While it is easy to contact a property management answering service or call center and set up an after-hours maintenance hotline, making sure it works well for you and your tenants requires a bit more effort. Below are some tips you can follow to make sure you are doing everything you can to get the most out of the service and keep your tenants happy.
1. Personalize the service as much as possible
The default property management script that your call center provider has on file will get the job done, but it’s always better to personalize it to fit your business.
For example, the default way that operators answer the phone may be “Thank you for calling, may I help you?” Instead of leaving this the way it is, modify it to include the name of your property and the purpose of the line, such as “Thank you for calling Forest Pines Condominiums after-hours maintenance hotline, may I help you?” It’s a minor change, but it makes people more comfortable knowing that they’re calling your dedicated line.
Or, for instance, if the hotline will be used for apartments that are all in the same building and have the same address, make sure operators only request the apartment number. It’s annoying being forced to provide your entire address when all that’s needed is the number. This goes for properties in the same City and State, as well. No need to ask questions that you already know the answer to.
2. Clearly communicate to tenants what constitutes an emergency
Your tenants should know what is considered an emergency by your company and what isn’t. Unfortunately, property managers often give criteria to their call center but not tenants, resulting in a lot of heated conversations. Instead of just giving your tenants a number to call after office hours, give them the same list of emergencies that you give your call center and let them know what will result in an after-hours maintenance visit and what will hold for the office.
Alternatively, you can scrap the list of emergencies altogether, instead relying on a question that asks the tenant whether they feel their situation is urgent and requires attention before regular office hours. The potential for abuse here is obvious, but it’s definitely a more customer friendly approach.
Ultimately, only you can decide what is best for your situation, but either approach will work well if everyone is properly educated.
3. Stick to your office hours or prepare your call center to field additional types of calls
Understandably, having the power to forward your lines to the after-hours service whenever you want is sometimes too alluring to pass up. If you’re going to leave the office or stop taking calls during your regular business hours, be sure that your call center is prepared to handle the different types of calls that they will be receiving. It’s bad for business to force callers into a call center that can’t do anything for them and has no information regarding what’s going on in the office. By communicating with your call center and telling them what your schedule is and when you’ll be out, they will have more information to provide callers and be more confident handling your calls. In addition, the scripting and instructions they follow should be appropriate for type of calls they’re taking and what they are telling callers.
As an example, while it’s perfectly acceptable after-hours to tell a caller with a non-urgent concern to call back the next business day, it’s ineffective and confusing to be told that at 1 in the afternoon on a Thursday. Call centers can easily set up variable scripting, so make sure that you have them do so. “The office is out to lunch at the moment, but I can ask someone to return your call when they get back this afternoon” is much more appropriate.
4. Take advantage of the additional services, functionality, and technology that your call center has available
Today’s call centers are more advanced than the simple message taking services that came before them. Sometimes just taking a message and delivering it properly is all that’s needed, but you should look into the additional features and technology that your call center has available in order to determine if there’s more they could be doing for you. If so, there’s a good chance the additional service will improve the effectiveness of your call center and improve the level of customer service they’re able to provide.
Examples of additional services include: payment processing, scheduling showings on your behalf, and integrating with your CRM or database in order to look-up tenant information easier and automatically create work tickets in your system. Whether these services make sense for you often depend on your size and the investment needed to have the technology configured. When deciding whether to spend the extra money, be sure to factor in the time it takes you to perform certain tasks, whether the changes will reduce or increase your monthly bill (by increasing or reducing call times), and whether having a more advanced call center will help you decrease vacancies and improve the relationship you have with existing tenants.
I hope these tips make your call center experiences more prosperous. If you’re working with a reputable call center and they’re doing everything they can on their end, following this list should be all you need to make the relationship a success.
If you have any feedback on using an answering service/call center with your property management operation, I’d love to hear from you. Whether your relationship was a success or a complete disaster, I always find it advantageous to speak with people and learn more about what is working and what isn’t.
About the author:
Gere Jordan works in business development, marketing and operations at Continental Message Solution, Inc. (CMS), a nationwide provider of property management answering services and call center outsourcing based in Columbus, Ohio. He has experience designing and implementing effective call center solutions, improving communication workflows, and helping companies share their success via the web. For more information, or to talk shop, you can reach him via email at [email protected].