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I remember my junior year in high school, we had to memorize and recite a portion of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It was Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy and it went something like this:
To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
Memorizing and reciting the entire passage was easy enough but fast forward a few months to the final exam where we were asked to decipher its literal meaning. At the time, I managed to give a somewhat plausible explanation but as anyone who’s ever been 15 can attest, I had no clue just how true Shakespeare’s words would eventually apply to real life.
The general idea behind his words is this: you are presented with two options, which do you choose? Both come with their own set of pros and cons; both options seem like the right way to go. So again, which do you choose? Like the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire”. Is it better to fry in the pan or jump into the fire when the end result is ultimately the same?
Apartment communities are faced with similar decisions every day. Should we turn apartments or complete resident service requests? Do we concentrate on leasing or securing renewals? Which is more important – move-in concessions or renewal offers? Oh the questions can go on for days and the pros and cons for each option are endless.
Fortunately, the choices have already been made for you – your residents have spoken. These are the people who have already chosen to live at your community. They are the ones paying rent and if happy, will sing your praises to anyone who will listen. By focusing on what matters most to your current residents you can remove the proverbial “revolving door” that so many communities are battling against.
Our research shows that residents primarily expect two things from their management teams. First, they want the office to create a “culture of responsiveness” which means a prompt response to calls and emails, following up on completed service requests, being dependable and acting with professionalism and courtesy. The second expectation is all about the service request process. Residents want problems in their apartment to be handled quickly, cleanly, and with such quality that the problem is resolved the first time.
Based on our annual surveys, clients who score very high in questions relating to office communication and service delivery on average have a higher percentage of residents who say they are “very likely” to renew. Concentrate your efforts on streamlining your service request process and setting high priorities for resident call backs and resolutions. While not all resident attrition can be eliminated, every resident who chooses to renew will contribute to your community’s overall asset value – keeping you out of both the frying pan and the fire…decision made simple.
I know I am not the only one who grew up with Levar Burton when he was known for Reading Rainbow and not Star Trek. There were a lot of lessons Levar taught me over the years, but the one that is burned on my brain is his lesson on Teamwork.
It was brought to mind as I was preparing for a seminar tomorrow on the Service Request process. A successful service request is only possible when the office team and maintenance team are on the same page and supporting each other. In specific terms, it means that the leasing team begins the process by:
- Asking enough questions to ensure the maintenance team receives a detailed, specific service request so they have the best idea of what tools and parts they may need to resolve the issue.
- Enter the service request directly into the work order system so that the maintenance team can receive and prioritize the request as quickly as possible.
The maintenance team then takes over the process and:
- Ensures they have the necessary tools, training and equipment to resolve the most common maintenance issues in their community.
- Completes the request quickly, carefully and thoroughly.
- Leaves the work area as clean or cleaner than they found it.
- Notifies the resident if there will be a delay, the reason for the delay, and when they expect to be able to complete the work.
- Close out the service request in the system by the end of the day.
Once the service request is closed out in the system, the process comes full circle to the office team who should complete the service request by following up with the resident to ensure two things:
- Was the work completed to the resident’s expectation?
- Is there anything else you can do for the resident?
Whether the follow-up is automated through the work order system, or the office team sends a follow up email or checks in with a phone call, or if it’s a third party automated follow-up such as our Insite Work Order Follow-Up, this final step can be a critical part of creating value for resident in a tangible way. In fact, service request follow-up has the 2nd greatest impact on the resident’s likelihood to renew their lease!
Service requests are not just a maintenance thing. They are a team thing. And as Lavar sang and danced to our childhood delight, we’re, “doin’ it better… as a Team!”
The holiday season has begun, and while there are many things we love about this time of year, it can be a time that adds additional stress to us and our residents. Here are some things to keep in mind so that a “new home” doesn’t suddenly get added to your residents’ 2011 New Year’s Resolution List:
1. Aim for 24 hour service request resolution. With family and friends gathering more often during the holidays, there’s nothing more frustrating than a faulty oven or dysfunctional toilet. And yes, they will place all the blame on you.
2. Smile, smile, smile! For some people, the holidays are anything but merry. The smile your resident sees on your face may be the only one they see today.
