Managing owner and resident service requests is an integral part of a property manager’s job. However, it can also be overwhelming – within even a modestly sized community, there may be dozens of requests which need to be actioned at times. What’s the best way to stay on top of it all? This article will cover five best practices to ensure owners and residents receive the best service possible.
First, it’s extremely important to be clear on service level agreement (SLA) and supported communication channels. How fast will the management team be expected to respond to requests? What constitutes a high priority or low priority request? How should residents contact management? Is a casual chat in the lobby considered an actionable request, or should residents submit all requests online or at a minimum, in writing?
These expectations and rules of engagement are usually set by the board and management together, and will depend on the building, the type of requests and the staffing level of the building. All of these factors impact what constitutes a reasonable turnaround. The biggest danger here is in not setting expectations at all – if service levels are not made explicit, some residents (or even board members) will have unmet expectations.
Store everything in one spot
Regardless of whether a request comes in via email, a phone call, an in-person chat or a letter slipped under the office door, property managers should endeavor to get all of their requests into one consolidated list.
Whether using a simple Excel file or an online database system, this best practice has several benefits. Users can see at a glance what is outstanding and can sort requests by urgency or type to see which items need to be addressed first.
By using an online software package, it’s easy to report on other important statistics: how many requests are being received per month? On average, how long does it take to close a request? Which units or individuals are submitting the most requests? It’s also possible to answer these questions by tracking all requests in Excel, but it will take more work to get the answers.
The key with this best practice is to pick one database and stick with it. Everything goes into one spot for requests, no matter how it originated.
Focus on clear communication
Once a request has been received, it is important to keep the requestor up to date on what’s happening. Property managers should provide updates on the following key points:
1. After the request is received, acknowledge the request and ideally provide a reference number (this can easily be automated through an online portal).
2. Update them again to communicate any important updates; e.g, if there is an expected timeline for resolution, or when access to their suite will be required, etc.
3. Finally, it’s important to close the loop and notify them again when the request is considered complete. Consider taking this opportunity to ask for feedback.
These are basic steps but can easily be skipped in the day-to-day rush of a busy management office. By having everything stored in one spot, all updates can be easily searched and reviewed. If some staff are on vacation or out sick, their replacement can easily pick up the trail and ensure the request doesn’t get stuck.
Ditch email; receive requests online
Twenty years ago, email was considered a great new tool for businesses. Now, email is more of a ball and chain than an effective tool. Our inboxes are littered with junk and promotional emails, and stuff easily gets lost in an inbox that could be hundreds or thousands of messages deep. What’s a manager to do?
The most effective approach is to avoid emails completely by directing residents to put their request into an online portal system. Here’s how it works: set up an auto-responder which automatically sends a reply detailing the steps clients will need to take in order to log their request via the online portal. The change won’t happen overnight, but over time, requests will eventually be diverted and put directly into the online database.
Process requests in batches
Wherever possible, try to work on service requests in batches, which is more efficient than losing time and energy having to constantly switch between tasks. Many managers have times when their office is closed, allowing them to focus. Setting aside two hours per week will help check off requests on the list. Of course, this won’t always be possible (there will always be an emergency request which demands immediate attention), but once expectations have been sufficiently set, that should only occur with truly urgent items.
Managing service requests is a core part of property management; and while it is a rather mundane and sometimes repetitive part of the job, it doesn’t have to be stressful. By getting organized and following these best practices, managers can take the stress and uncertainty out of the process and focus on the task at hand. If managers haven’t yet established a clear process for request handling in their community, it should be added to the agenda for the next board meeting. Taking proactive steps will make the process smoother for everyone, leading to a happier board and residents.
Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control Central. This article originally appeared in CondoBusiness March 2019.