As part of the Property Meld qualification method, we ask questions. A lot of questions. The reason we do this is two-fold. First, we want to have a clear understanding of how the maintenance operation is currently running. Second, we want to ensure that Property Meld can deliver a valuable difference. This all contributes to achieving a successful partnership for all parties involved.
In the exercise of asking these questions, we have been able to aggregate loads of data and insights surrounding strengths and weaknesses in different processes from across North America. What did we learn? We are so glad you asked.
SCALE ACROSS THE BOARD
The mindset of scale makes its way to every aspect of an operation, including maintenance. Companies that are attempting to grow in units under management find that scalability will identify maintenance as important, if not more, than even the distribution aspect. This is due to it’s inherent ties to individual performance rather than ‘process,’ as well as an overall frustration of stability. This view under the microscope initially can appear to be an operator concern as opposed to a procedure concern.
Solution-based thinking includes consideration of how the process impacts the future operation, not just right now. Asking questions like ‘does this process work with 60% more units under management?’ and ‘how does this impact my cost per door in personnel costs as door volume scales?’ Revenue deployment is part of the discussion of growth strategy in relation to those questions. By reducing the maintenance coordination costs by 15%, 20%, or even 30% that cost savings can be diverted to business development, sales, or another growth channel.
High performing operators have already recognized the impact of soft-costs in a poor maintenance operation. Identifying that maintenance quality is important is a mindset based on a ‘numbers-driven’ business and directly affects ROI. Consider the following:
- Poor maintenance = poor reviews = increased bounce rate of prospective investors/renters
- Poor maintenance = decreased retention = strained investor relationships = lost recurring revenue
- Poor maintenance = decreased retention = increase workload for turnover activities
Even companies that have not crunched the numbers know that bad maintenance causes pain in property management. Angry renters cost staff time and wear on patience. Dealing with angry renters causes staffing operations to go from preventative and process-driven efforts into reactive, emergency ‘firefighting’ mode.
PRIDE IS BLIND
When identifying issues internally, it can be difficult to unravel messages that are faced externally. If an internal process is weak or not optimal, it is reactionary to slip into “sales mode,” normalizing a broken process as if everything is fine. The need to separate external messaging and internal process is a critical point in the self-actualization of improving business, and a difficult pill to swallow for many property managers and maintenance coordinators.
In asking process-driven questions in areas that a company feels weak, it can lead to defensive answers and embellished results. In these instances, no one wins. The business will continue to suffer through the endless cycle of denial and blame.
If asked about the troubleshooting process for an inbound repair request and we identify that there is no consistent protocol, the response is normally inflated numbers and overconfidence in the ad-hoc process. Confidence masks no quality control tools in place and blame will likely always be placed on a person or circumstance.
When we inquire about follow-up it is not uncommon to hear about an entire vendor network that ‘100% always acknowledges every step of the repair.’ Upon digging into the process to understand the ‘fail-safe’ methods that are being applied to ensure there is no breakdown, we usually find there isn’t one, and there is a ‘trust assumption’ with vendors that is not viable on a repeatable process.
THE SAME YET DIFFERENT
Across the country, the process that many have in place is overarchingly similar, but with incredibly variable results. The flow, whether process-driven or logic driven happens in this manner:
- Receipt of request
- Completion verification
- Renter satisfaction/rating
Given the reliance on humans, identifying benchmarks by which to measure can be problematic. With quality and efficiency being two major levers, finding what is the best balance to accomplish both is also then made difficult. For example:
An operation that isn’t using maintenance automation can usually justify a full-time position for 350-450 doors per maintenance coordinator. If an operator is managing 700 doors per coordinator (without automation) it usually indicates an issue in the process that is being skipped in an effort for saving costs.
If an operator is managing 2,500 doors per coordinator (using automation) it usually indicates there are other process improvements in place. Common variables in this scenario are higher NTE’s (not to exceed approval repair limits), property access improvements, and heavier ratio of the internal workforce as a few.
In evaluating processes, we err on the side of quality being the limiting factor of efficiency. If quality drops, the efficiency and cost reduction needs to be evaluated. We have begun to benchmark those operations that are consistently performing all aspects of the repair process all of the time. While results are still coming in, we do see much more consistency in benchmarking performance but still have many variables in place (NTE’s, etc.).
It is an important part of any business to identify benchmarks by which to define the areas of strengths and what areas may need improvement, as well as to use as a barometer once changes have been implemented.
We perform maintenance evaluations as a part of our qualification service. If you would like a quick maintenance evaluation to help identify your benchmarks, you can take a short self-assessment here.