Earlier this year, we interviewed Macquarie’s Domonic Thompson to get his predictions on the future of the property management industry. In particular, he predicted the move towards a relationship-based economy. This is where landlords would pick and choose their property management agency based on their customer experience, or CX.
CX in Property Management lies in stark contrast to the old-school view of property management as a series of transactions. Domonic’s predictions in his own words read:
“Firstly, we need to transition from a transactional-type business model to a relationship-based model. By that I mean, move ... towards a property services business. It’s certainly not a quick transition. But real estate businesses are in a position of advantage: they have real relationships with landlords, and they manage people’s biggest investments. Investments to which they are also emotionally attached.
They are in a great position then to do more than just rent out properties. They can offer a range of services related to that core business that can provide additional streams of revenue.”—Domonic Thompson
(Psst! You can read the full article here.) As it turns out, Domonic was right. Agencies are now feeling the pressures of increased competition, combined with higher customer service expectations. These pressures are putting strain on a lot of real estate agencies’ profit margins, and making growth difficult. But there is an answer to these challenges. To succeed in Property Management in 2019 and beyond, you need to do two things: lower your cost to serve per property, and—more importantly—provide owners with consistently outstanding CX.
Customer experience is about more than customer service. It describes the experience of every single interaction a customer (or landlord) has with a business, and the impact of those interactions on the customer’s relationship with the business.
It encompasses everything from how they receive invoices (and how those invoices are laid out) to how easy the business’s website is for them to use. It includes any portals owners can use to log in, how often, and by what means, that Property Management business contacts them, and what additional value for service they receive.
In short, creating a superior customer experience means consistently giving customers the best service they have ever had. It makes customers advocates for your business, and drives customer loyalty. That’s why superior customer experience drives customer retention, good reputation, and new business growth.
Customer experience has, in 2019, become the number one currency of value for service-based businesses. And that’s why we’re calling it: we now live in a customer experience economy. So where to from here?
The easiest place to start crafting a better CX strategy for their Property Management is by auditing what you already have. This will also help you choose the right technology and software (hint hint: it’s ours) to lower your cost to serve and improve your agency’s CX.
A CX audit looks at every possible interaction your landlords and tenants do have or might have with your business. It should encompass all aspects of Property Management service, contact points, as well as any service (or self service) options, any information, on-boarding packs or hand-outs you provide people at any point in their relationship with your business, and any adjacent services offered by the business.
In short: anything and everything that a customer sees, touches, or interacts with should be included. Then assess these items in light of how they achieve the six golden goals for better CX in Property Management and real estate.
Using these findings as a base, agencies should then begin designing a CX strategy for their business that achieves the following goals:
Typically, most agencies find they’ll need to let go of some procedures, create some new ones, and use the right technology to get better at others. Let’s take a closer look at how to assess your agency’s CX against these goals.
Examine the journey a person takes to becoming a customer or landlord. How easy and quick is it? We aren’t talking about how quick and easy it is to fill out an enquiry form on your website, although this is certainly part of it. Nonetheless, the form filling is in fact the last step in the journey towards being a customer.
The first steps in a customer’s journey are about helping them decide to make that website enquiry or phone call in the first place. Does your business provide them with all the information they need to decide that you are the business they want to manage their property? How easy is it to navigate your website? How easy is it to find your website?
How much information have you provided about your services, costs, and any extra inclusions? How easy is it for them to find that enquiry form and fill it out at the end of all that? These questions should guide your CX strategy in the first instance.
And on the other side of the coin, there’s the enquiry follow-up and on-boarding journey. How long does it typically take a person to go from an enquiry or phone call to being set up as a landlord? Reducing the time it takes for people to become landlords and providing a top-notch on-boarding experience for new landlords sets them up to be happy customers.
Landlords have more Property Management agencies to choose from than ever before. Being spoiled for choice, they’re in a better position than ever to go with the option that suits them best.
Being able to give them a number of service tier options to choose from is how you become the agency that suits them best. After all, not everyone wants to pay for a gold-plated or a bare-bones level of service. If your agency can service both kinds of clients, they’ll become a more attractive option for prospects.
