A study by a new company found millennials’ service expectations in apartments and rental homes are driving changes in both property maintenance and maintenance staff and the tools used to perform their jobs.
By John Triplett
High turnover in the maintenance ranks is a problem in multifamily housing, especially among millennial maintenance personnel. They like easy-to-use technology applications on their smart phones and not old paper-based maintenance processes. That is why the company, Facilgo, did the study to research these questions.
- How do millennials’ expectations for faster maintenance affect property management maintenance organizations?
- Are millennial maintenance personnel leaving multifamily due to the lack of technology solutions available in their day-to-day jobs? What can be done to retain them?
- What strategies are companies using to make their maintenance processes more efficient?
- How will these new strategies help retain millennial maintenance personnel and satisfy millennial residents?
- What will happen if companies don’t do anything to cater to millennials’ needs?
In an interview with Rental Housing Journal, Ken Murai, founder and CEO of FacilGo said, “There is a greater degree of expectation that we respond faster, we communicate better, and we get things fixed quickly.
“And if we don’t, then they’re going to shout from the mountaintops through social media to let us know about that, and that’s really putting the pressure on making sure that we do a good job the first time,” Murai said.
Fighting turnover among millennial maintenance employees
“There’s so much turnover in the maintenance ranks right now that executing company processes needs to be really easy for staff to do. In fact, they almost need to be trained as a part of doing the process.
“Paper and pencil and running back to the maintenance shop to log something on the computer, it’s just not going to cut it,” Murai said which is why he founded the company.
“The thing I’m hearing from a lot of the larger owners whenever we talk about maintenance and turnover, is that staff turnover is so high and that makes them frustrated. The thing that’s really astounding is that they’ll hire someone and train them but after six months, they’ll quit and move to a different industry because the work environment is paper-based. They’re using their phone for social stuff, communicating, entertaining, getting things done, and then they get to their job and they’re handed a clipboard. It’s really demoralizing and frustrating for them,” he said.
Millennials’ expectations driving maintenance change
To be a successful and continual improve, there needs to be “support for the entire process from start to finish. You need to use mobile devices or computers within the process to capture pictures and comments in order to get the job done,” Murai said.
“Use that documentation to communicate with your residents because it’s not just fixing the problem that’s important. You have to fix it and communicate well about it, or else nobody’s going to be happy,” he said.
“The problem that we’re seeing with other solutions out there today is that they may solve one piece of the puzzle. If you don’t build a process that leverages one step to the next, it becomes disjointed and is tough. You’re having to redo things and not do things efficiently. Even if you stitch together a bunch of solutions, it will be far from optimal. Even if you usie one of the large property management solutions and they have some of the functionality needed to manage maintenance, they still may lack the ability to “help” your employees follow your process from one step to the next; it’s still a problem.
Lack of innovation was most surprising find in the study
Murai said the most surprising lesson from the study was “the lack of innovation.”
“After I left Realpage and was doing other consulting work, I hadn’t paid attention to all the different efforts that were happening with maintenance and procurement systems. When I was asked to look at the maintenance and procurement market once again, I saw that there really hadn’t been much evolution in the systems since I left the space.
“I think we’ve seen a lot more evolution on the leasing side of the business, but on maintenance and operations, it’s been a part of the business that has been left behind. There is so much more that can be done. In FacilGo®, we have a great system, and we’re finding that by supporting the entire operational process, we can really help people get things done more efficiently and get the right things done.”
Most maintenance transactions are service related
“What I found from analyzing multifamily data is more of the transactions are service-related than product-related, especially for turns,” Murai said.
“We’ve built our platform to work with services in a way that other platforms do not.
“For example, with floor covering, we handle not only scheduling the service, but also include pricing, your negotiated price per square yard, your floor plan measurements, the amount of carpet needed for a given floor plan by room, seaming diagrams, and you can order by the room with accurate measurements rather than having to do a full replacement. Everybody else does estimates. We have your company’s flooring information accurate, down to the room,” he said. And the applicable flooring can be purchased directly through his company’s app. “We have a mobile-enabled website and a web application. So, we have everything you need, wherever you need it, to get the job done.
