by Gere Jordan
It’s easy to contact a property management answering service and set up an after-hours or 24-7 maintenance hotline. But making sure that 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.
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 or organization and the purpose of the line, such as “Thank you for calling Forest Pines Apartments 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.
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 when you already know the answers.
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 centers, but not tenants, resulting in a lot of confusion and 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 questionaire that asks tenants 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.
Make Sure Your Personnel, Vendors and the Call Center Are All on the Same Page
Just as it’s important to ensure your tenants understand what the call center can and cannot do for them, you’ll need to have open communication with your personnel and vendors regarding their role and responsibilities. Everyone needs to understand what is expected of them and how they fit in.
Take contractors, for example. If you have certain people who handle plumbing or electrical issues, it’s likely your call center will need to interact with them at some point. Having the call center contact them directly is more efficient, but only if the contractors understand your processes. The plumber who is used to hearing from you or your office staff directly may be confused when they hear from a call center representative speaking on your behalf. In all likelihood, they’ll want to speak with you to verify the job before taking action. This extra effort increases your response time as well as the chances of a problem, causing more property damage.
Fortunately, improving communication between these parties is an easy fix. Before you tell your call center to send all plumbing emergencies to Frank’s Plumbing Co., make sure you brief Frank regarding the new setup:
“Frank, our building is going to be using a call center for maintenance requests. When an emergency plumbing issue arises, they will be dispatching calls to you directly. When you receive a call like this and verify that the property is one of ours, there’s no need to speak with us unless you have a specific concern. They are authorized to request service on our behalf and you can communicate directly with the tenant once you receive the call. If you do need to speak with us, go through the call center and they will have us contacted. Please make sure that your staff is aware of this change.”
Frank now understands how to communicate with your call center. Do the same for every vendor you do business with and you’ll eliminate a lot of unnecessary back and forth communication (and reduce your work load in the process).
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 tempting to pass up (most answering services operate 24 hours a day, so you can utilize them at any time). 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.
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 the type of calls they’re taking and what they are telling callers.
For example, while it’s perfectly acceptable after hours to tell a caller with a nonurgent concern to call back the next business day, it’s ineffective and confusing to be told that at 1 p.m. 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,” is much more appropriate.
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 customer management software 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 depends 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 call center 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 useful. 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.
Gere Jordan works in business development, marketing and operations at Continental Message Solution, Inc., a nationwide provider of property management answering services and call center outsourcing solutions. For more information, please visit www.continentalmessage.com or email gere.jordan@