Hello Jasmine Place Community!
The below is a training email to the Board of Directors back in March 2018 titled, "Are We Better?". I wanted to share it with Owners as well. Obviously not everyone in the community is able to attend Monthly or even the Annual Meetings, but they still have a passion for not only their home but their neighbors and community. The discussion below speaks about my experiences in providing services to Communities over the years, as some residents have recently stated they would like to know more about myself and Cherry Creek HOA. So enjoy the read!
In a meeting this week, a newer Board Member asked me “What’s changed since you started managing, and how do you think the client experience is any better now than it was then?” He does this for a couple of reasons; one is out of curiosity, the other to get me thinking and put me to the fire and gauge my response. The funny thing is, I really had to think about it. I know what’s changed: Technology. But is the client experience any better?
In the early 90’s, the centerpieces of workplace technology were pagers, fax machines and electric typewriters. As like most business entities of the time, community management related communication took the form of phone calls to your office and actual snail-mail letters. If you wanted to get hold of a vendor, you paged him, and he had to stop at a pay phone to call you back. We typed up the minutes on word processors (yes, and we still take minutes), copied Board packets at Mail Boxes Etc. (remember them) and hand-delivered them to Board members’ homes or offices. Service orders were paper and in triplicate multi-part pink yellow and carbon form. By contract, we had 30 days to respond to owners (not tenants – we only dealt with owners, also by contract) on non-emergency items when they wrote us a letter.
Back then even big companies were small by today’s standards. I worked for what was at the time was one of the largest management companies in Southern California, and I think we only had about 300 employees and 3 satellite offices. Most companies were Mom ‘n’ Pop operations, with 15 – 20 accounts. Today, it all seems very quaint and very slow and the technology has greatly changed how we do things in the business. Yes, we still have an office phone, but we carry one in our back pocket that ensures we can connect in an instant, as well as order groceries and calculate the square root of pi. Board packets are for the most part all electronic, either available on a website or emailed to the members and service orders are part of whatever software platform the company chooses. Apps allow violations to be photographed and transmitted to our office in real time. You now have 30 minutes – or seconds – to respond email. And what the hell is a phone booth?!
But you know all this. Technology has made things faster and more easily trackable but is the client experience really any better? For that matter, is our experience any better? With limited exceptions, I have to say… No to both questions. Why? Because technology doesn’t change the human fundamentals of this industry, it only changes how messages and information are delivered.
The manager experiences
In general, we know that at any one time, 70% (+ / -) of our clients, be they residents or Board members, are satisfied with their HOAs and by extension, with management. 20% are marginally satisfied, 7% unsatisfied and 3% are very, very unhappy. My experience, as well as homeowner satisfaction surveys, says… Those numbers haven’t really changed. What has changed is how that unhappy 10% communicates their unhappiness: Much faster and much nastier. Faster due to email, nastier because social media has given folks the ability to broadcast every little thought they have – smart, dumb, nuts, nasty or psycho - immediately and virtually without repercussion (especially if they can remain anonymous) via a nextdoor social app. This “communication in a vacuum” (all “send” and no “receive”) without thought or care to its effect on the human being(s) on the other end is now part and parcel of our society. For anyone in a service industry, this isn’t for the better. This is not to say that back “in the day” we didn’t get ugly communications, it’s the level and regularity of ugliness that’s changed. Is the average manager’s experience better today than in 1990? Well, it’s different and maybe worse.
The client experiences
From a technological standpoint, the case can be made that the client experience is better. Board members can view financial statements online, see what checks have been written, communicate to the membership more easily, etc., but these advances mirror of the rest of the service industry consumer experience. As far as our Board members are concerned (unless they were a Board member 20 years ago) it’s just another day, as they have no historical point of reference. So, is the client experience better for the technology (whether they know it or not)? Yes. But the real client experience comes from the quality of the management companies and the managers themselves. Is that experience any better today than in previous years? Let’s talk about how, and if, it’s changed.
In the past 5 years, recent Colorado State Senate changes with DORA and CCIOA has led to management company consolidation to move at light-speed. Company owners that had decided they were done with night meetings, a 24/7 lifestyle, and would really like to improve their golf game found the timing right to make their exit. This created tremendous opportunity for a few intrepid entrepreneurs: Buy those companies, increase market share, aggregate services, change deliverables, increase profit and theoretically decrease costs to communities. I’m a good capitalist and I wholly applaud this innovation; however, my observation is (based on conversations with literally thousands of you) the one factor that should have been on the list (noted above) was enhance the client experience. And you can’t truly enhance their experience if there is not enough emphasis placed on the employee experience, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. How?
As smaller companies like Cherry Creek HOA fold in to larger ones, then fold in to even larger ones, the client and the employee experience can become abstract to executives as they become detached from the line staff. This detachment can adversely affect far-flung satellite offices as day-to-day management realities become academic to the corporate office, some of whom may never have attended a Board meeting. And of course, the challenge of managing hundreds of staff either through others or by remote is no small undertaking, adding to the complication of the process. Is the client experience better by consolidation? Some ways yes, others, no.
There are good companies out there - small, mid-sized, big and HUGE - providing great client experiences. Smaller and mid-sized organizations can keep that personal touch between executive and staff. Larger companies – especially those that still manage accounts out of their corporate offices – tend to have executives less detached from line staff as they still share work space (and pain). This point, again, to the personal and human aspect of successfully managing and caring for employees. As I always say, the valued employee values the client. So, are these good companies better than good companies back then? No, because good staff management transcends time.
Is the overall client experience better today than in the 90’s? I like to think I have improved with experience and knowledge. But how about this industry? I don’t think so, because technology can’t change the human fundamentals of this industry, it’s only changed how messages, data and information are calculated, tracked and delivered. Just like back in the day, it all depends on the quality of the management company, the type of staff they attract and retain to manage accounts and how that staff is valued in the long-term. The client experience is directly attached to the manager experience, and no amount of technology can overtake this human component.
I commend Dave Prieto when he procured Cherry Creek HOA in 2015 and updated legacy software to assist for Managers such as myself and our HOAs. I also commend him more for creating an atmosphere and work environment where turnover is nonexistent because we are pricing Community accounts appropriately and not billing for every little email and/or phone call back to HOA’s. This process limits overworking managers and allowing their personality and personal ownership take over in their partnership with their Communities. It also allows Boards to feel confident that they are not being nickel and dimed by what should be inclusive items of day to day management to their fellow owners in a Community.
I also say a Big THANK YOU to my Board as you all have volunteered for a thankless position within your community where only a small 1% truly know your dedication to your neighbors in maintaining and helping improve their property value. Even when you read nasty comments on nextdoor and want nothing more than to set a resident right, but take the higher ground seeking to direct them to a monthly Board or Committee meeting to assist them where they may interpret and experience a true misunderstanding.