Over the last few years, the PropTech world has been abuzz with a shift to centralized leasing, a move that has improved both property managers’ efficiency and renters’ satisfaction. However, what about after a resident moves in? How can property management companies replicate the streamlined leasing experience with their onsite staff and maintenance crews?
Enter: centralized maintenance, a strategy for ramping up your maintenance operations from a people, process, and systems perspective.
Unsure of where to begin? Here, we’ll walk through some of the important decisions property managers need to make before you embark on your maintenance centralization journey.
1. What’s Your Labor Strategy?
Everyone has heard about the Great Resignation. Now more than ever, employees value flexibility and freedom in their work, and if they don’t have that at their current job, they’ll look (and go) elsewhere. You need to have strategies in place, not only for accessing and hiring the right talent, but also for retaining the talent you already have.
Especially since the pandemic, remote work has been on the rise. While maintenance staff are likely resigned to the idea that their position is a strictly in-person one, what if you could change that? With maintenance centralization, some of your technicians can work from home, addressing residents’ more minor concerns over the phone or video call.
Aside from remote work, how can you improve your overall staff experience? As we mentioned, employee experience has a huge impact on retention, and if you’re not measuring employee satisfaction and taking action to consistently improve it, you risk losing part of your workforce. This is especially true for on-call technicians who often have insufficient downtime and are pinged in the middle of the night for non-emergency situations.
Lastly, consider the skills and training your labor force needs to work optimally, and then provide it. Then, figure out how to best distribute your workforce. Should you have specialists working remotely and generalists working on site, or the opposite? Design your labor strategy as it best fits your, and your residents’, needs.
2. Is Your Tech Stack Adaptable and Flexible?
In the PropTech world, your tech stack is your lifeline, and if it’s not sufficient, it could be disastrous for your operations.
If you don’t have adequate systems in place, you must first consider if you want to build or buy your technology. In our eyes, this one is pretty simple—unless you have millions of dollars at your disposal, an expertise in software development, and a stellar lineup of technical talent, you’re likely better off sticking with the off-the-shelf solutions.
Next, think about the flexibility and scalability of your systems. In the future, are you planning to scale up your operations? If so, are your people, processes, and systems set up to cope with that? Though you may be buying off-the-shelf solutions, you need to make sure these systems are still adaptable to your organization’s unique needs. Don’t let rigid “checklists” fool you. Instead, look for systems and templates that work as data capture and business intelligence solutions.
Finally, trim the fat. If you’re still printing work orders or keying information from one system to another, you’re wasting valuable time by double handling data. Instead, think about ways you can prevent or triage work orders before you get onsite so that you can bring the right tools and methodology in a single trip.
Other aspects of the resident and maintenance experience you can automate for a positive ROI include communications and notifications, asking for permission to enter, collecting relevant information to enrich the maintenance request details, triaging, scheduling, and reporting.
A word on artificial intelligence: Though there are infinite ways to make your systems more efficient with AI, some AI solutions are putting the cart before the horse. Ignore the buzzwords—instead, extract as much value from your data as possible with automations that don’t require “disruptive AI.” For example, HappyCo’s Call Complete technology automatically captures and routes missed calls for faster, better resolution.
3. Do You Know Your Resident?
What do your residents expect their experience to be as part of your community? Have you ever asked them?
We have, and we were surprised by some of the results. 70%1 of residents expect some form of self-help guide, that covers common issues such as how to reset an in-sink disposal unit, to be available. Having this information about your residents’ expectations helps you meet, or even exceed, them.
Additionally, residents value a more personalized experience, not a “one size fits all” approach. If the only option you give them is calling the front desk, you’ll always be one step behind, and the residents that prefer to do it themselves will be left frustrated.
While some residents might identify as “DIY” experts, others might prefer service from a technician when available. The only way to know is to ask them when they move in or create a process that allows them to opt in or out. For example, provide common parts in an accessible area of the apartment complex, but if they get stuck, give them the option to ask for help.
You might also have some replacement parts that you provide, and some that you don’t. Tell your residents in advance if you’ll be able to replace their light bulbs or refrigerator water filters before they unnecessarily spend the money.
When in doubt, communicate. If residents wait more than 24 hours2 for a response, they consider it a negative experience. If you’re struggling with response times, consider implementing a concierge solution that can reply in one hour or less, allowing residents to find a fix in an automated way.
4. What CX Do You Want Your Residents and Staff to Have?
As a property manager, have you thought about your company’s brand? Regardless of which demographic, psychographic, or sociographic you’re talking to, so much of your brand reputation depends on giving your residents an enjoyable, seamless customer experience (CX). In theory, it’s pretty simple: Understand your residents’ expectations, meet them at the bare minimum, and surpass them whenever possible.
When it comes to maintenance requests, do your residents have true omnichannel support, or is one channel more reliable than the other? For example, can they submit requests via text and QR code - or are they required to log into a web-based portal? On the other hand, what is the best way for your staff to handle and respond to requests, and how can you ensure they have the most pertinent information at their fingertips?
If your CX is currently fragmented, what are some ways you can bring together disparate systems into one, unified process? For example, if your residents need to go trawling through emails to find out how to input a maintenance request, why not provide them with a fridge magnet QR code when they move in instead?
5. Are You Keeping Revenue & NOI Top of Mind?
We get it, there’s a lot to focus on—between making sure your residents are happy, retaining your maintenance talent, optimizing your tech stack, and making sure everything runs seamlessly. Regardless, ROI should be behind every decision you make.
During the decision-making process, consider total costs, savings, and staff and resident retention. A 10% improvement in retention and maintenance expenses may not sound like a lot, but the impact to the asset’s underlying value is significant. A project that yields $50,000 a year savings could change the value of the asset by $500,000.
To keep yourself and your team honest, define the right metrics and learn how to measure productivity without needing to watch people work. Let go of “traditional” productivity measures, and instead keep the data you need to make the best use of your resulting reports top of mind.
If you consider the first four items on this list and do them right, revenue and profit should ultimately be happy byproducts of a job well done.
Ever since she was a kid, Ebby has always loved reading, writing, and storytelling. After graduating from College of Charleston in 2018, Ebby started a career in marketing for start-ups and scale-ups and never looked back. She's thrilled that she now gets to share HappyCo's stories across formats and channels for a living.