The single biggest complaint or request made to respondents of the Building Operating Management survey was temperature, with 68 percent of respondents saying this was their No. 1 issue, with restrooms coming in at a distant second at 10 percent. Temperature is also the largest daily source of complaints — 16 percent of respondents say they field a hot/cold call every day.
Facility managers are often more than a bit jaded in the temperature department. Iain Schlenkermann, director, Manassas facilities, with American Public University System, says he remembers one cold call that started out normally enough, with a technician going down to the space armed with an IR gun, ready to educate the local occupants. But the temp calls started rolling in every half hour and cranking the thermostat was having no effect. By the time the HVAC tech could diagnose the problem, it was 52 degrees in the space.
“A lot of times we thought they were crying wolf,” Schlenkermann says of hot/cold calls in the past, “but we’ve gotten better at investigating temperature reports. And we refer to them as employees ‘reporting information’ rather than ‘complaints.’”
Even though the primary response to a complaint should be to try to be responsive and find a suitable solution, sometimes you have to draw a line. For Kristina Descoteaux, vice president with Colliers International, the line was drawn at the Charmin. She recalls a time when the president’s assistant at an owner-occupied building where she was the property manager called with a particular request. Could Descoteaux please go to a drugstore and purchase Charmin for the president’s bathroom because the standard-issue toilet paper was too harsh? It was early in her career, and for a second she hesitated. Is that what petty cash is for, she remembers wondering.
Of course, making TP runs was not going to happen, but Descoteaux worked with the assistant to find a suitable alternative that could be stocked via normal channels just for the executive floor, with the overage directly billed back to the president’s office.
“If a tenant comes in with a special request, it really comes down to what you can run through the building as an operating expense and what really needs to be billed back,” she says.
Another time, she had someone saying that the space was making her sick. In response to the complaints, Descoteaux had the space and the ductwork cleaned, and two different environmental agencies came in and said the space was fine. But the individual kept complaining. Finally they had to sit down with one of the lease administrators for the account to say they’d done everything that the lease required and there was nothing to indicate anything was wrong with the space, which was accepted by the tenant. “It’s all about how well you can communicate that you’ve done all you can,” she says.
Having policies in place to dictate both the escalation and de-escalation steps when responding to a complaint is important, says Kit Tuveson, a facility management consultant, Tuveson & Associates. “Without proper policies, the FM team has no power to say no and everyone else has the power to say yes,” he says. “There has to be some prioritization, some gating, and some feedback. And anybody who wants to buck that system has to get their management’s authorization.”
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