Describing his pricing, Murai said, “Our pricing model is unit-based pricing, and very dependent on what solution modules our clients utilize. Some solution modules can be used very cost-effectively, or you can use our entire suite.
“We have several mid-sized multifamily and single-family home customers, and we’re actually on track to start part pilots with several larger multifamily customers this quarter. We also have some of the largest suppliers in the industry on the platform,” Murai said.
Question and answer with Ken Murai
Q: How do millennials’ expectations for faster maintenance affect property management maintenance organizations?
A: Our challenge is to get maintenance issues solved more quickly and efficiently than ever before. If not, we are going to hear about it on social media. How do you speed up you processes and improve communication with your residents? You need to have the people and tools to help you track, document, assign, and get the right products/services/work done, and you need to help them collaborate.
“People need to know what to do, when and how, as well as get access to the right help when the time is appropriate. Instead, maintenance staff often spend a lot of time figuring out what they need to do or buy.
“This is heightened when you have new employees, since they don’t know what to do. By providing them with tools that guide them to work with the right people, buy the right things, document problems and solutions with pictures, etc. it will help them get the work get done faster.
“They’ll be able to get help from vendors or other staff, leverage past solutions, plan for the future, and ensure that customer issues are not lost or fixed too slowly. In addition, you’ll be able to provide better communication with your residents. Remember, it’s not just the solving of the problem that matters, but also the communication of the resolution.
Q: Are millennial maintenance personnel leaving the multifamily industry due to the lack of technology solutions available in their day-to-day jobs? What can be done to retain them?
A: Millennials use their phones to socialize, communicate, entertain themselves, and get things done. Millennials are the top smart phone users with Facebook, Facebook Messenger and YouTube (according to Nielson) being the top 3 apps. The Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility report interviewed 1,000 adults and found that smartphones were more important to millennials than deodorant. These devices are an integral part of millennials’ daily lives.
In speaking to various management companies, we have anecdotally heard that many recently hired millennials quit their jobs to move into jobs in other industries. Why? Because, they were frustrated by the lack of tools on their smartphones that the property management companies provided to get things done. They hate using paper and property management is full of paper processes. Who is going to hire them in the future based upon their expertise in running a paper based process? As a result, the millennial workforce will continue to migrate to other industries that have tools that allow them to do their jobs more efficiently unless we as an industry evolve.
As a starting step, many companies are starting to adopt “bring your own phone policies.” While this means that pictures and texting are being used for communication and tracking, the lack of integration of this information into their property management systems means that information is isolated, collaboration is difficult, and tasks are left undone. In other words, it’s a good baby step, but this like any other siloed system doesn’t provide nearly as much help as a collaboration platform.
Q: What strategies are companies using to make their maintenance processes more efficient?
A: The best companies are focusing on supporting an entire business process instead of providing point solutions that help solve a sliver of that process. That means they need to be able to support multiple processes (not just ordering or invoice processing or inspections or work orders).
For example, one company we spoke to talked about using an application to do due diligence inspections. At the end of the process they had a lot of great pictures and data, but then didn’t know what to do next, since the data resided in their app, and didn’t support any of their other processes or work with their property management system.
The most efficient companies are using software platforms that support the entire maintenance process where they collaborate with their staff and suppliers, and leverage past data to make the process more efficient.
Inspections lead to work orders, quote requests or orders and everything is tied together. Being easy-to-use, they require less training and support, and guide the staff through the process. So, you’re getting the benefit of requiring little training on the application and the process! That’s something that not just millennials want, but all people in the organization.
Another comment on mobile. Given that real estate is a distributed operation, mobile applications are required so people can get the work done at the location where the issue exists. With mobile, staff and suppliers are able to record notes, take pictures and record them in a system where the information can be shared, trigger additional actions and used for reporting.
