Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Business 101

Good Morning, Class!
Welcome to Business 101

One of the first things that is needed by both the employer, employee and the client in any business is good communications.

Back when Canada was a far off colony, before planes or phones or computers, a message would be issued in London, England, put on a ship where it sat for the weeks that it took to traverse the ocean. When the ship landed in Quebec City or Montreal, the message would be entrusted to a fleet footed messenger who would run and paddle his way to the recipient with it. Today, that same message would arrive in seconds via computer. And today, the leader is no longer in London, England. For most companies, the leader is right here in this neighbourhood.

So why, you might ask, does it still take days, weeks and sometimes, months to get anything done? To study this problem, class, we will look at Ottawa Housing Corporation and it's clients. Let us start with the clients, also referred to as tenants.

The problem that needs addressing, for the sake of this lesson, is secondary. How to handle it is what is important today. Let us say, for expediency's sake, that it is a rent problem. Here is how it is handled by most tenants right now.

We open a letter from Housing that says we did not pay our rent and they are going to evict us if we do not pay up right away.

We get mad because that is an automatic transfer every month. We mutter to ourselves. We curse Ottawa Housing out using every nasty word we know in the privacy of our own little apartment.

We head out to the garden where our friends are. Once there we moan and gripe about Ottawa Housing to our friends. They agree and add their own selection of curse words. When some idiot asks if we have called Ottawa Housing to correct the situation, we toss our hands in the air and say, "They know I paid. They are just trying to screw me out of more money." We repeat this little exercise in the Courtyard and then in the foyer at door #2 and again at the mail boxes at door #3.

When we get home we think maybe that idiot had a point so we call Ottawa Housing.

And we get voice mail. Well, we get voice mail after listening to a recording about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with our immediate problem. We leave a message telling them what we think of them. And then we wait, and wait and wait for an answer.

Now let's look at Ottawa Housing. We get back from lunch - the law says we are entitled to a lunch break. We mess with papers on our desk and comment to the gal beside us about that woman we saw on our way in with the dirty faced kids who are undisciplined and running all over the place - they have a law - the kids I mean - that says you cannot make them do anything and if you try they will see you in court. You do a little work and then it is coffee break - the law says you are entitled. On your way out, you remind yourself to try to get to the voice mail.

Coming back, you check out the clock - Good! Another hour and a half and you can get out of this dump. Oh, Yeah! The voice mail. Hmmmm. A complaint from Joe Blow at 2100 Russell Road. Jane must have sent him out a notice without checking. Oh well! These things happen and that is not a good reason for Joe Blow to call me dirty names. Gee! It is time to go home! Night all!

The two main ingredients - pride and communications - are missing from both sides.

Joe would have been better off to have called the bank and made sure that his rent had indeed been sent out to Housing. Once he knows for sure then he can talk to Housing from a positive position. Knowing the facts is a form of power in a case like this.

It is doubtful that Housing will put rules on the voice mail though a real person answering has proven to be a huge plus for many businesses that have chosen to take this route. But back to Joe. A better message for him to have left would have been, "Hello, This is Joe Blow from Apt 001 at 2100 Russell Road. I am in receipt of your letter of (fill in date) which says my rent is not paid. Please check your books - the bank informs me that this money was transferred to you on the 1st. Please let me know at 555-1234."

For Ottawa Housing, voice mail is not a thing that should be put off. Ignoring it makes small problems grow into big problems. Check it first thing in the morning and then several times a day if you use it a lot. And answer your messages. Solving problems is a part of your job. Have some pride in what you do. Do your job! A short call saying that you have his message and are looking into the problem will let Joe stop his frothing at the bit. Then either solve his problem yourself or delegate it to an underling. A fast look at the accounts should, if they are done correctly,
a) prove to you that his rent is indeed paid or
b) has been mis-allocated which is easily fixed. So fix it!
Then call him back and tell him that you have fixed it. That is just common courtesy. Lucky you! Joe has a computer so you can email him the same message. If he didn't have a computer, good business practice says you write him a letter saying the same thing. Leaving tracks of your work is good!

There is enough stress in this world that you do not need to create more. Doing these relatively simple tasks lessens stress for both the office staff and the tenant. Now Joe can go out to the garden and tell his buddies, " Gee! I just got this horrid letter from Housing. But I called that gal at Housing and she straightened it out right away. What a swell gal!"

And for the tenants it sure beats tossing your arms in the air and making failure a sure thing.

And as a hard working employee, this sure beats going home angry because some tenant called you a name. And it absolutely looks good on your work record that you do your job and do it well.

Summing Up!

If you are a tenant

  • Call with your problems. They do not know what they are if you do not tell them. Osmosis works well for plant life - it is not very useful for humans.
  • Keep your conversation civil. No one is impressed with your vocabulary when it is limited to four letter words and cursing.
  • If you have trouble saying what you want to say, find yourself an advocate - a general advocate, not a lawyer. An advocate is simply someone who will speak for you. Options Bytown is usually willing to be your advocate. But anyone who can take your problem, whittle the anger and misconceptions etc. out of it and present it civilly works.
  • Be persistent. That does not mean call them every five minutes. But it does mean that if they do not respond in a reasonable amount of time, remind them that you are waiting for an answer.

If you work at Ottawa Housing

  • Answer your voice mail. Some you can solve immediately, others will take some work. Let the caller know which this is and how long you expect it will take to solve.
  • If it is a huge problem, it would not hurt to call somewhere along the line just to let the caller know you are in fact working on it and that you have not forgotten them.
  • When it is solved, call and tell them.

Here at 2100 we presently have a problem with the Intercoms at door #4. I know that Marion Dunning knows about this - we have emailed each other about it. But perhaps the guy on the 5th floor does not know she knows. He calls and leaves a voice mail. It takes a minute or two to call him back and tell him the problem is being looked after. Better yet, a notice on the bulletin board and near the elevator at door#4 will let everyone know the problem is being worked on and doing so will cut down on the repetitive voice mails. The tenant does not, because the Intercom is not working, miss seeing a relative that has come here all the way from Timbuktu - he will have been able to make other arrangements for his meeting with them. Everybody is happy and the cost is two sheets of paper and a phone call. Got to wait for a supplier in Montreal? Two more sheets of paper saying it cannot be fixed for three days or whatever. So maybe we are not happy but we can accept that. If you do not tell us, a lot of us are annoyed and some are downright mad.

You have a problem with poor people who live in Housing? Well either adjust your attitude or get another job because you do not belong here. I grant you that there are some here who are abusing the system but it is not a good idea to judge all by a few. Most are here out of a need they had not planned. You could end up here. One never knows what is in the future. A change in the structure at Housing, a change in the economy of the country, a change in the state of your health (e.g. Cancer does not discriminate). Would You want to be treated the way you are treating the tenants under your care? If the answer is 'no', than change your attitude.

Working together is so much easier that working against each other. This is one of those situations just begging to have us work together!

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