Customer Experience vs. Company Policies: Balancing Both for Better CRM

The word CRM highlighted in green


When I think about company policies, the first word that comes to mind is law.

Sometimes company policies are more like “law” than they are policies. Even the words company policy can bring about feelings of fear, discomfort, and anxiety for some employees.

I remember the first time I broke a company policy—I was terrified. Even though in my heart I knew that the decision I made created a better customer experience, I was convinced that I would be fired on the spot.

Many company policies are structured to protect the company from the customer instead of helping improve the customer experience and getting the customer what he wants. Employees feel like they have to “enforce the law.”

Should breaking company policy at work bring about the same feelings as running a red light and being pulled over by an armed police officer?

CRM Best Practice: Balancing Company Policy with Building Customer Relationships

Great CRM means more than simply deploying a robust customer relationship management system. It’s about advocating a better customer relationships management model based on balancing adherence to corporate policy with more intuitive factors. For example, knowing when it is okay to break the “policy law” like a Southwest pilot did to help a man see his dying grandson.

Mark Dickinson was in Los Angeles on a business trip when he learned that his 2 year old grandson was lying in a Denver hospital, brain dead and about to be taken off life support. When Dickinson arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport he was faced with a slow-moving security line. He pleaded with airport security, but the airport workers weren’t buying his story and refused to let him jump to the front of the line. Imagine that? He didn’t know when the next flight would be and he resigned himself to the fact that he missed it.

According to his story, he called his wife Nancy back home in Arizona for help and she called Southwest Airlines customer service to plead Mark’s case and beg them to hold the plane until Mark could get there. By the time he made it through the security checkpoint, his departure time had already passed. He grabbed his belongings and ran for the gate in his socks, convinced he’d never make his connecting flight. You can imagine the shock when he arrived at the gate and the plane was still there. He looked over by the Jetway and there stood the pilot. He asked, “Are you Mark?” Pilots rarely hold planes, because they have to stay on schedule. But this day was different. What was important to Mark Dickinson became important to this pilot.

Dickinson made it to Denver in time to comfort his daughter before his grandson was removed from life support. Southwest Airlines released a statement that said, “We empower our employees to make decisions on behalf of our customers…While we can’t wait for every late customer, we knew he had an extreme family emergency and the pilot specifically decided to wait.”

Do your management policies empower your employees to create amazing customer experiences for prospects and residents? Or do your company policies form customer relationship barriers?

Here are four ways to bust through customer relationship barriers, improve the customer experience, and better manage customer relationships:

1. Hire Humans not Humanoid Robots for your Property Management Team

Humanoid robots are just like they sound: employees who provide customer service by the book without passion or enthusiasm. I would describe the airport security workers in the story above as humanoid robots—no compassion, no enthusiasm, just following the policy. They might care enough to go through the motions but are not truly engaged in serving the interests of the customer.

Humanoid robots do not contribute to positive customer relationships, lead conversion, or resident retention. Nor do they go out of their way to create a great customer experience or to fix a bad one. And customers know it. When was the last time you audited your property management team for the presence of humanoid robots?

2. Empower Employees to Help Residents

There is nothing more frustrating than watching an employee who wants to help residents but doesn’t have the authority to act, even when it comes to minor decisions. What are the most common customer experience issues at your apartment community? If you don’t know, ask your leasing consultant. Identify one common issue and train your employees on how to resolve the problem. Then it’s time to empower them to handle it on the spot.

The best time to deal with a complaint or problem is while it is happening. Mark Dickinson didn’t have time for someone to call back from the corporate office. Surveys reveal that seven of ten customers will do business with you again if a problem is resolved in their favor. That number grows to 95% if it’s resolved on the spot. Of those customers who quit your company, 68% do so because of an attitude of indifference by the company or incompetence. Train and empower your employees and the result will be a positive resident experience and improved staff morale.

3. Conduct Regular Reviews of Property Management Policies

When was the last time you took a good look at your property management policies? Do you really need them all? Policies can be outdated, or just plain dumb. How to handle company policies is a training issue. When a policy problem appears, team members should immediately know what they CAN do, not just what they can’t.

Do you train your new employees on what the policies are and how to respond to customers who challenge them? It seems that many employees simply default to, “It’s our policy,” and then shrug their shoulders. How is that working for you? Ask your customer.

4. Make it Easy for Your Residents to Complain

Do you hold your employees accountable? Do the signs in your leasing office promote the fact that management wants to hear from the residents about their experience, or do they simply brag about how great you are? Are you accessible?

I love the signs on the back of the 18-wheelers that ask, “How’s my driving?” More than once I’ve called one of those numbers. If you want to know what your customers are thinking, provide them with an easy channel to voice their thoughts. Don’t make them dig through page after page on your website to find you. Don’t wait for them to vent on an apartment review site. Be proactive!

Do you have a personal example of how a corporate policy got in the way of delivering or receiving a great customer experience? Please share.


s advocating a better customer relationships management model that is not based on strict adherence to corporate policy but more intuitive factors


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.

One response to “Customer Experience vs. Company Policies: Balancing Both for Better CRM”

  1. Mary Gwyn says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing it!

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