3. Anticipate the influx of packages and put a plan in place to handle them, if your leasing office accepts resident deliveries. Know where they will be kept and how they will be organized so that any team member can easily check them in and hand them out.
The holidays add one more thing to juggle in our already maxed lives, so be sure to take a deep breath, thank your team members for all they do, and remember the goal is to continue to make it easy to be a resident in your community.
Track your resident satisfaction on a monthly basis through our NEW Insite™ Trend Reports, because loyalty is created in your day-to-day interactions! Learn about Insite™ HERE.
“There aren’t enough hours in the day to…” How many times to we hear or say this line? It seems everyone is doing more with less, time included. And so, it’s easy for service providers to assume that in the interest of not bothering their customers, they should just leave well enough alone. This falls under the same category of “No news is good news.”
Hold it right there! While it may be easier for us, as service providers, to take one more thing off our to-do list with the excuse of, “I just don’t want to bother them,” we are making the mistake of neglecting our residents and supporting their assumption that management doesn’t care about their home, or their residency for that matter.
The reality is that customers, and our residents in particular, want to feel recognized and appreciated. They want to know we value the dollars written on the rent check each month. Part of that recognition is reaching out on a regular basis to check in and make sure everything is alright in their home. Because here’s the reality when we don’t:
Outstanding maintenance issues can slip through the cracks, but knowing that more than 1 in 4 of your residents who are approaching lease expiration have issues is downright scary. When something is not working in your home, it is frustrating and maddening. And yet, it is a fact of life. Things break. Leaks will occur. Outages will happen. In fact, 86% of residents approaching lease expiration had all experienced some kind of maintenance issue. Totally normal. The fact that 27% have a maintenance issue that still exists should not be considered normal. This is something that is controllable, so it’s time to stop leaving well enough alone and take some action.
Start checking in with residents. Every time they call or stop by the office ask, “How’s everything in your home? Is there anything we can do for you?” Start calling or emailing 2 or 3 times per year to check in with the same questions. The attention and recognition will be welcomed by the vast majority of residents. And your lease renewal conversations will be much smoother! “Well enough” can always be better.
Check in with your residents 120 days prior to lease expiration automatically through the SatisFacts Insite Pre-Renewal feedback program for as little as $1 per unit per year.
We love our maintenance teams! And why wouldn’t we? They are the ones who save the day on a daily basis, whether it’s changing a light bulb or repairing the oven before a family reunion! We hire our maintenance teams based on skill, experience, sometimes even certifications. They are jack-of-all-trades in most cases.
Then why, after SatisFacts has surveyed over a million apartment units, do 24% of all residents say their service request was not completed right the first time?
Shocking, isn’t it? Having to do re-work can more-than-double the original cost of the repair. And resident dissatisfaction can cost more than $4000 in turnover costs when they choose to move elsewhere! But before we start questioning our hiring practices or our maintenance team’s skills, we have to look at the bigger picture. And the entire team has to get involved.
1. When residents call in or drop off a service request, does the office team ask the right questions and gather the necessary information? If it’s a reported leak, do we note that it is a leak in the kitchen, the bathroom, the toilet? Under the sink, from the faucet, from the base of the bathtub?
2. Even if we are asking the right questions, does the property management system provide the ability to enter detailed notes? If not, can IT provide a solution, or is there a notes box in the system where some notes could be entered?
3. When the maintenance team gets the request, do they have the tools, training and materials to resolve the most common problems in that community? If there are an unusual number of HVAC repairs needed every year, and no one on the team is HVAC certified, this can create delays or incomplete solutions.
4. After the request is complete, is the area left as clean or cleaner than they found it? Or after a drywall repair, are there chunks of drywall and lots of dust left behind? Additional mess caused by the repair often prompts a resident to question the integrity of the repair itself.
5. Once the request is entered as complete in the PM system, does the office call or email the resident to ensure everything was completed? This is a critical step because it acts as a customer service safety net in case something did fall through the cracks or get miscommunicated – or if the repair actually failed. Better for the team to seek out potential issues rather than residents discovering problems and then getting worked up about how ‘careless’ they think the team is.
With all the team members working together, your residents will gain even more confidence in, not only the maintenance team, but the entire community team!
