Collage Image

Tips for dealing with occupant complaints

Posted by Earl Laing | Monday, April 11, 2016

Occupant complaints come in all shapes and sizes. Some are easy to understand, like "The air is too hot" or "The paper towels in the bathroom ran out." Some, though, are a little more perplexing, like this story from a building manager, submitted to myCleanLink:

"When I was out of the office on a Friday, someone left me a voicemail saying there was a raisin on the floor and it was drawing ants. When I came to work on Monday, the raisin was still there, along with the ants. The person pinned a sign to the carpeting instructing people to leave the raisin there so I could see it. Really??? You couldn't pick up the darned thing and throw it away?!?!" 

Even though some occupant complaints can seem superfluous or downright silly, as facility managers it's important that each complaint is dealt with quickly, respectfully and thoroughly. Here are some tips for effectively managing occupant complaints, before and after they happen.

Delve deeper

To fully deal with an occupant's problem, building managers have to go beyond the complaint itself to understand what issues might lie beneath it. By investigating the deeper factors involved with an issue, managers can craft a response plan that uses time and resources most effectively and has the greatest chance of sticking.

FacilitiesNet emphasized exploring the layers associated with a specific problem, especially for complaints that first appear silly or illegitimate.

"In this business, sometimes we think we know the answer and can get the problem off our back quickly, but it turns out that wasn't the problem," said Joan Woodard, president and CEO of Simons & Woodard Inc., in an interview with the site. "There are times that you're halfway done trying to solve it the way you would solve it, and you realize that's not the problem at all. And now you've wasted all this energy and you have to start all over again."

Crockett Facilities noted that it's important to never make assumptions about the complaint or the motivations behind it. We're only human, so someone feeling like they're not being heard can fuel their dissatisfaction or even be the main reason behind their complaint. The company reminded building managers that even if a complaint seems silly or frivolous, it's usually rooted in truth, so it's important to spend the time to fully understand the problem.

Establish open communication

Facility managers should foster an environment of openness and responsiveness in their buildings so that occupants feel that their issues will be dealt with fairly and quickly. As the Facility Manager's Handbook noted, "Open communication can alleviate the perception that no action is being taken or that important information is being withheld."

At the most basic level, make it common practice to have a conversation with the occupant who filed the complaint. FacilitiesNet reminded building managers that it's more effective to deal with the source of the complaint, rather than just the complaint itself. Open conversations in a comfortable atmosphere help occupants open up, which helps you understand the full extent of the problem, and by listening to their side of the story, occupants feel more willing to work together to reach a solution.

You can also create an open atmosphere by actively showing that you're committed to making sure occupants are happy with their building, even before they submit a complaint. One way to do this is by conducting a survey of occupants. You can create a survey on the CMMS that asks them about their satisfaction level with the building and its services and any concerns, questions or ideas for improvement that they have. A survey shows you that value your occupants' opinions and help create an open environment for two-way communication.

Have a plan in place

While it's important to deal with each complaint on a case-by-case basis, your time and resources can quickly be eaten up and your schedule thrown off course. To minimize this, set up a complaint response procedure ahead of time that you and your staff can follow. In your plan, FacilitiesNet advised including de-escalation steps for issues with occupants and clear guidelines for what improvements or changes can qualify as operating expenses, and which are not covered by the building.

As part of your plan, create an online submission system for complaints. The Facility Manager's Handbook provided an example form for dealing with air quality issues, but you can create a form that addresses the most common issues in your building, which you determined through a survey. They suggested including space for the following in the form:

  • Description of issue and observations relating to it
  • What possible causes of the issue are
  • What the best time to contact the occupant is.

Designate a member of your team as the complaint reviewer, and include their contact information at the bottom of the forms. Set up the form submission system on the CMMS so that occupants can easily access it.

Building managers have a range of duties, but one of the most important is making sure that their occupants are happy and satisfied with their facility. Taking the time to fully understand issues, establishing open communication and creating a response plan will save you and your occupants a lot of headaches.