Think about it. How many times do residents see the leasing staff compared to maintenance technicians? It used be that an office staff person could figure on seeing a resident at least a dozen times a year when the rent was due. But with online bill pay, some residents venture to the leasing office far fewer times.
The opportunity for maintenance techs to have face time with residents is increasing. Techs are out in the community day after day, working with residents on maintenance issues or repairs. Or, they are seen working in and around apartment buildings, doing what they do to keep the lights on in multifamily.
That’s why maintenance team members must understand their roles in the customer experience, Paul Rhodes, National Maintenance and Safety Instructor for the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI), says. Because a resident may be more likely to put a face with a community through contact with maintenance personnel, technicians need to be on top of their games at all times.
“Almost every day, residents may see maintenance because they’re doing service requests,” Rhodes says. “It’s important that maintenance personnel have clean uniforms, show confidence and professionalism and look like they know what they are doing. Maintenance has to understand how they are perceived and their role in the resident experience.”
Rhodes offers myriad ways that maintenance teams can improve the resident experience:
Streamlining the types of products and parts used throughout each apartment in the community will simplify the service processes and lead to quicker resolution of maintenance issues and repairs. For example, a property should use the same type of vanity faucet or door knob throughout the property, and maintenance should always have such items in stock for replacement. Standardizing saves time and money because there are fewer variables when maintenance completes service requests, Rhodes says. When the technician arrives with the right part the first time, residents are more confident in maintenance’s ability.
Perception is a reality, whether it’s true or not, says Rhodes. For example, a maintenance tech who looks clean, professional and is wearing a smile but may not be as experienced will connect with a resident rather than a master technician who’s dirty, seems disheveled and is a little agitated. The resident won’t know which is the lesser experienced, but the more professional-looking tech is more likely to gain the resident’s confidence.
Maintenance has a larger role in communication with the resident than many realize. It’s important for technicians to communicate in a way with residents so that nobody gets offended, especially when it’s an issue created by resident error.
“You want to get information across in a way that doesn’t offend, belittle or sound condescending to residents,” Rhodes says. “Make sure the maintenance team is getting training in communication.”
Proper Appliance Use
Rhodes says residents don’t always understand how appliances work, and often don’t read the instruction manuals left at move-in. Short videos featuring onsite maintenance technicians that are accessible on mobile devices can educate residents on how to properly operate appliances like ovens, dishwashers and washing machines. The videos are a great way for residents to connect with Maintenance while also helping reduce service calls.
Just as residents don’t always read the instructions, maintenance techs sometimes look the other way on appliance manuals, Rhodes says. A technician who doesn’t appear to know how to fix a problem is a maintenance disaster, Rhodes says. That’s all the more reason that technicians should receive periodic training, especially since technology changes.
“Refrigerators don’t have defrost timers these days,” he says. “They now have a circuit board to advance the cycle. You have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to force defrosting. It’s run by a computer.”
Rhodes says giving residents a repair-related move-in gift is a sure way to put the maintenance team against a wall.
“Don’t give out a toilet plunger as a move-in gift,” he says. “Let’s think it through... you have a resident move in, they pay rent and they are greeted in the bathroom by a toilet plunger. That’s like buying a car with a 100,000-mile warranty, but you open the trunk and it’s full of tools. How much confidence in the plumbing does this brand new resident have?”
Giving the gift of a plunger can be done by the maintenance team after they’ve used a new plunger to clear the lines on a service call.
“In this way the resident knows that the toilet works, and maintenance will respond if there is a problem,” Rhodes says.
Educate office staff about the information that Maintenance needs on a service request. Rhodes says the office needs to know the difference between a dripping faucet and leaking faucet, and be able to convey that to the maintenance team before the service call. He recommends arming staff with cue cards that can be used to ask questions and get better detailed information from residents when they call for service. “It’s teaching the right language for office staff to use,” Rhodes says. “The cards are written in Maintenance’s own words so that Maintenance gets a more complete description of the problem.”
Invite office staff members to spend a full, normal day shadowing a maintenance technician. That, Rhodes says, will help leasing associates and administrative assistants who are likely to field maintenance calls a better understanding of what the technician needs to do the job right the first time.
If a technician has to return to the job because he or she doesn’t have the right information and tools, resident confidence in management’s ability to resolve issues may be shaken, Rhodes says. By the same token, spending a normal day in the office can help a technician with understanding life as a leasing professional.
A Maintenance Social is a great way to let residents mingle with technicians in a casual atmosphere. Rhodes encourages management to put spatulas in their tech’s hands and host a hamburger or hot dog cookout during the outdoor season.
“Make it maintenance-themed so that your residents see maintenance techs as human beings, and maintenance techs see the same in residents,” he says.
Consider having an agenda, and include topics like most common service requests and tips residents can use to help their apartments run more efficiently.
Host regular team meetings with the office staff so that everybody is always on the same page.
“Let the maintenance department talk about what’s going on in their world and the office talk about what’s going on in their world,” Rhodes says. “But it can’t be about whining.” Understanding issues that face each group will help improve communication with residents and resolve problems faster, Rhodes says. --- This article originally appeared in Property Management Insider, an e-newsletter produced by RealPage.
Kettler Maintenance: Winning Residents Over
Some apartment residents can’t help but to look over Kettler maintenance service manager Joe O’Donnell’s shoulder while he makes routine repairs in their apartment.
O’Donnell says new residents—those who spent the past great number of years living in single-family homes—can become leery of just letting an employee enter their apartment home.
“Having been in a house most of their life, they just aren’t used to the way apartment living works,” he says. But O’Donnell (right) makes the most of the situation—and usually makes a new friend.
“Maintenance techs are around the residents all of the time,” he says. “It’s important to show them good customer service. And making friends with them goes a long way in keeping them satisfied with living in our community.
“At first, they are leery. But you talk about the weather a bit, make a few jokes, fix whatever needs fixing, bring a few new lightbulbs or batteries if they need them, and sooner or later they are saying hello to you on the property. They even request you by name.”
O’Donnell has worked in maintenance for 12 years and at Kettler’s The Metropolitan at Villages of Leesburg, a mixed-use community in suburban Virginia, for six years.
“For us, it’s all about making their resident experience the best and smoothest for them that we can,” O’Donnell says. “We might fix their washing machine on the weekend, because we know that’s when they do most of their wash. One resident was having trouble with their cable hook-up, so we came in and did a quick adjustment.
“It might take a short while, but eventually you win them over. You can tell that they are happy to see you. They bake you cookies!”
Post’s ‘Good Letter’ Program Brings Smiles
The “Good Letter” Program at Post Properties is helping its communities improve resident retention rates and incentivizing maintenance technicians to deliver superior customer service.
Keith Gibson, Director Maintenance Training, says that building rapport with residents is a critical aspect of property management.
“When you improve resident satisfaction, you improve retention,” Gibson says. “One month before their lease expires, I would visit any residents who either have not renewed or who are on the fence about renewing and try to offer them something special or above and beyond that is service-related, such as carpet cleaning or repairs.”
He says the Post team is motivated each day to provide exemplary service because that effort can result in residents submitting good letters, positive emails or comments to the manager.
Those comments are collected and used in company-wide newsletters as a salute to excellent service.