By Sherri Hall
It’s no secret that customer service is an essential part of any industry. This, of course, includes the community association industry where customer service is a high priority for property managers and management companies. But who are the customers in this industry?
According to Glen Masullo, President and Managing Partner of Preferred Community Management Services in Somerset, New Jersey, when it comes to communities, the property management company’s “customers” are the members of the association.
“It’s important to treat each of the member’s questions as importantly as they feel about them,” he said. “Answer them to the fullest extent you’re able to and show respect and concern.”
Masullo added that it’s important to do so even when questions become pointed or are uncomfortable.
He also noted that one thing that differentiates the community association realm from other industries is that the members, or customers, have the potential to become the property manager’s boss in a sense if they are elected to the board.
“As managers, our first right of responsibility is to the board of trustees. We work at the authorization of the board,” said Masullo. “If the board has one point of view and a member has a different point of view, we have to negotiate that topography and try to balance the two.”
One of the most important aspects of customer service in community associations is ensuring the community members are happy. “You want to satisfy your customers and in this case your customers are not just individuals, they’re part of a community,” noted Masullo.
He explained that a community grows in strength when its members are in harmony. “A divided community becomes a weaker community, and that can have negative effects on property values,” he said.
On the other hand, a happy community is a stronger community, one whose members will want to do more to improve the community’s value. “If you’re unhappy and you want to leave, you aren’t going to try and add value to your community,” said Masullo.
However, members that are happy where they live will have a sense of pride in their community and will want to take care of it, which adds value to it, he noted.
Of course, the first line of customer service comes from the manager, explained Masullo. He noted that the manager is responsible for answering members’ questions and finding solutions to problems. However, if it is not possible to find a solution for a specific problem, Masullo said the manager should give the member a clear and distinct reason as to why the problem cannot be resolved in the way the member would like it to be.
“It’s important to make your responses clear and give reasons. You want them to know the reasoning behind your actions and for them to fully understand your actions are in fact, reasonable,” he noted. “They want to know you genuinely care about their concerns and that you are professional and know how to respond to their questions.”
Masullo said that it’s important for property managers to be open, honest and show true concern about the member’s request. He explained that if a member does not feel the manager is genuinely concerned, this will devalue the response.
When it comes to the board, the board is responsible for customer service in a different way. Masullo noted that it’s important to keep in mind that the management company manages the community, while the board sets policies. “The property management company is there to advise the board. The board has to give consent. All authority runs from the board to the property manager. The property manager can’t act without authority from the board,” he said.
Masullo also pointed out that the board is only a board when they are all together. When someone on the board is alone walking around the community, they can’t represent the board.
However, the board as a whole can hear concerns from the association members and if they start recognizing that the property management company is not being responsive in a customer service matter, then the board needs to act, he said.
What the board should expect from a property manager in terms of customer service is that questions and concerns are being responded to and handled within a reasonable period of time, said Masullo.
However, it’s important to note that property managers don’t have complete control over certain things. “It’s not always in their power to have something done immediately,” Masullo noted, specifically with regard to work orders. “They can’t do the work themselves; someone else has to do that,” he explained.
“Even though the manager can’t perform the actual work, what they should do is evaluate
the priority of each work order and get high priority work orders out right away, monitor those work orders and make sure they’re being taken care of,” said Masullo.
It’s important for the manager to be able to demonstrate that the work orders are being monitored for completion within a reasonable amount of time, he added.
Another thing to consider when determining what is reasonable with regard to time is the type of property manager a community has. Masullo explained that some property managers are on-site, while others work remotely and some even run multiple sites. He noted that it’s important for management companies to not overload their managers with too many sites because it can affect their level of customer service.
There are a number of ways managers can respond to community members including face-to-face interaction, via phone or through email; however, new technology has significantly helped the industry in terms of delivering quality customer service.
According to Masullo, technology has evolved greatly since he started working in the industry in 1991. He explained that unlike in the past, members can now send photos or videos of their issues to the manager. “That makes a big difference,” he said.
“Being able to see the problem is easier than trying to understand a verbal explanation over the phone,” explained Masullo. Obtaining a photo or video also avoids having to send someone to the site to take a look at the issue. This is especially helpful with regard to small communities and those that are far for an off-site manager to travel to. The manager will be able to forward that information to the vendor without having to visit the site first.
Photos or videos of violations within the community can also be sent to the manager, which is also very helpful, Masullo added.
In addition, the ability for members to pay their bills electronically, review their governing documents or an audit on the community website or fill out forms online are also technological advances that have helped with customer service. “It really is a game changer,” said Masullo.
One way a management company knows when there is a problem with customer service is when they receive too many complaints from one specific community. Masullo said if this happens, it is important for the management company to make an extra effort to fix the problems. “You want to show you are willing to make an extra effort to satisfy them,” he noted.
However, he added that it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone can be satisfied, and some people will repeatedly call with complaints because that is their nature. “You have to accept that in this business and be able to deal with it,” Masullo said.
On the other hand, he noted that successful delivery of customer service can be measured by a positive response from the community members, such as compliments rather than complaints.
To provide great customer service, it’s important for managers to demonstrate specific traits. “People want to know you care. You need to be able to show that in your response and not just give a one-word answer,” said Masullo. You also have to show knowledge and professionalism. If you don’t know the answer, you have to be willing to say, ‘I don’t know but I can find out for you.’ You have to be pleasant and express that through your tone. That makes the customer feel at ease and gives them confidence in you.”