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Striking the Right Balance Between High Tech and Human Touch

Posted on Feb 11 2019 - 9:44pm by Lance Edwards
Here’s how to use technology to simplify property management without sacrificing relationships with residents.

By Adrian Adriano (MultiFamilyExecutive.com Article —  Property managers are masters in juggling priorities. They’re responsible for managing client business interests, delivering excellent customer service to tenants, and overseeing vendors. And while innovations in technology have done much to simplify these processes and streamline workflows, technology has introduced a new issue: finding the balance between technology and human interaction.

While consumers may prefer to make plans with friends over text message or order a pizza online, these inclinations change when faced with a complex purchase or service concern. For significant decisions, especially those related to their home, most residents want to talk to a qualified human expert. A study by Google found that 61% of mobile users call a business when they’re in the purchase phase of the buying cycle. The majority of respondents will call rather than email or use an online chat, because they’re looking to get a quick answer (59%) or talk to a real person (57%).

These studies point to an important truth for property managers about technology and human interaction: While advanced technology like customer service chatbots, virtual reality tours, and smart-home technology may be helpful, nothing can replace the value of a human interaction. Rather than using technology to avoid time with customers, property managers should use online portals or connected living devices to automate tedious tasks, build a strong online community, and outsource work when needed so they can devote more time to interacting with residents in a meaningful way.

Automate Tasks With Portals and Apps
Not all circumstances call for personalized communication. Property portals and mobile applications assist in streamlining many repetitive tasks. According to Buildium’s 2018 State of the Property Management Industry Report, residents prefer to pay rent, sign leases, and submit maintenance tickets online. Though these processes are particularly popular among millennials, the study showed that nearly two-thirds of baby boomers also prefer to take care of rental processes online.

But more than helping conduct transactions, online portals and mobile apps can be used for property managers, technology providers, and residents to interact and share information on maintenance notices and upgrade opportunities and manage smart-home and community devices. Smart-building and facility technology solutions that simplify processes are a high priority for 49% of property managers, as stated in the Networking with Residents: Technology Drives the Multifamily Industry report. These connected living devices allow managers to monitor the temperature of vacant units, catch water leaks, and manage lighting in common areas without spending time checking each unit or frequently walking through the property. Residents can also benefit from using an app to manage their home (heat, lighting, security, and the like) regardless of their location.

Grow an Online Community
Just because residents have grown accustomed to following, liking, and swiping doesn’t mean they’ve lost their sense of a real community. Instead, their concept of community is changing.

Today, individuals “follow” Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for updates rather than check the local bulletin board in the mailroom. They share experiences in an online album or post on Instagram. They leave a review on Google or Yelp if they enjoyed attending a restaurant or event.

As such, it’s important that property managers take advantage of these digital opportunities to grow a community both online and in the real world. Not only will a social media presence help disseminate news, enable sharing of fun community events in real time, and respond to concerns as they arise, but a digital presence can also help residents feel more connected to both their home and their neighbors. If, for example, there’s a property event or service provider visiting, the manager can post these on a social site, or even an individual property portal or forum. It opens another means of communication between the managers and residents to share information and build a connection.

Connect Residents and Service Providers
Between tending to prospective residents, maintaining current ones, and keeping owners informed, there’s hardly any room left in a property manager’s day to handle maintenance and technology issues. Service providers can simplify this task by offering an online portal that allows property managers to address a resident’s request for information, report a service issue in a common area, support multiple resident move-ins, or schedule a visit for a resident education session.

Property managers can also simplify these processes if the service provider offers a similar portal for residents. Such direct interaction can eliminate many questions the manager may receive from a resident, as residents will have instant access to answers via the portal and can also use the technology to manage their accounts and obtain moving assistance.

It’s a delicate balance to find the right mix to give residents the personalized interaction that will keep them in their property for years to come without requiring a 24/7 work schedule for the property manager. With the help of online communities, connected living technologies, and the ensuing direct interactions between residents and service providers, property managers can find the sweet spot for their community.