Foundations of the New Operational Standard in Multifamily Maintenance

Soooo, just being honest here - the original title of this post was "Foundations of the New Normal in Multifamily Maintenance".

It just didn't feel right and though accurately descriptive, the term "new normal" is, well, an over-used and somewhat nauseating phrase at this point. It shares similar status to "unprecedented", "trying", and let's not forget our favorite: "uncertain" times.

That said, the team here at ServusConnect is going to work really hard to try and not use any of these (or the other Pandemic Words People Hate) moving forward. You are welcome.  :-)

Let's Use "New Operational Standards" Instead

It just sounds better, doesn't it?

Operational standards and associated best practices change as business conditions change; this is a pretty normal phenomenon. What is painfully clear, through 5 months of pandemic-experience, is that business conditions have changed.

This is most definitely the case for Multifamily/Apartment Maintenance Operations - hence there are some new standards and best practices centered around Contact-Less.

Foundations to Contact-Less Maintenance Operations

In previous blog posts, we've shared pre & post pandemic data and forward-looking insights from industry leaders, and how multifamily data supports the case for investing in a contact-less resident experience.  At this point, it's fair to say that operational best practices to minimize close person-to-person contact have become the new operational standard and technology can and should play a key role in facilitating these contact-less experiences.

This being said, there are a three foundational capabilities that should considered essential in order to facilitate a Contact-Less maintenance experience - least they make it much, much easier:

1. Online & Mobile

This is a basic first step, but needed to unlock the rest. It's maintenance information when staff needs it, where they need it and how they need it. Online service requests & mobile work orders accessible from any device (both staff & resident) is not just convenient and a time-saver, its an essential piece of the new operational standard in multifamily for a contact-less maintenance workflow. It's also the main contributor to the real-time visibility and reliable historical record-keeping - without real-time input from the field, visibility is hampered and stale.

2. Workflow Automation

Online & mobile unlocks the ability to apply layers of automation to maintenance workflows. Eliminating redundant or routine tasks through automation reduces risk on many levels, not to mention is a huge time-saver. Examples of this are automatically notifying the resident of work order status via text message, or auto-assigning a resident service request to a technician's mobile device. These are simple, yet effective ways to save time, remove bottlenecks and eliminate unnecessary person-to-person contact, thereby reducing risk.

3. Visibility-Through-Analytics

A key to any successful operations teams, realtime & historical visibility into what's done, what needs to get done, who's doing what, resident service sentiment, and countless other KPIs are not just a nice-to-have's, but need-to-have's. Combine this with a window into things like geo-mapping of unit conditions (like "units under quarantine"), analytics and the inherent visibility they provide are an extremely important operational decision-making tool.

Operationally Proven, Fundamentally Sound

The good news is that, like many other operational technologies (online leasing, resident portals, chatbots, virtual tour platforms) seeing more wide-spread adoption by multifamily operators, these foundation capabilities have been around for a while and are proven - this is certainly the case with the ServusConnect Platform.

We also recognize that as technology servicing apartment maintenance operations, it is our responsibility to push the limits of our platform and do everything possible to facilitate safe interaction between maintenance teams and residents. Not only are we developing new features to assist in general safety & awareness of maintenance operations, we recognize there is more work to be done, so be ready for more innovation from us in the upcoming weeks and months!

Now is the Time for a Touch-Less Resident Experience. Here's Why...

Who hasn’t walked into a grocery store and felt icky about punching in your shopper’s club card at the checkout pin-pad, or maybe you've made a practice of using your knuckles to enter your PIN number at the gas pump. How about the liberal application of hand sanitizer not only on your hands, but also your keys, credit card, door handles, steering wheel, radio volume, and shifter knob every time you get into the car?! You are not alone… :-)

Overnight, touch-less experiences went from being convenient in grocery stores and gas stations, to being viewed as essential for general safety and personal wellness of everyone. Zoom meetings, online grocery pickup & delivery, virtual classrooms, work-from-home, social distancing...all touch-less experiences that were once the exception are now the norm. Business trips, trade-shows, handshakes, concerts, physical classrooms, the exception.

That said, if you are in Multifamily and you aren't already all-over creating a touch-less Resident Experience, you should start immediately. Online LeasingVirtual Tour Strategy & Mobile Maintenance should be top on your list. You should also be aggressively marketing your touch-less capabilities and efforts. Here's Why...

Data Supports Change in Resident Sentiment

In June, ServusConnect participated in a webinar that examined Multifamily data & trends during and after lockdown. Checkout these data points specific to digital (inherently touch-less) interactions for current and prospective residents:

  • Website traffic up by 32%
  • 67% swing in applications received online versus in-person
  • Resident portal use up by 31%
  • Significant increases in electronic rent payments (credit card, ACH)
  • Equally-significant drops in cash & check payment volumes
  • 30% increase in service requests submitted online
  • 20% of all service requests were addressed remotely (SMS, voice, video assist; parts-at-door)

(BTW - if you are interested, here is a link to a complete summary of that webinar)

Pandemic, for better or worse, has forced previously lagging adoption of resident-facing technology in Multifamily. Renter sentiment has shifted to not only be more accepting of digital methods of interacting on things like rent payments, service requests and leasing, the pandemic has moved the needle to preferred.

Health & Wellness Has Become a Key Business Driver

Speaking of digital methods of interacting, as an industry, Multifamily has been working on digital transformation for some time now. That said, key business drivers for investment in associated technologies focussed on enhancing competitive advantage, cost-savings, and NOI improvement.

Incidentally, like many other software vendors in Multifamily, we here at ServusConnect have spent years messaging and calculating these drivers, along with other benefits such as greater staff efficiency, more detailed repair documentation, faster service, improved resident experience, meaningful data, measurable ROI, etc.

Here’s the “but”: the game has changed. Pandemic has changed our priorities. Safety, health & wellness of residents and staff is a key business driver - it’s on the list, actually, near the top.

If you haven’t started to place a priority on, or put a strategy together for technologies that enable a touch-less resident experience, now is the time. Again, Online LeasingVirtual Tours & Mobile Maintenance are good starting points.

Technology Maturity

The good news is that these technologies have been around for some time now and are proven. Not only that, but deployments of these types of technologies have simplified greatly - frankly everyone is just better at it.

Speaking for our team here at ServusConnect, we've been focussed on Mobile Maintenance and optimizing Resident's service experience for many years now. This isn't a shameless plug, as the same can be said for not only our competitors, but for many other vendors enabling touch-less resident experiences for online leasing, payments, contact centers, virtual tours, etc.

Plan...But Continue to Hope

Psychologists say it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. We’re well beyond that with our current pandemic precautions, which means all of the statistics previously listed are only going to increase as behaviors and habits get locked-in.

In the meantime, as we all prepare, plan and implement for a new normal where face-to-face interaction takes a back seat to touch-less ones, let's all keep hope alive for a cure and some return normalcy.

Personally, I'm hopeful for an afternoon baseball game with my wife & kids in a packed Durham Bulls Athletic Park...