Check out Doug’s latest blog post at NAA’s Aptly Spoken: http://www.naahq.org/blog/lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=88
“… While I always intuitively knew that great service paid off (this being engrained in my genes), I became very dangerous over the years as I have been able to back up these feelings with the results from surveys we have completed with well over a million units.”
Summer is here, and we’re all waiting to see what levels of turnover will occur. Our typical summer experience, especially where our maintenance teams are concerned, is an increase in turnovers and the increased focus on getting newly vacated apartments ready for potential new move-ins. The result? Existing residents may have to wait a little longer to have a service request issue resolved. It might take a little longer to hear back on the status of an ordered part or a scheduled vendor.
But wait! Doesn’t it seem strange that we would prioritize empty apartments above our rent-paying customers? It’s almost as frustrating as standing in the check-out line, money in hand, to buy the perfect prom dress, but the clerk is busy dressing the mannequin in the store window and can’t be bothered. Something’s wrong with this picture!
We see the cycle. We know the cycle. There are times of the year that typically bring an increase in turnover, and times of the year that typically experience less turnover. Knowing this, what if we did something radical – something that turns what has been the norm in our industry for years and years on its ear? What if we reduced or retired our monthly resident events (that may draw a handful of attendees) and shifted those dollars to that time of year when we know turnover is traditionally heaviest? What if we shifted those dollars to hire temporary, part-time maintenance help to ensure our existing residents were never affected by the ups and downs of our business cycle?
Depending on your location, $6,500 can hire a part-time technician for over 430 hours – which equates to 30 hours/week for 14 weeks, more than covering the typical heavy turnover season. This is a strategy that provides a direct return on investment. Maintaining steady, consistent focus on reducing outstanding maintenance issues translates to higher resident satisfaction which results in increased lease renewal likelihood.
Resident events, move-in gifts, hard copy newsletters are great as icing on the cake when service delivery is top notch and running like a well oiled machine. How many of us can say with 100% confidence that this is the case for our property or portfolio? I know there are many of you out there who can! And there are many others who are making great strides. But as we all focus on minimizing turnover, the foundation of retention is how well we perform in service delivery. And it can be those part-time, temporary maintenance Boys (or Girls) of Summer that can make all the difference!
Yesterday, the unthinkable happened. I was on three separate flights, and they were All On Time. Yes, you read that correctly. All three flights (2 separate airlines), were on time and even a couple of minutes early. Thank you Delta and Horizon. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was!
And then I began to think how absurd it was that I was that ecstatic over a service provider doing what it says it will do. I’ve written on the subject before, and I’ll just have to do it again, because every time I run into an example, I think it’s hilarious how excited I get that someone has done exactly what they have promised to do.
It doesn’t matter if the provider has spelled out the promise or has simply implied it. Our experience of service in this world is such that we often expect disappointment. What are the promises you have explicitly (fully and clearly expressed) or implicitly (implied, rather than clearly stated) given your residents and prospects? Do you know how well you are delivering on your promises?
Some promises your prospects and residents believe you have made:
- The agreed-upon apartment will be completely clean and all appliances and fixtures will be in good working order when I move in;
- I will be treated as well as all the other residents, and that means we all experience courtesy and respect;
- Service requests are easy to submit, and it will be addressed within 48 hours (though I really expect 24 hours);
- The office and maintenance team will remember my name after we’ve had an interaction;
- If I call or email the office, I will hear back from them on that same day;
- The entire staff wants me to feel comfortable and happy in my home;
- If any resident breaks the rules, the office will address it promptly and consistently (even if it’s me!);
- The maintenance team will leave my home as clean as, or cleaner than, they found it when completing a service request.
This is just a sample list of some of the promises the prospects and residents believe you have made to them. Do any of them surprise you? What other promises have been made? How well are you and your team delivering on these promises? And most important, are your prospects and residents surprised when you deliver?
I have to say it. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. How many times have we heard that? It has turned into one of those phrases we’ve seen and heard so many times that it doesn’t mean anything any more. Let me re-introduce you to it now. In every leasing and service situation, we have a few opportunities to make a first impression. The first time a prospect calls or emails us. The first time they drive up to the leasing office. The first time they take a tour. The first time they enter their new home as ‘official residents.’ First impression time is not over once they sign the lease. There is always Move In Day! And in my opinion, this is the most critical first impression you’ve got!
