Set the proper expectations

Nothing is more disappointing than unrealized expectations. Don't leave customers counting on something you cannot deliver.

Last week I had the pleasure of sharing a positive support experience. As fate would have it, I have been given the opportunity to make an example of a much-less satisfying customer-service interaction. Oh, lucky me.

On Wednesday night, my fiancée arrived home from work to find that our condo didn't have water service anymore. Out of curiosity, she went and talked to two of our neighbors. Maybe we had missed a memo about utility maintenance? No, she discovered that the two units immediately adjoining ours didn't have water either, though it seemed like everyone else in the complex did.

When I got home, K. had already been playing phone tag for a few hours. See, the condo association that runs the complex where we live has a contract with a property management company. They handle the maintenance, the gardening, and supposedly other problems when they arise. They even have a phone number for Emergency Maintenance. This is a specific line that we have been led to believe we can call when something happens after-hours.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

K. had called the emergency number and reached an operator. That operator told my fiancée that she was going to call someone who could do something about our problem. The operator wasn't employed directly by the management company, but rather was only their answering service. The property's on-call person would call us back.

And that person did. After an hour and a follow-up call to the operator. When the on-call person finally got back to us, he said that he didn't know how to get someone out to service our problem until sometime the next day, when the property management company and the condo board president could approve a service call.

At this point, I draw your attention to the fact that this is purported to be an Emergency Maintenance service. Initials intended.

This was certainly a capital-E Emergency capital-M Maintenance situation for us. No water means no washing, no cooking, and (worst of all) no flushing. We expected our situation would be handled with some expediency, and what we discovered was that the established structure was in no way equipped to handle our problem quickly.

By their use of the word Emergency, I expected that the management company would respond to our issue promptly. If they didn't want to disappoint their tenants when they couldn't deliver service in a timely fashion, the company could have chosen a more accurate nomenclature, like "When-We-Get-Around-To-It Maintenance." Oh, who am I kidding. The management wants us to think that there is 24-hour Emergency Maintenance coverage in place. That's just not the truth.

The problem is resolved now, thankfully. Fixing the situation still took regular calls to the on-site maintenance man once he'd clocked in at 9 this morning. Turns out a tenant closing up their unit had accidentally turned off the valve to a shared water line. Whoops.

When I told him about our experience with the Emergency Maintenance hotline, he just shrugged.