BDF Realty Pod System Manifesto:
Property Management... Better!
Bring back customer service; let me speak to a human
Customer service is dead.
It’s so frustrating you can never get a live person to handle your question or complaint.
After several minutes of music and advertising, you might even hear “all our customer service people are busy… You might want to go to our website to handle your problem.”
The message is loud and clear: Corporate America does not want to talk to anyone, any time!
Richard Lynch (Charlotte)
From his “Letter to the Editor” Charlotte Observer
As a Charlotte property manager and owner of BDF Realty, I was thinking about our firm’s value proposition the other day in the context of the “Big 3”. The “Big 3” value proposition is a formula that includes picking which two of the following a firm wants to excel at: Price, Quality, and Customer Service. While BDF Realty is competitive in price, quality and customer service (via our innovative Pod System) is where we clearly stand above the pack.
Realistically, no firm can be first at all three. McDonald’s, for example, shoots to be great at customer service and price; however, they know the quality of their burgers is not exactly filet mignon (you would go to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse for that). On the same token, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse wants to be great at quality of product and customer service, but know their prices are way higher than McDonalds; there are no Value Meals there!
So any firm that tells you they are #1 at all of the “Big 3” is probably not being overly truthful (including BDF Realty!).
So how does this boil down to property management?
Price: Most reputable property management firms compete on quality and customer service and forgo trying to position themselves as the lowest cost provider; BDF Realty is a member of this group. It helps that home owners are typically too smart to go with the lowest cost property management companies as their home investments are typically in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any mistakes in tenant screening, mismanagement, or prolonged vacancy would cost thousands of dollars and make any relatively negligible monthly savings on service quickly moot (without even mentioning health costs associated with a continuously elevated stress level!).
Quality in property management really boils down to technology and efficiency in systems. Though it ties heavily into customer service (it’s tough to please customers without a quality product!), we define it as the backend, behind-the-scenes process. Quality is extremely important and one that BDF Realty constantly cultivates and enhances since we opened for business in 2004. Most of the changes come from customer feedback which we incorporate into our day-to-day operating procedures. We want to do things the best way (and that’s a moving target!).
Customer service is really where BDF Realty shines. Through BDF Realty’s innovative Pod System (PS), we look to eradicate the two biggest customer service killers: lack of personalization and lack of ownership.
Lack of Personalization
Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth, was a huge seller and really revolutionized the way businesses looked at systems. It made a great case about writing out all job responsibilities and then plugging people into the positions with a detailed function (compartmentalization). McDonalds was his textbook example of a restaurant becoming a multi-billion dollar company based on using systems that were so detailed that they could plug in high school kids and still turn out the same quality of product in any McDonalds restaurant in the world. There was a detailed set of instructions for the fryer person, the burger flipper, the cashiers, etc. Sounds efficient, right?
However, the one drawback to Gerber’s approach was the maddening lack of personalization when this process was taken too far. Uber-Gerber disciples thought that all business functions could be compartmentalized for the sake of cost. What resulted was the rigidness and lack of personalization we see when we interact with big businesses now.
Take banks, for example. A call to the bank to find out if your mortgage payment was received takes you through a number of menus and prompts. Then an automated voice might tell you after five or ten minutes after you punch in your account information. If you then want to see if there is a better mortgage rate available, you’ll need to go through even more voice prompts and wait to talk to a live person. You’ll need to give them your account information again. And if you want to let them know you’ll be travelling overseas so your credit card will work, and though they are the issuing bank, they’ll give you another number to call entirely! And you’ll input your account information again!
It’s frustrating, but personal customer service costs companies more money. To achieve personal customer service, companies need to pay and retain good employees who know you, what services you have, and what you like. The higher employee wage cost and the perceived loss of efficiency (for not using compartmentalization) is why it is not prevalent in today’s business world.
The bank example is not surprising because it is part of our everyday life; we’ve become largely numb to it. On-line services have relieved some of the customer service inefficiencies, but this approach is even more impersonal than the phones! Going on the website doesn’t make me feel any closer to the bank and neither does e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Who is “support”? If they don’t get back to me, do I follow up with Support’sImmediateSupervisor@bigbank.com? Or how do I praise “support’s” handling of my issue? Can I contact them directly next time and get the same competent person? Will “support” remember who I am?
