Property management is at times like theatre (think Broadway, not Kabuki). The client (the audience) requires a certain level of performance from their management team (the act). With every performance, there are two kinds of work that transpires: 1. Front stage work 2. Back stage work. Front stage work is made up of all the things we do that are observed and experienced by our client (day-to-day updates, receiving monthly financials, advising, etc.); back stage work is made up of all of the things that happen behind the scenes (invoices are processed, financial statements produced, emergency calls attended to, fielding calls from tenants, etc.). In summary, front stage work = the stuff the client sees, back stage work = the stuff the client doesn’t see. Although 95% of our work exists in the back stage, it’s important for property managers not to hide behind the red velvet curtains and remember the other 5%: to remember that when it comes to keeping client signatures on management agreements, client perception is sometimes equally as important as the results we produce.
Acknowledging this, there are 3 main obstacles property managers face that keep them in the back stage.
Obstacle 1: Know your Client
As easy as it is to get to know your client and what their communication needs are, it’s just as easy to not. Every human has a different stress barometer which is a function of Trust + Personality: Trust in your abilities to manage their asset plus their baseline Personality (some people are simply more hands on, and always will be). Understanding when certain clients need interaction is an important element to be mindful of.
This easiest solution to determining the specific needs of any client is to ask the question: “What communication level from me to you, in regards to the day-to-day operations of your asset, is ideal?”. Alternatively, if you don’t ask, they will often show you with a call every 3 weeks or an email every 3 months. What ever the method, a mindful manager will inherently pick-up on what their clients needs are, and won’t wait for them to reach out.
Obstacle 2: Challenging Clients
One common difficulty faced by property managers in regards to front stage work, arises when we work for challenging clients. Although it is in our control to choose our clients, we can’t fire ourselves every time we sense a slight value misalignment or every time things get difficult. (Cruelly, our most challenging clients are typically our biggest; which is no coincidence.. the larger the client, the more stress you feel working to retain them.)
What happens when we have challenging clients is that over time, we can easily become distant through a slow process of communicating less and less. We call less and send emails more; we send emails at the end of the day; and then space between emails becomes greater. We simply grow tired of arduous conversations. We grow tired of having to be front stage with a heckler in the audience. Distance leads to guilt, as the lack of communication detracts from your ability to manage their asset, and you know it. Guilt sucks.
The antidote to guilt is simple (but not easy):
- Do good work.
- Confront the Client
Do Good Work
When we are doing our best, the important things are getting done, there are no arrears, the property looks good, and tenants are happy; we’re doing good work. When you have created this kind of environment, guilt and stress cannot survive.
Confront the Client
Confront, does not mean an adversarial interaction; it means to communicate, in particular, on the phone. Breaking your routine of “distance” and calling clients, especially difficult ones, is extremely important. Similar to how the police say, “the guilty always run” (I made this up, but they might say it 😊) the “guilty never call”. The more difficult a client may be, the more difficult it is to call, the more important it is to do it. It is the genesis of the Rule of Thumb:
ROT#15: Make one hard call a week.
Situation dependent, a call could be an email, text, or meeting in person. More often than not, a call, means a call. The higher the spike in stress you feel about calling, the more important it is to do it on a routine basis; doing so will results in a weight lifting off your shoulders… it’s the feeling that you are doing your job well. You are on it.
In summary: Good property managers take hard calls, great property managers make hard calls.
Obstacle 3: We Forget
As simple as it sounds, we forget that for many clients property management is a performance. We get lost in the day-to-day buzz. Often times, the only time we communicate is when either party needs information or there is a problem.
In short, don’t forget. Remember that clients should not guess that we are doing a good job, they should know we are doing a good job. Making it a habit to communicate periodically, and not forgetting to mention our successes, is an important element to our long term success.
Tip: When sending monthly financial statements, summarize any items that are being worked on and remember to include a few successes!
A Simple Recipe…
Distance kills management contracts; and this is the simple antidote. A simple recipe for managing successful communication with any client:
- Understand your Client
- Stay in touch
- Don’t forget
A Philosophical Aside of Trees Falling..
“When a property manager does something good and the client doesn’t notice, was the good deed worth it?”. This is property management’s equivalent to the age old: “When a tree falls in a forest and no one in around to hear it, does it make a sound?”.
The idealist would answer yes; it is always good to do good things, whether the client knows or not. The idealist believes, how you do anything is how you do everything.
The pragmatist would answer no; If our major driver is contract retention, then what our client thinks is gospel, and nothing else matters.
The downside of the pure idealist is that they often spin their tires non-productively spending too much time with the wrong people. The downside of the pure pragmatist is that they have bad relationships with everyone that isn’t the landlord; more frequently the trap property management companies fall into.
In reality, the most successful property managers are idealistic pragmatists (or pragmatic idealists??). They always do good work, because that’s who they are; but they also take the time to communicate with their clients from time to time and share their good work. They take time front stage.