Heaven Can Wait ... But strata issues shouldn’t
Why can’t we get modern service standards in strata ….
Whilst we are used to almost instant [and often free] support from the businesses and organisations most of us use [think banks, shopping or food delivery], strata management seems to hanker for an older, slower, and quaint approach.
The following is a real email auto-response from an Australian strata manager.
We acknowledge receipt of your email and shall endeavour to provide our reply as soon as possible.
Kindly note that due to the increasingly high daily volume of emails received by our strata managers, we regret that in some cases, response times may extend to between 3 – 5 business days.
Due to unavoidable delays, emails are not the appropriate form of communication for notifying our office of emergency matters.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO IMMEDIATELY ADVISE OUR OFFICE OF GENUINE EMERGENCIES BY TELEPHONE ON XXXX XXXX AS THIS FORM OF DIRECT COMMUNICATION ALLOWS US TO TAKE PROMPT AND APPROPRIATE ACTION.
What can you say when you’re told that an email may take 1 week to get answered and that if you need urgent action, you need to phone [presumably during working hours]?
The world has changed a lot over the last few decades and increasingly so in the last few years. Driven by technology, information overload, and Covid 19 [in the last 12 months].
These days we can get almost anything we want instantaneously online, within 30 minutes for tasty cooked and delivered food and next-day or day-after for many consumer goods (that perfect pair of shoes).
So, why do strata customers get such low [and old fashioned] service levels?
It’s not laziness since most strata managers work hard, are very busy, and are often overloaded.
It’s not money since strata management revenues (when grossed up to include fixed charges, extra charges, disbursements, and commissions) range between $300 to $400 per lot per year.
It’s also not overly demanding strata owners since only half of the strata lots are owner-occupied in Australia and tenants typically contact rental agents instead of strata managers. Plus, in my experience, only a small proportion of strata owners contact managers regularly.
Some possible reasons I can think of for the problem are as follows.
1. Strata management business models are fixed income-based so there’s an inherent disincentive to do more work to earn the fees since that would increase costs and thereby decrease margins and profits.
2. Long term trends in strata business management have mostly focused on improving staff productivity due to the high labour costs by increasing the number of buildings and lots handled by each manager or staffer.
3. Most management businesses work on a manager portfolio system, where individual managers are responsible for and often the sole gatekeepers for a fixed group of buildings creating a bottleneck for handling strata customer enquiries.
4. Generally low levels of technology use beyond older proprietary management software platforms, email, and, more recently, Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.
5. Mindset issues in strata management that are less focused on customer service than processing and compliance. So, managers prioritise complying with strata laws as their primary role than assisting owners, committees and residents run their buildings. I know they may sound like the same thing, but there’s a big difference between the two.
6. A growing volume of touchpoints as owners and others have more and more ways to contact managers [email, SMS, instant message, phone, etc] so that managers are becoming overwhelmed. I’m told that during the Covid 19 lockdowns and work from home restrictions, owner contact levels to managers have increased significantly.
7. A growing risk management focus by strata managers over the last 20 years means that managers take fewer delegations, do less independently of committees, and when they undertake delegated functions typically seek committee and/or owner approval, thereby slowing things down and adding multiple backward and forward communication pathways.
8. The multiplicity of owners involved in strata buildings means that the communication path is not one-to-one but many-to-many and so, the volume is inevitably higher and often repetitive.
9. Lack of trust and reliance (and hence delegation) by owners and committees resulting from their experience of lower service and communication levels have and are creating a downward spiral where owners and committees lack confidence in their manager’s performance so increase contact to check, remind and prompt activity. Plus, committees delegate less to their manager to act independently. Resulting in even higher communication volumes and, perversely, slower service.
Despite these and other potential causes, there are better ways to do strata management these days so that it is modern, customer-focused, fast, compliant, and value for money. So, I’ll be writing more about this soon.
Gladly that’s not every strata manager ... but prompt email responses and answering phone calls is a pretty low service bar to get over.
27 Jan, 2021