Customer Experience: Is Your Company Engine Functioning Properly?


FLASHBACK TO 1992: It was a very hot summer morning in Miami, Florida. I was driving my car to work on I-95 and all of a sudden the engine stopped running. It was rush hour and you can imagine how happy all the people driving in my lane were about this situation. As the cars began to move around me, the honking and rubbernecking began and I was feeling quite desperate. As painful as it was, I called (yes, we had cell phones in the early 90’s) my best friend’s husband that I knew would NEVER let me live this moment down. He was always giving me a hard time about everything—this would be no exception. My car was eventually towed and the diagnosis was that my engine had ceased up due to lack of oil—actually, no oil.

I was so busy leasing apartments (we were in lease-up mode…again) and managing a community that I failed to remember that my car needed oil to function.

In a vehicle’s engine there are many moving parts that operate together. The oil in an engine circulates throughout and is responsible for lubricating all of the moving parts. Without it, these moving parts rub against each other, create extreme friction, and tear each other apart. Eventually, these parts will wear excessively, and the engine will ultimately fail—just like mine did.

Motor OilA business is no different. When the working parts are not lubricated and moving smoothly, the moving parts rub against each other, create extreme friction, and tear each other apart. Are you nodding your head? Do you see the connection?

The oil that serves a company is this—the understanding that every employee in every department, large or small, has an internal customer to serve before they can effectively serve their external customers. An internal customer can be an individual person or a department within an organization. In property management, it can be a community, a regional office, a district office, a corporate office, and so on. Those at the top serve those in the middle and on the front lines, the middle serves the top and the front line, the front line serves the middle and top, etc.

When your internal oil level and pressure is right, all groups work together productively and co-exist peacefully, to meet common goals, which will lead to better quality products, service and experience for external customers.

Happy Employees Make an Engine Run Smoothly

Niki Leondakis, Chief Operating Officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants says, “Taking care of our employees comes before taking care of our guests. There’s no way the guests are going to have a great experience if our employees are unhappy.” Their employees are happy in their job because someone gave them the power to make someone’s day. “They really want to do something nice for someone, and that’s because their managers do that for them.”

Kimpton Properties hires happy, optimistic, genuinely caring human beings at all levels. It doesn’t always matter what their résumé says or if their credentials are the best—the technical side is less important to them than who the person is as a human being. Clearly this focus works for them: In an industry where turnover can reach nearly 65 percent, Kimpton sees almost 20 percent fewer employees leave annually—a big savings in recruitment and training.

Is there a connection between employee loyalty and customer loyalty?

Yes, there is a definite connection. When you look at world-class companies like Southwest Airlines or USAA, you will find they have very low employee turnover. Research has shown time and again, it’s near impossible to create customer loyalty (inside or out) with a team that is constantly in turnover. Customers buy relationships and continuity. You lose both of these with high employee turnover.

Employee happiness may not be at the top of many executives’ lists, especially these days, but it should be. Happy employees—especially in customer service—are more engaged with their jobs and therefore more likely to go the extra mile for all customers.

Happy employees fuel a company’s engine!

Microscopic Particles Can Damage the Engine and Your Company

Going back to my vehicle engine analogy—with the extreme levels of friction created by the engine’s moving parts, some microscopic wear particles eventually fall from the engine’s parts. These tiny particles can do much damage to the engine—and to your company.

Here are some examples of tiny particles in a business:

  • Self-serving departments
  • Division between departments
  • Office politics/conflict
  • Poor communication
  • Top down philosophy
  • Generational differences
  • Mean, unhappy people
  • Confused leaders
    • They don’t know who their customers are, so they can’t serve them
    • They know who their customers are, but they don’t know their needs (they never ask)
    • They serve, but they do so on their own terms

These contaminants are often revealed through customer surveys, employee surveys, apartment reviews, performance, and retention rates. If ignored or left unresolved they can paralyze an organization, keeping it from achieving its goals.

When I visualize a company that runs like a well-oiled engine, Starbucks always comes to my mind. This three minute YouTube video is a great example of what happens when a business gets the internal components working properly. CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO

Every employee in every department, large or small, has an internal customer to serve before they can effectively serve their external customers. Your company engine is a machine that changes energy into motion when it is running properly—when harnessed—that energy allows you to truly hear the “Voice of the Customer” and respond to their wants and needs. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Do you have a story to share? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

4 responses to “Customer Experience: Is Your Company Engine Functioning Properly?”

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