Transcending the Notion of Service in Association Management
Last modified on June 2nd, 2021
By Brittany Benz
In today’s on-demand world, customer service is a key driver in the success of almost every business. It can make or break a company, and the changing landscape of the consumer market is setting that bar higher with every interaction. If you don’t prioritize customer service that’s in line with consumer expectations, you’re risking the success of your association management business.
At the 2021 AppFolio Wave Summit, Joe Saldaña, Senior Product Manager at AppFolio and Ari Shore, COO of CAP Management, discussed the concept of customer service and the ever-changing expectations of today’s homeowners. Below we’ll recap some of the key highlights from the session and show you how you can meet and exceed those expectations and create standout experiences.
How Customer Experience Shapes Our Perspective
Customer service is vital for all industries. To exemplify this Joe pointed out a real-life example: the DMV, a place most people have interacted with and associate with frustration, negativity, and poor customer service.
“Think about the last time you visited the DMV — maybe you had to wait in line, fill out multiple forms by hand, and then wait in another line before finally talking to someone,” he said. “Imagine if that entire process could be completed online from the comfort of your home and on your own time frame? It would be much more convenient.”
Going deeper, Joe explained this experience gap is no different than the interactions you might have with homeowners in the communities you serve. “For example, we’ll take the experience of filling out a request for an architectural review and the comparison that draws. We know lots of businesses are still using paper-based, manual processes for these requests,” he said.
“They might start off with a call to the management company. Then they’re setting up a time to visit in-person and printing out forms. Then they’re having to scan the forms, mail them, or drop them off in-person, which can definitely be a hassle. But then compare that to the experience of a homeowner who’s able to accomplish that same task, but all online from the comfort of their home,” continued Joe. Convenience is at the heart of these experiences – what the consumer needs at their fingertips.
Businesses That are Transcending the Notion of Service
In addition to understanding how negative customer experiences influence our perspective, Joe believes it’s equally important to take a look at the businesses that are shaping expectations in customers for the better, “Airbnb has been the modality for us to find our home away from home on vacation. Netflix brings that theater experience right to the comfort of your couch. On Amazon you can literally shop for anything with a few clicks and it comes to your door the next day. And then Uber of course revolutionized the ride share experience, but they also were revolutionary in customer service.”
Now that so many people are accustomed to interacting with these brands and the convenience they provide on a daily basis, you’re not just competing or being evaluated solely on how you’ve performed within the association management market, rather, you’re being compared to the entire consumer market as a whole. If you’re not providing the kinds of experiences homeowners are looking for, then you might be be creating experience gaps that could endanger your business’ reputation.
Since the beginning of the pandemic the experience economy has been accelerated. “One example we saw very clearly was that restaurants had to adapt to create new kinds of experiences that were an absolute necessity,” said Joe.
Of all the companies out there there was one in particular that used this moment as an opportunity, “Only one company in this space meaningfully increased their market share during COVID-19. And that was DoorDash. Experience was key for them, they continuously gathered feedback from their customers, but then they were biased towards action to make instantaneous changes and adaptations to their service experience,” said Joe.
By implementing these changes that came as a direct result of feedback from their customers, they were able to anticipate expectations to help differentiate themselves in the market. As a result, DoorDash was able to increase their market share from 35% to 45% in just a few short months, despite the downfall of the industry as a whole, and increase their delivery orders by 67%, according to Edison Trends.
How Homeowners’ Expectations are Shifting
Joe continued to explore how homeowners’ expectations have shifted and why it’s important for association management businesses to stay in tune with their evolving needs. He and the AppFolio team recently conducted a survey where they reached out to various homeowners across the United States to understand all of the different tasks they are faced with, the level of importance in terms of the tasks that they accomplish, as well as how well those needs are being met within the market.
“Surprisingly, when we surveyed homeowners only 30% had the ability to pay their assessment online, compared with the majority that would like to do so. But when people spoke about the technology they were using, homeowners often said the experience was disjointed as a result of stringing together multiple systems for managing all of their various tasks,” he said.
Another insight he revealed from the survey was centered around setting clear expectations and keeping homeowners informed, “Think about all of your different customer touch points. Does your website specify how long it might take for somebody to respond to their inquiry? If not, that might cause anxiety and the compulsion for them to follow up with you generating a call for you that you might’ve been able to deflect had you set clear expectations.”
Lastly, Joe mentioned that homeowners from the survey had a strong desire for on-demand, self-service experiences, “Homeowners often felt like they weren’t empowered. They were frustrated by how paper-based their associations were, and how hard it was to get information from their managers,” he said. “This came up a lot in the context of architectural reviews, where people talked about how they had to get on the phone to even find the form they needed to fill out. Then they had to find somewhere to print it,” said Joe.
Pivoting to Meet Homeowners’ Needs
During the session, Ari Shore, COO of CAP Management also provided us with a window into his association management business. He shared how their homeowners’ needs have changed and how they have adapted their processes to keep them happy.
“Over the last year, the one thing we noticed is that our homeowners’ expectations spiked. People were at home and noticing things that they hadn’t noticed before. They became more interested in more amenities, not just in terms of swimming pool or exercise equipment, but other things in their community, such as a park bench or community garden,” he said.
Because of these shifting expectations Ari said communication became even more imperative, “Responding in a timely manner with clear and accurate information became really critical to success for anybody that was offering a service, especially a management type service for residents communities.”
Ari also shared that having easy to use software has enabled his team to get work done faster and deliver a better customer experience, “There’s a great value to being able to start and complete a task on your own without having to reach out for help. It also significantly lowers frustration levels and anxiety. You feel accomplished just by getting the need out into the environment, without having to rely on anybody else.”
In addition to shifting homeowner expectations and the benefits of having intuitive software, Ari also discussed how having an online portal has really given them an advantage and enabled them to stay connected to their homeowners throughout the pandemic, “Having a portal where we can store all of the information homeowners need, that’s intuitive enough that anybody from a teenager to a senior citizen can navigate it, has been a huge benefit.”
Because Ari and his team at CAP Management already had digital tools in place, they were able to effectively evolve and stay successful throughout the disruption. Today, he finds that technology continues to free up his team to focus on the bigger picture: “We’re all able to spend more time focused on what matters. We can extend our reach to new areas. We’re able to deploy new programs and mechanisms because we can be so quick and efficient on what we’re doing.”
As you can see, customer service and experience isn’t going away any time soon. If anything, it is taking center stage in association management. Our team at AppFolio is dedicated to providing the tools and insights businesses like yours need to stay competitive and successful. In Joe’s words, “As leaders in our industry, it’s our job to bring our communities into the future and thinking about what we discussed, consider how you and your community leaders are acting as catalysts of change for the better.”
To watch the full AppFolio Wave Summit session between Joe and Ari on-demand, register here for free . You’ll have access to 30+ additional sessions featuring more industry experts in association management, property management, and investment management.