Savvy business owners know the value of customer satisfaction and firmly believe a business is only as good as its reputation. And make no mistake – landlords and property managers are business owners, and would do well to take note of the following data on consumer satisfaction surveys and recent industry trends.
A Consumer Complaint Survey Report (2012) conducted by Consumer Federation of America found customer complaints about housing and home improvement ranked eighth in the top ten consumer complaint categories. In the previous year, these issues were ranked seventh. In a 2011 survey conducted by the same agency, landlord-tenant problems came in second place among five of the fastest growing complaints received. Complaints ranged from refusal to repair to unfair or illegal evictions.
Landlord and tenant issues are hardly a new phenomenon, nor are issues raised by property owners against property managers. What is new is the means by which consumers are now choosing to voice those complaints; a method which, by all accounts, has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years. Today’s’ consumers aren’t limiting their complaints to telephone calls to managers or reports to the BBB (Better Business Bureau). Unsatisfied customers are taking their complaints to social media sites, blogs and other public forums to voice their dissatisfaction to the general public. What was once a private dispute between landlord and tenant, or property owner and manager has recently become a public affair for all to see and analyze.
Consumers have taken to sharing their reviews of company’s products and services on such local review sites as Yelp, Yahoo Local, Google Places, Facebook and Twitter, among others. The average number of monthly viewers on each of these sites is in the millions. Many have five star rating systems and they all have open forums where any consumer can leave a review of your business (for better or worse). Of course, some sites do a better job than others with quality control, such as controlling for spam and fake reviews.
According to a Nielsen Report on Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages (April 2012), a whopping 70% of consumers trust the online opinions of other consumers; coming in second only to 92% of consumers who still trust the opinions of people they know.
Should you be worried? Not if you’re taking notes.
Consider that millions of consumers, who have never even heard of your company, can now read all the (glowing) reviews about your services at the click of their mouse, from your current and past customers. Voila! Without spending a dime or an ounce of your energy, you now have a brand spanking new prospect primed and ready to do business with you.
Here are some ways to ensure a five star reputation on- and off-line while leaving your competition trailing far behind:
Resident Retention Plan – If you do not already have one, put a plan in place immediately. Your plan does not have to be an elaborate one; it just needs to be an incentive the tenants want. Incentives like having the carpets professionally cleaned at every lease renewal, free lawn care during tenant’s birthday month, or for property owners, a free month on their birthday. You can have tenants complete a survey indicating what they consider good incentives, which in itself often helps tenants feel heard and understood.
Auto Updates – All relationships thrive on communication; the business relationship is no different. Owners want to be kept in the loop and will appreciate you having a system in place to do just that. Set up an automatic e-mail to be sent weekly (whenever there is a vacancy) or monthly (when there is not much to report) providing them with updates on your leasing efforts, the condition of the lawn, or relevant neighborhood news. They will appreciate the extra effort. Similarly, with modern technology there is no excuse for being inaccessible for long periods of time. Your clients want to feel they matter. It is difficult to feel that way when they cannot reach you.
Quarterly or Semi-Annual Checkups – Whether you are a landlord overseeing your own properties or a property manager hired to oversee someone else’s, your job is to ensure the property is being well cared for and to prevent disasters whenever possible. Owners and good tenants appreciate the landlords and property managers’ visible involvement; it gives them a sense of security. Include in your lease agreements information regarding routine maintenance follow-ups and adhere to that schedule.
Proactive Approach – Anticipating potential problems and addressing them long before you need to will go a long way in the eyes of your tenants and owners. No tenant wants to suffer even for a few hours in the sweltering summer heat or biting winters while your maintenance crew or contractor assesses and repairs the problem. Regularly scheduled and preventive maintenance is the key to averting these potential nightmares.
Under-Promise and Over-Deliver – This is not just a cliché. This should be your motto and a part of your daily operations. When done correctly, you will never have to worry about what customers say about you and your services.
State It in Writing – Have everything in writing and follow it closely. You should go over your leases with your tenants and not leave it up to them to read on their own. Most tenants will unfortunately not read through their leases when signing, and are often unaware of obligations, rules, regulations, etc covered in them. It is your job to ensure they are clear on what is expected of them. Further, the same rule applies for any rental addendums or disclosures. You should follow the same rules with your property management agreements.
Reserve, Reserve, Reserve – As a landlord, never spend all of your profits. You will want to put a percentage away each month for those unexpected repairs which may be more expensive than the average. Property managers should always hold a portion of the owners’ money in reserve for those same reasons. Delaying a repair will never sit well with a tenant. Having the funds available to address issues as they come up will always win you favor among your residents and owners.
Did you take notes? Now you can get busy building that stellar reputation and encourage all of your customers, whether tenants or landlords, to review to their hearts’ content.