While economists and politicians tell us the economy is starting to turn around, community associations and management companies living and working in the real world are still very much feeling the pinch of the latest recession and bursting of the housing bubble. As a result of that pinch, it has become increasingly difficult for community associations to resist the siren's call of low priced management, making client retention one of the more pressing challenges facing Association Management Companies today.
Let me first say that I have nothing against lower priced options. However, there is a figurative 'bottom line' in which quality of service begins to get sacrificed in favor of lower prices. It is at this point that the Association Management company has to make a choice to either sacrifice quality (thus damaging their reputation as a company) or stand firm at a certain price point (and risk losing clients). If you are like many management companies, you may already be in this position.
Jeff Hardy, President of TOPS Software and successful former management company owner says, "It is better to sell the value proposition then be the lowest cost management company; with value being the best combination of price and service."
So how can your management company compete without sacrificing the quality of your service? Here are seven concrete things you can do to help retain your clients:
1) Get Involved
One of the first things you can do to increase client retention is to make yourself a visible part of the community. This can be anything from providing classes for new board members to opening your office conference room for meetings, to simply attending social events the community organizes. Take that a step further and offer a prize for a raffle or a donation for a charity fundraiser within the community, and your name will be on the lips of every homeowner in a positive way!
2) Keep Officers 'In the Loop'
To the best of my knowledge, no board of directors has ever complained that a management company communicated TOO MUCH with them. However, lack of communication, or under-communication is an all too common complaint. Your communications with officers should not stop at the reports you give in the monthly meeting.
A monthly email newsletter is a great way to keep all of your boards up to date with the goings on at your business (new hires, promotions, partnerships, software or hardware changes, etc). This has the added benefit of 'personalizing' your company to the community officers. In addition to the updates on your company, be sure to highlight the successes of the communities you manage, and keep them informed on updates to the laws, regulations, or any other municipal changes that may affect them.
Even something as simple as a monthly email to touch base and keep them up to date goes a long way to letting officers feel like they are 'in the loop' of your management process.
3) Assist Inter-Community Communications
Communication plays a big role in successful management, and while it is important to cater to board members, it is equally as important that you foster communication among homeowners themselves. A community website is an excellent way to provide a forum for homeowners to receive communications as well as communicating amongst themselves. In today's fast-paced society, the community website can provide a vehicle for communication amongst neighbors that hasn't been seen since the 1950s.
Combining this capability with access to each owner's information online can be a powerful tool to keep owners in touch with what is happening in the community and with their own accounts. Owners will equate the ability to check their balance, make address corrections, post service requests and check violations status with the value of the management company, and be loathe to vote to give up such a valuable resource.
4) Prove Results Through Measured Statistics
The best way to manage a client's expectation of success is to provide them with tangible results measurements. Another way to say this is "Show me, don't tell me".
The most obvious way to do this is to provide monthly reports to the board demonstrating the actions your management company has taken on their behalf over the course of the period. But don't just drop a ream of paper in front of board members each month. If board members do not understand what they are given, the hard work of providing reports has little (or even negative) effect.
If your management company software does not provide a dashboard or visual reporting method of showing those statistics visually, you can even create simple charts in Excel to provide a visual demonstration. Remember, if reports look good and are delivered on time, they have instant credibility with community officers—and reports are frequently the most concrete impression you make on community officers.
5) Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Probably the most effective measure that you can take to increase your client satisfaction is also one of the least often utilized methods: ASK.
Just ask your clients what you can do to make their lives easier. Ask them if they are satisfied with the way things are going. Ask them if there is anything you are not currently providing them that they wish you would.
Even if it is not something you are capable of doing, the very fact that you solicited their opinions and opened the door to a new conversation is enough. As the old saying goes, it never hurts to ask.
6) Take Credit for What you Do
Managers do a lot of little things on a daily basis to keep a community running smoothly. These little things may not seem like much on their own, but combined together, they add up to a lot for the community.
Whenever you walk the community, keep an eye out for the little things that you can bring to the board's attention. If you negotiate a vendor down on a contract, or gain a bulk discount for services, or touch base with individual homeowners on a topic of interest, or any of the myriad things you do, simply keep track of what you've done and don't be afraid to toot your own horn! (Maybe a tweet that you saved this community hundreds or thousands or dollars.)
With a simple CC or BCC to a board mailing list, or a post on the community's web forum - you are showing them the value of your business, and also keeping them in touch with all of the little services that your management company is providing for the community.
7) Show Customer Appreciation
If you want your customers to appreciate you (in the form of retaining your business) then the inverse applies as well - you have to show that you appreciate them!
Author Craig Huntington talks regularly in his blog about the many little rewards he gives to clients to show them he cares - bringing ice cream to a meeting on a hot day, loading a candy jar or providing coffee and donuts do not take a lot of effort, but they do go a long way to showing your clients you care about keeping their business.
Above all, always remember to say thank you. Tell them and show them that they are valuable to you as a customer, and you will receive the same loyalty in return.