‘Small agencies provide more personalised service’ – fact or fiction?
An interesting thing happened to me the other day.
I’d been in discussions with a prospective client about managing her property. When I made a follow-up call to, hopefully, close the deal, she informed me that she had decided to enlist with another agent. When I inquired as to her reason, I was quite taken aback:
“I decided to go with a small company, as I feel that they can offer me a more personalised service.”
I was caught off guard. It wasn’t all that long ago that I considered US to be that ‘small agency’. I afforded myself a moment to smile about how far we’d come. But at the same time, I had never considered the perception that a small agency can, by nature of its size (or lack thereof) provide a better quality service.
I stopped to think about it. Along with 99% of all agency Principals, I want my business to grow. A bigger business means economies of scale will provide a more robust, stable and profitable company.
But is this in contrast to what the marketplace is looking for? Does the average Property Investor seek a Property Manager working out of a small office, perhaps with only a receptionist? Do they want every call and email to be responded to by that person within 2 hours, even on weekends? And no matter how busy the Property Manager is, do they want that same person to visit their property at their request to check the water meter, monitor extra cars in the driveway or report on the new air-conditioning installation?
The harsh reality is that even if you did happen to find the Superman or Superwoman of Property Managers, it wouldn’t be sustainable – and they would eventually burn out. Who is going to cover for them while they take extended stress leave? Or even annual leave?
The idea that small agencies are best equipped to provide ‘personalised’ service is counter-intuitive. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Staff Absence
Property Managers, contrary to popular belief, are human just like the rest of us. They should not be expected to work more than five days per week. Like everyone else they also take annual leave, sick leave, and sometimes other commitments and responsibilities take them away from their work unexpectedly. A small agency can find it exceptionally difficult to fill the void when a staff member is away, even if it’s only for one day. Inevitably, certain tasks are delayed, and that coveted ‘personalised service’ is put on hold. A larger agency with several Property Managers can easily absorb staff absence by distributing responsibilities to other staff.
2. Utilisation of Skills
When an agency grows, it is able to assign specialised tasks to individuals who are skilled in particular areas. This includes but is not limited to accounting, leasing, marketing, etc. This creates a team of specialists who can work for clients far more efficiently. In a small office, one person is generally responsible for all of the above. As capable as Property Managers are, they can’t be great at everything.
3. Larger Tenant Database
One of the benefits of having a larger office is having access to a larger tenant database. We find that past tenants are coming back to us to rent other properties; as a result, we’re able to offer properties to current tenants looking to move, often without even needing to advertise.
These kinds of tenant transfers are stress-free and financially beneficial for all involved because vacancies are kept to an absolute minimum, and we are placing very low risk tenants who have previously demonstrated that they are fantastic to deal with. A small agency cannot always guarantee this sort of security.
4. More attention to Tenants
Astute property investors know that a satisfied tenant means a secure tenancy and less vacancy. This leads to financial security for the owners.
When a tenant contacts their Property Manager with a concern or request, it’s in the best interest of the owner that this is attended to within a timely manner.
In a small agency, due to staff limitations, there may often be a significant period of time before a tenant request can be attended to. When this happens, tenants feel neglected, which inevitably leads to them vacating the property and deciding to not rent through that agency again. This is definitely not in the owner’s best interests.
5. Wider selection of Tradespeople, better deals on Maintenance
When we started out, and while we were a very small agency, we found that WE needed to do the legwork to contract tradespeople for maintenance requests. It was often a tedious and time consuming process.
When we started growing, it was incredible how many creditors came knocking on our door, offering their services, and giving our owners very competitive rates. They recognised that a large agency can provide them with steady work, and were very eager to take on anything that we threw at them.
The ones who ultimately benefit from this are our owners. A larger agency keeps a list of reliable contractors on hand who are ready at a moment’s notice to attend to any issues at your property.
6. Resources for Staff Training
It’s no use having a Property Manager who isn’t up to date with legislation, or doesn’t have the time to learn about new technologies. Large agencies will, more often than not, have the time and money to provide training for their staff.
Smaller agencies tend to work on tighter budgets, and unfortunately, training isn’t always high up on the priority list. Plus, they cannot cope with having the Property Manager away for a day of training.
7. More Effective Business Owner
In a small agency, it is necessary for the owner to be very hands-on. Sometimes they may fill a Property Manager role. While this may be fine for short periods of time, it is not a viable long term solution. The business owner should be overseeing staff, monitoring the company’s efficiency, systems, operations and compliance.
The quality of service suffers when the owner is pulled away from these duties. In turn, this negatively impacts the agency’s clients.
So how do I know all of this? What makes me qualified to sit and hand out lessons on which type of agency is best?
I know all of this because I used to be one of those small agencies, working out of a small office. And while I am exceptionally proud of what I was able to accomplish as a ‘small agency’, I can honestly say, without hesitation, that my clients are receiving far better and more valuable service now than they were when it was just me, a part-time property manager, and a part-time receptionist.
Looking back on that time, it was, frankly, very tough. I worked 7 days a week for 3 years – all because I wanted to provide that ‘personalised’ service that our clients expected. Regardless of where I was or what I was doing, I had to be ready to drop everything and attend to a client instantly. Of course, this is not sustainable in the slightest.
As we grew I was able to take on more staff and step back to work on service standards. I introduced weekly disbursements, weekly written leasing reports, and intelligent software for maintenance and property inspections. These were on top of an air-tight rent arrears process, our own unique online application form, and streamlined processes which enabled us to act on tenancy issues quicker, and resolve them.
We were able to invest in industry recognised training and coaching for our staff, state-of-the-art technology, and intelligent marketing strategies to enhance our brand exposure in the marketplace. Try though they might, a small agency will not have the resources to accomplish these feats.
Today, I know that we are on the right track, primarily because of 3 KPIs:
- Low Staff Turnover
- High Client Retention
- Positive Client Feedback
So with all of that in mind, do you think our clients mind that when their Property Manager isn’t in the office, the Accounts Manager can tell them where their tenant’s rent is paid up to?
Do you think they mind when the Property Manager isn’t available, but the receptionist can provide a copy of the statement that they’re chasing? Are they bothered that at 10:15 on a Saturday morning, they receive an email report from their specialised Leasing Consultant advising them that the viewing held at 10:00am went really well – and that all 3 groups that came by all took applications? Do you think they mind that the person advertising their property ISN’T their Property Manager, but instead, is a marketing professional, hired exclusively to ensure that their property is advertised in the best possible way?
The answer to all of the above questions is a resounding NO. They don’t mind at all. In fact, all of these small things add up to what clients desire – it adds up to ‘personalised service’.
After all, if a business owner had a choice, why would they WANT to remain small? There might be the odd agency stays small because they service a small group of clients very efficiently. They may not want to expand because they want to remain focused on that small group.
However, the majority don’t grow because they don’t have the strong foundation or people skills to keep quality staff. And so, even though they may boast a growing client base, and advertise their attracting of new owners, what they often leave out is that unfortunately, for every new client brought in, another has left them due to not feeling that they’re receiving an acceptable level of service.
If I could go back to the conversation with that prospective client, who thought that we were too large for her, I would ask her one question:
“Why do you think we manage so many properties?”
It is because our clients can see the value in what we do, and how we do it. I would say that it is because our clients value, above all, our personalised service.
Hence, we grow.
- – Article by Laura Valenti, Managing Director, Solutions Property Management