building, that’s disappointing,” he says. “This is where you live.” 

AKAM’s in-house training session, which the firm has conducted for about five years, gives staff a common goal and teaches them the meaning of first-class service. It starts with how staff members answer the phone, says Berenson. Instead of saying the building’s numerical address, staff should pick up the phone and say: “Good afternoon, this is 685 West End Avenue. John speaking. How may I help you?” (The address and name are fictional.) 

Jaime Sikorski, manager of a luxury condominium in downtown Manhattan, also teaches classes in high-end customer care to buildings staffs. She says she likes to teach two separate classes for each building. In the first session, which lasts about two hours, she introduces the basics of hospitality. The second session, however, involves role-playing. “I’ve found that putting staff members in specific scenarios and working with others to come up with a good response really helps,” she says. 

Berenson says AKAM’s training session also involves employees shadowing staff members who work in other buildings. “Watching a good example at work is a great way to learn,” he says. 

There are other options. So far, about 3,000 members of 32BJ, the local of the Service Employees International Union, have taken the union’s customer-service class on-site, while another 500 students have taken the class online. 

The challenge of learning customer-service techniques is definitely steeper when the employee doesn’t realize that their job is to serve and serve effectively, says Vernon Gray, the instructor of the union course for the past eight years. He recalls a student in a recent class who had been working at an apartment building for 50 years and had never taken a professional development class until now. “I do believe more people are recognizing that the profession is about finding solutions for the customer,” says Gray, adding that co-op shareholders and condo unit-owners are now seen as the “customer.”

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