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Customer service: what you can and can't control

Bill CaltabianoDelivering excellent customer service from an organizational perspective takes vision, serious planning, and enduring intent. It requires agencies to rethink everything from how departments and staff positions are organized to manage the work, to the policies and procedures established for staff to use in making decisions that affect our customers. I won’t address those issues here, but I would like to offer a brief perspective on customer service at the personal level. You may not have any control over the organizational structure or policy development, but you can control the interest with which you do your job, your values and principles, and how you treat others.

Surely you've experienced superior customer service at different times in your life, so you know what it looks and feels like. I believe there are two essentials needed to deliver world-class service, and those who deliver it possess both of them. In my experience, most people have one or the other, but not both.  The first is the necessary competencies to do the job: what you do. The second is the conviction to do it in a certain way: how you do it.

Competency means having the ability and the necessary skills to perform, and it's the easier of the two because skills can be learned. Examples of essential competencies are communications skills, knowledge of the job, knowledge of HUD rules, and ability to correctly utilize the computer system, organize your work, conduct an inspection or a professional interview, and more.

The conviction to deliver excellent service is more difficult because at times it requires the willingness to put another person's needs above your own for a moment, or to be more concerned about some else's problem than your own. Conviction requires the desire to be the very best at what you do, the belief that it is only right to treat others the way you want to be treated at all times, and the willingness to take ownership of problems and situations that you didn't create. Having the competency and the capacity to deliver great service is essential, but the conviction and willingness to do it is the wild card.

Considered one of the premier housing trainers in the United States, Bill Caltabiano trains thousands of housing professionals, including HUD staff, every year. He has been a senior technical writer, consultant, and trainer with Nan McKay and Associates for over 20 years.

For a comprehensive guide to high-level customer service, our newest NMA handbook is now available: the Customer Service for PHAs Handbook.