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Maintenance Communication; Is Too Much Ever Enough?

If this is the way you do business I’m not interested in any bid you may wish to submit

Thus ended an interaction with a contractor that I had contacted to come out for a bid on some work at my house. (I honestly didn’t think trying to get people interested in taking my money for repairs would be this difficult!)

I’m needing some pretty specific tree trimming and for my roof to be replaced. As a homeowner these would equate pretty well to a resident calling maintenance for a service request. This entire experience is a great reminder for the importance of communication when providing maintenance service. I’ve found that just getting a call back from companies is more difficult than I would have thought. Some of the contractors only want to respond by email…

What if the job is more detailed than I can tell you by email?

What is the method our residents want to let us know of service needs? More and more communities are looking for automated methods. Those methods only work if there is a monitoring culture in place. If the resident has sent a request to us through an impersonal means such as text or email, how is the resident assured that the request is received? Is there a responsive culture in place and does the resident know what happens next? 

I can’t tell you how many online requests for a call back I’ve sent in to different companies that have yet to respond… Wonder why I’m not going to use them?

When are you stopping by again?

The first statement above came from the interaction with a roofer that showed up to my house, unannounced, set up and climbed a ladder outside my bathroom window to look at the roof. When we spoke, I had told him I would only be available in the afternoon, not that I wouldn’t be home. He didn’t call, text, email, send smoke signals or even knock on the door before climbing up today. When I confronted him as he got off of the ladder he said that he …”assumed I wasn’t home” and didn’t even try let me know. Another contractor with a slightly better method was:

I was in the neighborhood and thought I would just stop by…

This roofer had an appointment tomorrow and happened to be in the neighborhood today. I’m glad he came and he did let my wife know he was here before climbing on the roof. The only problem was that I had an appointment with him tomorrow. My schedule was arranged around it. I would have been happier if he had called before coming so I could have met him in person.

Maintenance is almost always “in the neighborhood” so to speak. It may not be feasible for a call before coming as we are constantly running on property during normal hours. The key here is to be aware that “too much may be just enough” when it comes to letting a resident know we are there to provide service. It starts with the notification; is the office equipped with the ability to at least in general terms provide a guess as to when maintenance will arrive at their door to assess the situation further? Does the office know what questions to ask for a more detailed description of the problem than “It’s broke”?

When a technician is at the door, do they knock more than once? Do they wait after knocking to give a resident time to get to the door? Do they call out once the door is cracked before entering? Do they call out even after entering to let someone in the back know they are there? Do they put a door hanger on the front knob to let the resident returning from an errand know maintenance is inside?

How long is this job going to take anyway?

From a customer viewpoint this one is pretty important. A tree company I’ve heard from refuses to give me an estimate more exact than “maybe a day or three”. The arborist for this company can’t even tell me how many trucks/people will be on the job… (I have an answer for him: None!)

On the apartment community what is the process for maintenance to inform residents of a delay in completing the request? How clear is the writing on the service request letting the resident know of a part or need that will take a couple of days to fulfil? Is there any expected time to complete given? Is there a follow up at all except for a surprise visit?

Communication of maintenance is just as important as the actual act of maintenance… How’s yours? I’ll echo a statement above to summarize my thoughts about it: “Too much communication just might be enough.”

If you are interested in more information about creating an engaging maintenance culture; attend the Friday morning session I’m presenting with Mary Gwyn at the NAA Education Conference called Measure Twice, Improve Your Maintenance Program and the Bottom Line.

Paul Rhodes is the Maintenance Instructor for NAAEI. He travels the country teaching the Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technician.