Recently, a fellow property manager posted within one of the property management forums that Property Management is 24/7 and we’d better get used to it.
Hardly news, I thought to myself.
And then, the barrage of counter-arguments started pouring in. Property managers all over the country started crying out that we need to set expectations with clients and it’s unfair for property managers to need to work after-hours.
I think many missed the point of the original post which didn’t say property managers should work 24/7, it simply stated property management is a 24/7 business. I would argue almost all service businesses are - well at least those that want to survive the 21st century.
Do we need to set expectations with clients? Yes, certainly around our service levels, which I argue should be better than they ‘expect’. However, in this day and age, is it reasonable clients can’t access what they need when they need it? I don’t believe it is.
Consider this common scenario: It’s 7am and you’re worrying about your next mortgage payment and whether your finances will align. You want to check your bank balance to make sure. In the past, you’d have had to wait until 9am to call the bank and request your account balance from a customer service representative. Now, though, you can pick up your phone and log into your banking app.
We’re able to go online 24/7 to buy clothes, do the groceries, check bills and manage our finances. I can even see what my kids are doing at kindy every day.
Considering how accessible the rest of our lives are, why do we think clients should, and will, understand that, as an industry, we’re not available and the only way for them to access information is through a person?
Those pushing back in the Facebook forum were making the argument that they, as people, can’t be available around the clock. Which is true. And, I don’t think that’s what clients want. What they want is to be able to access information when convenient for them (and for most that’s not between 9-5).
At the moment, industry technology allows clients to apply online, see key documents and important dates like paid to date, move in date and lease renewal date. It allows maintenance to be reported as it happens and viewed by all parties and bookings made to see properties when it suits the client. If we analysed the calls coming in after-hours, unless it’s truly an emergency situation like someone has passed away in the property, then most things can and should be handled from our website and tech.
If you’re finding that your property management team is receiving a lot of backlash from landlords or tenants due to lack of accessibility you may not be optimising your systems to allow out-of-hours information access.
Here are some ideas to ensure you’re providing a level of customer service 24/7:
1. Make sure your Landlord & Tenant portals are available There are no excuses anymore. Most property management programmes have the ability for at least the landlord to access their account at a time that suits them and, on some, the tenant has access as well. In 2018, this is a must-have, what we call a hygiene factor - something that will cause dissatisfaction if it’s not available.
2. Using a smart chat/communication tool Integrating smart communication tools like Intercom or Zendesk which have AI components that can segment queries, assign to the correct people, collect data and suggest helpful content are great ways to ensure your clients are able to communicate with your company and access information even when no one is in the office. With communication coming through a central intelligent platform, data is able to be analysed to uncover the most common queries coming in after hours and find ways to service this need without direct contact with the property manager. These tools also help to ensure queries are answered faster with tailored auto-responses, auto-assigning to team members and sending through helpful content to customers (so they may not even need to speak to someone!).
Example: A tenant sends through a message at 9pm asking how to pay rent if their direct debit failed. AI is able to detect keywords ‘direct debit failed’ and automatically sends back a help article on how to pay rent if your direct debit has failed. The tenant can then action this without needing to speak to the property manager and the property manager can see the conversation in the morning and know the problem has been resolved.
3. Implement an automated onboarding email series Onboarding new landlords and tenants has always fallen on the shoulders of the individual property manager and is often compressed into the 30-45 minute appointment when a landlord signs the agreement or a tenant collects the keys. In reality, the client has forgotten 90% of the information by the time they walk out the door. But, why does this need to all be done in person? Using an automated onboarding series provides a gradual education journey through which more detailed information can be conveyed over time and with a much greater likelihood of actually being retained (or, at least, later accessed from an inbox). These can be set up as manual emails at specific touchpoints for now or through high-quality applications available such as Auto Pilot, Salesforce, Mailchimp and Customer.io which are widely used by other service industries.
Example: A tenant completes their application and is approved. The first email welcomes them to the agency. Two days later, a second email lets them know to arrange all of the utilities for the home. A day later, the third email explains the General Tenancy Agreement (by video) and two days after that, they receive an email about the importance of the entry condition report. And after picking up the keys, on day three, they receive an email about how to report maintenance as they’ve likely noticed some issues in the property by then. Then it might be around rent etc. You see how this works and you may like to think about how to onboard the owner too.
4. Create a comprehensive self-help section on your website and make it accessible If you look at the majority of queries that come through after hours, a lot of them are simple FAQ style questions or seeking information already available if you’re using a CRM that has landlord and tenant portals. The thing is if this information is not easy to find on your website, or there has been no education on where to find it, people are going to default to picking up the phone or sending an email and rely on you to personally answer the question. One of the simplest ways to set up a really good self-help section is to instruct everyone in the team to write down questions from clients as they come in (e.g. when you’re on the phone to a new landlord or going through the voice messages from the previous night). Use these as the list to work from in building out your help content. Make sure you constantly promote the help section on your website so people instinctively know where to look. You can do this by adding a call-to-action in everyone’s email signatures or sending out an automated email every month or so to remind clients (as well as highlighting new and updated help articles).
As an industry, we must do more to try to see it from the lens of our clients. Before we take aim at clients and believe they’re unreasonable in their demands, try to liken their situation to something you do every day. Look at our industry from the lens of the best service you’ve received.