We’re all creatures of comfort. It’s sometimes easier to leave well enough alone.
We say things like, “The teams are too busy, we can’t add more to their plate,” or “What we have been doing is working, why change it?”
Enter March 2020, and the entire script of “normal” flipped. Our teams were quickly adapting to ever changing CDC guidelines and protocols. They were implementing new technologies and solutions at breakneck speed in order to remain operational. Today, we are moving out of pandemic times and facing the realization that maybe we were just content before.
Terry Danner, Sightplan CEO, challenged attendees of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver’s INNOV8 Conference that multifamily has, in fact, been too comfortable.
In his keynote, The Status Quo is Way Too Slow: The Role of Industry Leaders to Partner and Push the Operations Envelope, he explained:
“I’ve always heard the phrase, ‘You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.’ My post-operations career is focused on trying to be part of the solution, and some of that is awareness. I’m not here to advocate a specific solution, I’m here to advocate for any solution. Take action. The status quo should never be good enough.”
Industry is truly at a turning point and the relationships with supplier partners proved more valuable than ever during pandemic. Danner and special session guest, Cardinal Group CEO Alex O’Brien, offered next steps and insights into how operators and supplier partners can and should work more closely together to grow and push the industry in new, more profound directions.
Here are their top three suggestions:
Let Go of the Hesitancy
According to Danner, there are different realities at the corporate level compared to the site level, which has led to a hesitancy to move things forward quickly.
“During my time in property operations, I learned you can push your teams more than you think on new initiatives and they are thirsty for tools and resources that will make them better and more effective in their jobs,” said Danner. “I saw some amazing work by teams across the country in the pandemic when we were filming the Back-to-Work series. It was phenomenal to see how creative and adaptive team members were in responding to a new set of challenges. Some changes to the pace of change is what would be great to see.”
O’Brien and the Cardinal Group are known for being on the bleeding edge of operations and technology integrations, and have put a concentrated effort into aligning corporate initiatives and priorities with optimal onsite effectiveness.
“At Cardinal, we try very hard to explain the ‘why’ behind our new initiatives,” said O’Brien. “You have to lead people through change and that comes from being as transparent as possible through ongoing back and forth communication. Be open to hearing what they need and then act on how to deliver to meet those needs. If they are asking for it, you can’t wait.”
Teams Need the Right Tools
Operators need to recognize what their teams truly need to drive operational success. It is not just about the tools; it is about the right tools for organizations and teams.
While all technologies are considered an expense, Danner suggests that there has been an emphasis on engaging technologies that directly boost the revenue side of profit and loss.
“People tend to immediately identify leasing, revenue management and business intelligence technology to achieve this, but rarely view operational technologies to boost revenue. I think this is a blind spot,” he argues.
Not only do maintenance technologies offer an opportunity to identify better ways to maintain a community and mitigate risk, which turns into dollars down the road, it is a technology that enables teams to deliver great service, and great service drives resident loyalty.
“As an industry, we talk a lot about customer service but if we made a list of everything we do in property management very little of it falls into the bucket of being resident facing,” said Danner.
While there has been more of a technological emphasis on operations as of late, Danner believes it’s been slow to take root. He suggests companies that are seeing greater success are providing their teams with mobile task management and digital make-ready boards while implementing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies.
Customer service is the driving force behind resident satisfaction, and it is imperative to find more ways to continuously improve customer service opportunities.
“Automated technologies became a game changer for us during the pandemic and will be going forward,” said O’Brien. “It was a challenging and stressful time for everyone. We needed to communicate that corporate was actively seeking tools and solutions that were going to make our teams jobs easier and offer them more time with their residents, now more than ever.”
The unprecedented Texas freeze uncovered challenges with resident communications and highlighted ways the industry can refocus customer service. There is an opportunity to equip teams with the right tools to effectively communicate with residents in times of crisis.
Embrace that Partnership is Collaboration
At Cardinal, they put the emphasis on partner when they engage with a “vendor partner.” O’Brien said the company views partnerships as true relationships designed to help the company find, engage and implement the right tools and solutions for its teams.
“When it comes to the operator/supplier collaboration on building technologies, you can look at it as a chicken or the egg scenario – which came first? But in reality, that doesn’t matter,” said O’Brien. “As operators, we can’t villainize suppliers. They are there to help us gain intelligence and are open to having candid conversations. The end goal is to achieve the best solution for your teams and to optimize operations.”
Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t completely balanced this collaborative partnership, which can impact the technology that providers deliver.
To gain this balance and move the industry away from the status quo, Danner asks supplier partners and operators to establish a new frame of mind and to practice what he calls the three C’s of partnership: Carefully, Collectively and Collaboratively.
“To move out of the status quo, we can no longer be reactionary. We need to find ways to be proactive,” said Danner. “Be open to change. Engage in multi-departmental conversations to ensure the right collaborations are taking place. Be honest about your organization’s pain points.”
For suppliers, Danner believes that it can’t be only about what the product can do today; be sure to understand and have a clear vision on where the product is going.
As the industry continues to move out of the pandemic, it is imperative to make sure we don’t revert to the previous status quo. The industry made significant strides in 2020 – new technologies were embraced, onsite teams adapted and found more ways to engage with residents and deliver excellent customer service, and operators realized their teams are capable of so much more.
“It is one thing to be innovative. It’s an entirely other thing, a more important thing, to not accept the status quo. We have to ensure our companies and our solutions are sustainable,” he said. “We have to be the long-term partner for operators and continuously deliver tools, technologies, and solutions to address the ever-changing needs of the multifamily maintenance teams. We have to continue empowering our teams with technology to drive resident engagement, to drive revenue growth and to continuously say no to the status quo.”