Some of the baby steps we are seeing companies take are policies that allow staff to text each other and their vendors with messages and pictures. It’s a start, but the information is isolated on a person’s phone and isn’t leveraged for future actions by the entire organization.
We’re also seeing some companies adopt virtual turn boards using Google Spreadsheets or Microsoft Sharepoint. Again, it’s a great solution that solves one piece of the pie, but often falls short around updates and scheduling. We believe that it’s most efficient to have virtual turn boards that tie into your turn schedule, inspections, work orders, quotes, contracts, orders, and invoices, which allows you to support your entire process.
We’ve also seen a trend for companies having maintenance personnel handle more units than before and they aren’t necessarily outsourcing more work to vendors. Unless they provide tools and software that makes them more efficient, they will both slip on their quality of service and lose residents.
We’ve also seen some outsourcing tasks to key vendor partners, but those who are doing so tend to be smaller property management companies with smaller properties.
Q: How will these new strategies help to retain millennial maintenance personnel and satisfy millennial residents?
A: Nielsen reports that 97-98% of millennials have smart phones. They are using them for social media, messaging, YouTube, maps, search and more. They are constantly on their phones and can’t stand using paper or the dusty old PC in the maintenance shop.
“If you are thinking of allowing them to use their phones to text and take pictures, just remember that if their phones are not connected to the rest of the property maintenance platform, they’re going to have to use some paper and transpose that data into a computer. It’s wasteful, they know it, and it’s frustrating. Plus, it doesn’t help them gain the skills to help them be competitive with future jobs.
By using mobile and web software that helps support the entire maintenance process, you’re able to help your staff get things done faster and more efficiently and communicate much more effectively. Who doesn’t want have the satisfaction of getting things done. And, if they’re happy, they’ll stay.
Q: What will happen if companies don’t do anything to cater to millennials’ needs?
A: Millennial staff become frustrated when using antiquated methods. Tools that support their entire process and help them collaborate not only allow the maintenance personnel to have more job satisfaction, they are more efficient, collaborative and social, and learn faster.
Just using their phones is the first step, but being able to use their phones to work with existing processes is what they are looking for, and what will keep them from running away to other industries that use more technology. Continuous improvement leveraging tools is key to retention
Q: How does FacilGo® help property management companies and their suppliers not only operate more efficiently, but also help improve maintenance personnel’s job satisfaction?
A: “FacilGo® is built to support the entire turn and maintenance process from when you identify a problem, figure out how to solve it, get the work done (with internal or external staff) and order parts, process the invoice and payment, and then charge back residents.
“We believe that a platform must do more than one step of a process. In fact, your software should leverage one step of the process to help you with the next step, so your staff does the right thing quickly and efficiently.
“ We find that companies initially adopt some of our easier-to-implement solutions like inspections and move out closing statements, then start adding on work orders, contract management, procurement, invoice processing, fixed asset, and inventory management. We also have functionality such as budgets, supplier ratings, job cost and CAM charges, so we offer a very robust set of features and functions to support your operations and maintenance processes.”
Ken was the Vice President of Product Development and Client Management at OpsTechnology, where he was responsible for designing and developing the OpsTechnology product and oversaw its client management team from initial deployment to acquisition by RealPage and beyond. Ken has experience creating procurement organizations and managing strategic technology initiatives for executive teams in the multifamily industry. Ken graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. He has been working in the technology industry for 25 years, in areas including product development, sales, marketing and management.
FacilGo® provides a solution to property management organizations who are frustrated by their turn and maintenance processes. Our property maintenance platform and private marketplace streamlines operations and saves money by offering an integrated inspection to invoice process through which you manage your turns and maintenance processes. Unlike other software that provide piece-meal solutions, FacilGo® offers an integrated process where your staff is presented with what to do and buy based upon their inspection and work order results. Instead of spending time figuring out what to do, staff can spend time collaborating with suppliers to get things done.