I heard a great example of a fabulous Move-In Day first impression from military housing, though it translates beautifully to any move-in. On MoveIn Day, the leasing agent saw the maintenance team had confirmed the home was clean and ready for the family, so she did a last minute walk-through to give it a double check. Everything was in order. She then reviewed the lease documents and made a mental note of all the family member names. When they arrived, she stood and greeted them with, “Welcome to Sunny Meadows! We have been expecting you.” She shook hands with the husband and wife and greeted them with, “Good morning, Mr. Sanchez. It’s so good to see you Mrs. Sanchez.” Then she stopped and greeted their 10-year old daughter, “Good morning, Lisa. We’re happy to have you with us.”
Being greeted by name made a tremendous impact on the family, and even little Lisa felt involved. Once the paperwork was complete and the keys were handed over, they all went to the new home and did a walk through together. The leasing agent expressed great satisfaction in being able to walk with the family and share in their excitement of moving into their new home, and seeing through their eyes how nice everything looked. She was proud to be able to report back to the maintenance team that the family was very pleased and there were no reported service requests at move-in.
Residents begin to make their renewal decision within hours and days of moving in. If the move-in day is hectic, the paperwork is delayed or the keys aren’t where they are supposed to be, the Move In Day first impression is negative. New residents immediately begin to wonder if they made the right decision in choosing their new home. If they discover during that first day that the bath tub is dirty or if the dishwasher doesn’t run properly, or some screens are missing from the windows, they question what their residency will be like. New residents with outstanding maintenance issues within the first three months are 25% less likely to say they are “Very Likely” to renew, compared to residents who have lived at the community for a minimum of one year. This means that a negative first impression can create a negative attitude toward lease renewal.
Here are some things the entire team can do to create that WOW First Impression Move-In Day:
- Maintenance: “Walk right” for the final walk-through, meaning that when you walk in the front door, turn to the right and follow the wall, checking everything in your path including switchplates, electrical and phone outlets, window coverings, screens, paint, fixtures, applicances, etc. Keep walking to the right until the entire home has been walked and any discrepencies have been noted and addressed.
- Maintenance: Once any issues have been fixed, notify office that the home is ready.
- Leasing: Ensure paperwork and keys are ready, making note of resident names.
- Leasing: Complete final walk through of home before residents arrive.
- Leasing: Welcome new residents and greet them by name. Once any paperwork is completed and keys are given, offer to walk them through their new home.
- Leasing: Follow up with new residents at the end of the week to see if there are any questions or issues.
The retention process begins with the resident experience from Day 1. Set yourself up for success, and find as many ways as possible to make Move In Day as pleasant, easy and worry-free as possible. What ideas do you have to make that great First Impression?
Browsing some other multifamily blogs today, I noticed one that read, “Do New Residents Make People Move Out of Your Apartments?” I liked the author’s line of thinking, because the heart of the matter is that perception of Value. As we wine and dine any prospects we can get our hands on, offering discounts, upgrades, vacations and what not, our long-term residents can begin to feel, “What am I? Chopped liver?”
Quotable quotes from real resident satisfaction surveys:
“The attention and service from the leasing and office staff is great before moving in; after you move in, it all stops.”
“The biggest problem to me is to get a response from the person who was my leasing agent. I have tried to set up a meeting with the manager about my concerns, but have had no luck.”
“Getting a returned call or email now that I have moved in would be nice.”
As we place more focus on closing the back door, remember it’s a question of whether the resident is seeing the value your community provides. Yes, the rental rate is one big aspect of value, but another aspect of value is what they get for that rate they are paying:
- Quick resolution of submitted service requests
- Quick responses to calls and emails
- Notification of delayed work order resolution, or upcoming inconveniences (slurry seals, office closures, etc.)
- Convenient service offerings, such as online work order submission, online rent payments, text work order submission
The decision point comes when these things are not happening. That’s where residents begin to suspect they are not getting the value they expect. That’s when they start looking around at what the new residents are getting or what competing properties are offering.
Do you like your residents? Do you enjoy what you do? Show it. Let your residents know. Demonstrate the value every day through those little things bulleted above. Allow yourself to say, “It’s because of all the residents that I love apartment management!”