Most cases that end up in front of an ombudsman are related to a lack of communication or incorrect communication. Knowing the best way to engage with leaseholders can be difficult, but it pays dividends in positive engagement, reduced phone calls, and goodwill if and when things go wrong.
As Executive Chair of The Property Institute, Nigel Glen has experience with what can happen when communication between block managers and leaseholders breaks down. He shares his insight on why this happens, how to avoid it, and why better communication is essential for everyone.
Why is communication important?
"About 90% of all ombudsman cases come back to poor communication, so it's vital that people stop and think. It's easy to see communicating with leaseholders as nothing more than extra work. But the reality is clear and effective communication can help you as much as it does them."
"Communication can be one of your greatest tools when things go wrong. Imagine a lift breaks down in your building, and the repair will be delayed due to a part coming from overseas — how would you communicate that with your leaseholders? Letting them know about the issue via email would most likely be your first port of call. However, in most cases, that is no longer sufficient. In a post-Amazon and Domino's-pizza-tracker world, people expect more granular detail and regular updates on the progress of orders that affect them," Nigel explains.
How often should I communicate with leaseholders?
You should let your leaseholders know as soon as upcoming works or repairs are confirmed. If there are changes to the timeframe, it's important to communicate these as soon as possible. Similarly, if things are going to plan, it helps to update leaseholders every 7-10 days. With the right repair reporting software, you can even automate updates on individual repairs, keeping residents informed without adding to your workload.
Well-informed leaseholders are less likely to bombard you with questions about ongoing works. Putting together an email update saves you hours on the phone, and people appreciate being kept in the loop.
"The best advice is to put yourself in their shoes. What would you like to hear if you were the leaseholder? Transparency is one of the key things that comes to mind. Always try to be open and honest, even when things go wrong. Leaseholders understand not everything is under your control, and they will appreciate having all the information up front," Nigel adds.
How can I communicate more effectively with leaseholders?
"Always be professional, and avoid oppositional language. If someone asks to challenge their service charge, encourage it. Clear, open communication can easily turn their request into an opportunity for positive interaction that allows you to demonstrate your value."
"It's absolutely vital that you keep everything above board. Any communication you have should be suitable for being read aloud in court. People become emotive because it's their home. It's very personal, and we have to be sensitive to that. If you have a good existing relationship, then there will be much less conflict if and when things go wrong, or something breaks down,” Nigel advises.
You’ll need to engage leaseholders regularly on everything from Section 20 notices to service charge requests, making strong communication an essential part of the job. Establishing a positive professional relationship makes life easier for everyone.
How can I start improving communications?
The items block managers engage leaseholders on can be difficult to process. Putting together a monthly newsletter is a great way of driving engagement and keeping people informed,as it re-contextualises the relationship you have with leaseholders in a more positive way.
"You can send bulletins out via email and provide a hard copy for common block areas. With regular updates, you can inform people about upcoming checks, repairs and temporary measures such as scaffolding, so everyone is in the loop, and you have a paper trail to prove it,” Nigel affirms.
There are a couple of things you should keep in mind when putting together your newsletter. Here are Nigel's top tips:
- Use as many images as possible - residents may not be familiar with particular maintenance tasks or what they entail, but a visual can indicate the scale of the project and what to look out for.
- Be clear - keep it short and simple, and avoid specialist terms. Be aware of the fact that English is not everyone's first language, and be as accessible as possible.
- Avoid social media - these newsletters are a more informal space for you and your leaseholders to engage, but they should remain professional. Channels such as WhatsApp also require a lot of moderation, which can be time-consuming and counterproductive.
- Use signs - incorporate signs and symbols wherever possible, so people can register your meaning at a glance.
"Communication is everything. It changes how customers see you and determines the relationship you have with them. Taking a few minutes out of your day to inform leaseholders and engage with their concerns helps you drive engagement, reduce repetitive admin and grow your circle of industry connections. It's a win-win-win," Nigel concludes.
Don't let poor communication hold you back. Our software automates communication with leaseholders, so you can keep them informed and satisfied with your services. You’ll spend less time on routine communications and have more time to talk about the issues that matter to your residents. Book a demo to discover more.