For a property manager the recipe to achieving results is having the necessary authority and resources to perform the job in harmony with the job description, to accomplish the objectives set by the management and/or owner. Too often, I interact with managers who operate like they are no more than an entry level employee with a fancy title. While a title with the look of authority might be appealing to some people because it often means less risk and work, it can cause great strain on the expectations of their customers – internal and external. Being given responsibility without authority can often breed a sense of helplessness and frustration for the manager and those around them but rarely a sense of empowerment. The outcomes are easy to predict.
- They will assume the authority without approval.
- They will shrug the responsibility.
- They will be at the mercy of the customer by doing whatever they can to appease them.
Unfortunately, this design is very common in our industry and in many retail businesses. A property manager is expected to help customers, solve issues, and make them “happy”. But if the situation veers from the common, they must move the problem and the decision up the chain of command – district manager, regional manager, etc. This is frustrating for employees and can be infuriating for customers. The customer experience often takes a quick nosedive.
A recent experience with our family inspired this blog post. While on our fall break, we planned a fun day to a local entertainment venue which bills itself as “THE destination for FUN”. When we arrived, the special that was posted on their website was not what I had been led to believe it was, so I began inquiring about our options. Since this was a weekday, the nearly 75,000 sq. ft. building was practically empty. I asked the employee at the front desk what type of packages they offered in addition to the one we had seen. Her response was, “None—it’s not summer!” I continued to drive the conversation by asking her how much it would cost to play the 2-3 activities that were most appealing to our boys. Her response was, “We don’t have a combined option.” It was all a la carte. The result would have been $30 for 30 minutes of entertainment. During our conversation, an individual with a nametag that read “Manager” kept walking by without making any comments. Clearly frustrated, I respectfully proceeded to share my disappointment with the employee, who stood unapologetically behind the counter. Her best response was that the corporate office made all decisions and that she had no authority. Sadly, she never brought her manager into the conversation, so I can only assume the manager, who continued to pass by us, was only a manager in title. He had no authority either. I couldn’t help but think of the missed opportunities:
A small discount could have gone a long way. The Ritz Carleton $2,000 gold standard, which I have referenced in many of my training classes, was on my mind. They empower employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager. While this $2,000 is reflective of a customer spending $250,000 with the Ritz over their lifetime, the concept can still apply to any business. A five-dollar discount or extended play time would have gone a long way in our situation.
The lack of any employee initiative was most glaring overall. We left their facility and found another option where the manager offered us a discount package, attentive service, fantastic food, and a full day of fun!
It is likely that your customers are having similar experiences with your employees as they move from one community and from one problem to another. It is also unlikely that “I need to contact my district/regional manager for approval” or “You need to call the corporate office” will leave the conversation anytime soon. Without a complete organizational or procedural change, the best way to overcome this challenge is to teach managers to use influence to overcome responsibility without authority. Here are two essential and easy ways to increase influence.
1. Build Trust
There is nothing more important than trust. Trust is not an action. It is a belief that you have the customer’s best interest at heart and the confidence that you have the ability to help them. The more trust people have in you the higher your influence. As a result, you are in a better position to lead them in the direction that is best for them.
In The Trusted Executive the author tells us, “the world is ready for a different breed of executive; a leader with transformational trust-building skills. If you want to anticipate and take the lead, if you want to be a pioneer in the 21st-century boardroom and deliver outstanding results, inspiring relationships, and build a cast-iron reputation for trustworthiness then you need to develop trust building habits.”
How can your managers build trust and turn around a situation similar to the one we recently had?
- Ask questions and listen. Don’t repeat what you can’t do. Every customer interaction should be a conversation, not a sales pitch. You should spend at least half of every customer interaction listening. The questions should effectively lead them to answers and not back to the problem. Listen.
- Be genuine. My recent unpleasant experience is not an uncommon one. At some point you have probably had an unpleasant experience with a manager or salesperson. Maybe you walked in feeling sold and walked away feeling unappreciated or even worse manipulated. Being genuine just means caring and being yourself. It means focusing less on others’ perceptions of you and more about getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Teach your managers to keep it real because their customers are more likely to trust them as a person than the company as a business.
- Be empathetic. If you want people around you to value having a relationship with you, you must truly believe that relationship building is important. This means being empathetic rather than policy driven. The goal is to find and present the value that you are able offer to the customer versus what you cannot do for them.
- Build a bridge (not a corporate wall). People are drawn to those who show true interest in them. Curiosity about people is a crucial element of relationship building. Caring about others’ wants and needs gives you the opportunity to learn new things, make new connections, and build bridges. Sometimes these bridges lead them to your product and sometimes they don’t. In the end, they will remember that you cared and they will trust you.
An unknown author once said, “Trust is a HUGE word. It either makes something or destroys it.” Teach your managers how to build trust and they will increase their influence with their customers regardless of their level of decision making authority.
2. Take Action
Too often, managers get a good idea or see how something can be done better, but they don’t act on it. They miss out on an opportunity to set ideas into motion and to increase their influence with customers. I really would have appreciated a few good ideas from the employees at our fall outing venue. It wouldn’t have mattered if they were ideas about options within their facility or even recommending me somewhere else. Instead, we received a ‘see you later’ message. Taking action is where all momentum comes from. Even in the absence of true authority, a manager can take action on good ideas. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, believed, “New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!”
How can a manager overcome the notion of responsibility without authority by taking action? How do we avoid the “It can’t be done” mentality?
- Never Accept the Status Quo. People who do things the way they have always been done will in the best case get the same results. Managers should be constantly searching for new solutions and more effective approaches to solving customer problems. Encourage them to make a “new idea” contribution weekly. No idea is too small.
- Consider Every Opportunity. Opportunities are hidden everywhere, and people who see them are the ones who prosper. Teach them to make a habit of constantly asking themselves, “What opportunities for growth can I carve out of this situation?”, “How can we avoid this situation next time?”, or “What changes could I recommend to my supervisor?” Teach them to seek out new opportunities for change.
- Speak Up and Act. Consider the millions of amazing ideas that went nowhere because no one knew about them. Encourage managers to identify problem areas, research solutions, and push their recommendations up the corporate ladder. Taking this approach now will reduce the need to push problems up the corporate ladder later when they are standing knee deep in the trench and face-to-face with the customer.
Think about your own daily experiences with brands, sales people, and managers. The frustration level you feel when they lack the decision-making authority to help you solve a seemingly simple problem can be off the charts. It is all too familiar. You address the situation with the sales person. They send you to the manager. The manager can’t approve the change, so they defer it to someone further up the corporate food chain. In a study by customer service platform Zendesk, the single biggest driver of negative customer experiences was having to explain a problem to multiple people in the hope that one of them had the power to help.
This problem is not going away anytime soon, so place your focus on influence: the key to overcoming responsibility without authority.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions