According to a survey of 170 Leasehold and Block Management companies in Fixflo’s Leasehold and Block Management Report 2019, 82% said they lost clients because customer expectations were misaligned with the actual services received. We need to think of our leaseholders and residents as customers. If trust is eroded too far, just as they would stop shopping at a retailer if it doesn’t provide their desired experience, the leaseholder or resident may be more hesitant to engage with your company in the future. When a customer thinks about the service they’ve received, they don’t compare it to similar transactions with other property management companies - they judge it based on the best customer service experience they’ve ever had. This means that in gaining their trust, you’re up against major customer-led brands like Amazon, Uber and Airbnb, to name a few.

 

Customer experience vs customer service

Only dealing with maintenance issues when they arise places businesses continually on the back foot because they can only react when there has been a negative experience. This means they’re not thinking about or fulfilling their customers’ needs. Customer service is dealing with complaints when they happen. Customer experience is having the foresight to prevent problems from happening by giving customers what they want, anticipating potential issues and providing consistent, responsive service and by building a good relationship. Here’s what I learned about customer experience from my time working with property management companies.

 

It helps to establish customer needs

 Customer satisfaction statistics can appear positive, often in the high 80%, but complaints can paint a different picture. The best way to learn what your customers really want is to talk to them regularly and listen to their needs. Leaseholders and residents like the option to speak to a real person about their issues. They like to see their property manager on-site and build a relationship with them. A simple change is to ensure your staff are wearing branded uniforms when visiting or maintaining properties, you can be a lot more visible to the customer, and they will understand what you are doing to take care of them. Becoming more transparent with invoicing, too, using graphics and simplified language, can help them to understand clearly what their service charges are paying for. You can avoid creating ‘bill shock’ from unexpected charges by having an asset plan that shows what works need to be done and when over the next few years.

 

It builds trust between you and your customer

Property managers cannot build effective relationships with customers just by working behind a computer - they have to visit their buildings regularly in person and talk to their customers face-to-face. Customer engagement needs to be an open dialogue instead of a transactional exchange.

During a visit, property managers should inspect the site and listen to residents about any problems they might be experiencing. One of the biggest and toughest issues in residential blocks is antisocial behaviour (ASB). Unlike reactive repairs, which can be reported more effectively through digital means, ASB often requires in-person site visits to be validated. Maintenance issues arise often from unresolved ASB problems, so by helping your residents deal with the ASB problem, you can ultimately reduce reactive maintenance works, and costs to your leaseholders. Whilst the property manager cannot resolve the issue then and there, showing residents that you care about their living experience as much as you manage their lifts and fire doors goes a long way to building trust.

 

It makes your block maintenance efforts more efficient

As well as staying compliant with laws and regulations, planned maintenance is important because an asset breaking down can have a devastating impact on residents. Think of a lift and how vital it is for it to work consistently every day. Imagine if you could schedule maintenance to replace minor parts so that it continues to work, completely avoiding a major failure. This can be done with an asset plan, in which you keep track of every asset in your building and when it will need to be serviced or replaced. The cyclical nature of this means that you can plan months before the maintenance event.

Planned maintenance should be communicated to residents ahead of time, so they know what to expect and whether there will be any disruptions. Explaining that you are carrying out the work during downtime in order to avoid more serious faults and a hefty service charge bill can help to build trust because it shows you are putting their experience first.

 

It allows you to align with your customer’s expectations

Residents like to be able to see what their residential management company is doing to take care of them and exactly what they’re getting for their fees. Now that property management processes are digitised with specialist tech offerings, you can collect data consistently and over time, track how each of your processes is performing. Property management is a people business, and leveraging hard data can help you prove your value and earn trust in a tangible way.

In AGMs and other regular leaseholder communications, you could show positive data trends such as a decrease in response time or a reduction in the maintenance costs in service charge accounts. 

 

It makes you more responsive to issues

 A customer who has to frequently explain their problem and repeat themselves will quickly lose trust. For this reason, the systems you use to manage repair reporting must focus on customer experience and use guided questions to get the details needed from a customer in one go. An effective maintenance reporting tool should also allow the clear tracking of issues so that, for example, if a customer reports a problem in their block that others are also having, they wouldn’t have to explain themselves because the information is already there and easily accessible to the property management team. As you would be able to track your food delivery real-time, you should allow residents to see how their repair issue is progressing and remove the need for them to chase up time and again. When a customer reports a repair, they want to have it acknowledged quickly above all else.

A reactive reporting mechanism that is available at any time will help them feel listened to, and having a resolution process which is transparent and clear can really help to build trust as they know exactly what is going on and what you’re doing for them. This must be coupled with a consistent and timely resolution, so they do not feel like they are simply speaking into the void. One way of doing this is to have your team adhere to service level agreements (SLAs) and make these known to your leaseholders.

 

It drives organisational change

Becoming a customer-led organisation can be tough because of the level of change that is required. Wide-reaching changes can appear unachievable because of their scope and complexity. Change can be organised into clear, attainable milestones. Wherever possible, make everything you do customer-focused. To do this, ask yourself a simple question: does this activity add value to the customer? 

Making customer experience the core of what you do will help you refocus your priorities. Yes, you are ultimately accountable to the landlord, client or RMC, but it is the residents who are most affected day-to-day by your work. Happy residents will mean the leaseholders and landlord are more likely to be happy with your services, too. By keeping to an effective planned maintenance schedule and engaging in open dialogue with residents and leaseholders about their maintenance issues, customers will feel cared for. This will lead to fewer complaints, better retention rates and a stronger reputation.

Nygel Scourfield

Nygel Scourfield

Nygel Scourfield AIRPM is Interim Head of Property Services at ReSI Capital Management Limited and an Industry Advisor for Fixflo.

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Nygel Scourfield
By Nygel Scourfield