On the flip side, we can guarantee you that nobody likes feeling part of a cookie cutter process that doesn’t take account of their preferences.
That’s why a core part of any CX strategy should be about giving customers options and flexibility. Providing a customisable or tiered service that enables landlords to choose the level of assistance they want managing their property ties their choice to the service they’ve chosen. Moreover, let them choose how they prefer to hear from you—maybe they don’t want paper letters, and prefer email.
Look at your current CX strategy. What options do landlords currently have? What options could you give them that they don’t have already?
Knowledge is power. Putting your expert industry knowledge in the hands of your landlords accordingly empowers them, and it provides extra value for money. Besides rental market assessments, you could consider providing them with handouts for tax time, and updates about the state of the housing sector and property market.
Data can also be a great way to demonstrate your value to landlords. Besides communicating your expertise, showing customers how you have increased the value of their investment shows them in very real terms that you are doing a good job for them.
Even if the data you have available doesn’t demonstrate an improvement in the value of an investment, it’s still a good idea. Educating landlords with data provides them with value, and you with a more sophisticated customer.
Look at your current CX strategy again and ask: what information are you providing them? What other information or data do you have that your landlords will find valuable? Where or how can I provide that to them, realistically?
Giving landlords more service options is about meeting them where they want to be met. The point of this goal is to make it easier for agencies to give landlords what they want from you, and faster too. This drives customer satisfaction, particularly where you empower them with options for self service (in addition to customer service).
A great way to start is by choosing software that has sophisticated self-service options for owners or landlords. At a minimum, they should enable landlords to download statements without a phone call to you.
A portal isn’t a substitute for customer service of course. It’s in fact an extra means of providing customer service, particularly after hours. Adding this to your customer service options, together with an email address and business + after hours phone numbers means you can start to meet your customer where they want to be met.
As for your CX assessment, ask these questions: how do landlords typically contact you? How do they prefer to be contacted? Do they currently have options? What other resources do they have (such as access to statements) at their disposal without contacting you?
How often has a property manager left or gone on leave, and another person left with their portfolio isn’t across the maintenance or other issues when the landlord calls? This is perhaps one of the most common pitfalls in agencies that don’t have an adequate system for information sharing.
It’s a really great way to look sloppy and inexpert. Information sharing internally is key to providing quality CX to customers, but it’s also good business practice too. Any property manager or other professional should be able to look at a portfolio and immediately gauge where everything is at.
Lean on Console Cloud more for help with this one. Console Cloud cross-records all correspondence, arrears, maintenance, and other issues in every landlord, tenant and property’s file. You can also see a log of what action was taken and by whom, so that nothing is lost. The same goes for central document storage: Console Cloud lets you store documents against files, so they’re always there when you need them.
Beyond technology, look at the relationships between property managers and landlords and tenants. Are they well-documented? Is there a clear protocol for filing information and handover? Is everyone reasonably across at least one other person’s workload?
Even if you provide tiered service options, customer service should be outstanding for all clients, no matter their value. This isn’t about answering calls at 4am on a Sunday, or letting them repair something they are clearly not qualified to do.
Instead, regularly ask for feedback from landlords. While 95% of them are probably happy with your service, identifying the unhappy 5% can help you reduce churn, and fix their problems before they leave. This is the strategy Harcourts Astute Paddington used to deliver outstanding customer service in this case study.
In tandem with this, measure your response times to landlords and tenants. While everyone is always going to be busy, they should still be kept within reasonable limits. Letting days slip by before returning calls or emails communicates incompetence and apathy.
Other touches we’ve seen agencies implement to great effect are simple things like sending birthday and Christmas cards or e-cards, and welcome packs. No matter the occasion, showing a little extra thought and care can go a long way towards building trust and loyalty in your business.
Check out how Console Cloud gave Professionals Lifestyle Realty Marsden the edge, or get a primer in the two methods Console Cloud uses to calculate rent arrears.