Of course not. And I see property management companies setting up their businesses with similar structures. The impersonal approach is simpler to manage when employee turnover is high. It would be easier to just plug in another newly hired person and not worry about changing the contact information.
Lack of Employee Ownership
The other common issue is lack of complete account ownership in property management. If customers have a problem receiving the monthly rent, they need to call the finance department. If they have a question about the repairs being made on their property, they need to talk to the repair department. If they want to know the progress of tenant placement into their property, they need to talk to someone else. Then they often get parked into multiple voicemail boxes! This can really be a headache. What makes it worse is when the person they need to speak to is not Jim@PropertyManager.com, but rather Finance@PropertyManager.com.
These “catch-all” e-mail addresses are making employees less accountable. And with this lack of accountability, comes an incentive problem. How do we tie in financial incentives to good performance when one property management account deals with so many different people? Did they leave our company due to dissatisfaction with not getting their rental payments in a timely fashion, or our reports are not what they wanted, or the tenant fill times are too slow, or the communication was poor, or some other reason? Did they stay and want to add other properties with us because of their work with a specific person? It makes it much tougher to correct what is wrong and reward what is right when accounts are overly compartmentalized. I don’t want to piece this information together from seldom filled-out, outgoing customer surveys!
So how is this fixed?
Let’s go back to the bank example and see how I would ideally like to deal with my bank. When I want to find out if they got my mortgage payment, see if there is a better mortgage interest rate available, and let them know by credit card is going to be used overseas, I want to simply write this e-mail (or text message):
To: Jim.Anderson@BigBank.com (cell # 704-902-7777)
Hope you had a good time in Aruba! And congrats on wife #2.
Could you check on a couple of things for me:
1. Did you get my 10/13 mortgage payment?
2. Is there a better mortgage interest rate available that I should be considering?
3. I’ll be in London from 11/13-19 and need to be able to use my credit card without getting busted for fraud J. Can you let the “powers that be” know?
Why is this e-mail laughable based on service levels now? A bank customer service employee wouldn’t even know how to begin answering this e-mail.
4 Requirements for an Ideal Customer Service Relationship
My customer service needs for an on-going business relationship (like property management) boil down to 4 things:
1. I need a single point of contact for almost all issues (with a real name / e-mail / cell phone)
2. I need to have the ability to reach them directly during business hours (my vendors are allowed to have a life outside work…)
3. They need to know who I am by name and what business I do with them
4. I need to know they care about keeping my business
BDF Realty provides these four requirements through our innovative Pod System!
Property Management Solution- The Pod System
So what is the property management solution for differentiated customer service? BDF Realty strongly advocates and utilizes the Pod System. It’s very simple.
At BDF Realty, every property is assigned a Pod Owner (PO). PO’s are managed by a Pod Manager (PM). The PO:
1. Is the single point of contact for an assigned set # of properties
2. Fosters a tight relationship with the owners and tenants (their clients)
3. Handles all needs for the properties except:
a. Prospective tenant inquiries
b. Initial home fix-ups to prepare the homes for market
c. Outside business hour repair requests
The incentives are in place where the PO has complete ownership and dictates their own earnings based on the financial performance of their pod. The PM just keeps the PO’s on track and measures their activity with the following metrics:
1. Active properties in their pod under management
2. Commissionable items (lease extensions, tenant procurement, etc.)
3. Google Reviews & customer feedback
Being that a BDF Realty PO’s earnings are based on their pod’s monthly financial performance, the PO has a direct incentive to:
1. Treat owner clients well so they retain their management business, add other rental properties they have, and gain referrals
2. Screen tenants well because non-paying tenants are not commissionable and this directly affects their monthly earnings
3. Keep tenants happy so they pay rent and sign lease extensions
BDF Realty’s innovative Pod System promotes personal accountability and employee ownership in residential property management. By increasing customer and employee satisfaction, a true customer service differentiator is achieved.
The Pod System does not reinvent property management; it just makes it… better!
Brett Furniss is the President & Owner of BDF Realty (Charlotte Residential Property Management), the trusted real estate advisor for Charlotte landlords. BDF Realty utilizes their innovative Pod System for exceptional customer service in residential property management, home repairs, and home sales for single-family homes, condos, and town homes in the Charlotte-Metro Area.