In the multifaceted realm of multifamily communities, property management professionals often find themselves walking a tightrope. On one hand, the rise of automation has ushered in an era of innovation, streamlining operations and prompting the transition toward complete digital adoption. On the other hand, the fundamental significance of human interactions between onsite teams and residents cannot be overlooked. In this ever-evolving sector, striking the right balance between automation and human touch is the linchpin of success, as it promises both operational efficiency and resident satisfaction.
In our 2023 State of Resident Experience Management report, we found that 75 percent of operators state that resident expectations have increased over the last year. At the same time, data from this year’s report and the previous year show a correlation between high staff turnover at property management companies and lower resident retention. The rise of automation has ushered in an era of innovation, streamlining operations and prompting the transition toward complete digital adoption. Still, the fundamental importance of onsite teams focused on resident interactions cannot be overstated.
Property management automation platforms have made remarkable strides in simplifying day-to-day tasks and creating efficiencies so that multifamily communities can strike that ideal balance between digital transformation and face-to-face experiences. In fact, the 2023 State of Resident Experience Management report delineates critical areas where automation has salvaged precious hours for onsite staff, empowering them to redirect their energies toward resident interactions.
The first area that automation can help property management teams is rent collection and management. The core function of any property management team revolves around managing rent payments. Traditionally, this entailed physically receiving, processing, and reconciling checks, a laborious process prone to errors. Rent payment automation solutions have revolutionized this paradigm, allowing residents to make electronic payments and property managers to efficiently track and reconcile the remaining paper payments, like checks. As a result, time is saved, errors are minimized, and residents can enjoy more convenient payment methods.
For Vesteco Real Estate, a property management company, rent payment automation is the most widely accepted automated task. Right now, Vesteco is renting to different generations, not all of whom are digital natives or people who grew up with technology and incorporate it into everyday life. They find that older renters generally prefer human interaction for all tasks, while younger renters prefer automation for common tasks. Vesteco reports that payment automation seems to be the most widely accepted automated task across all renters, no matter their age.
The other critical area for automation is resident utility billing, as resident inquiries about utility bills often drain onsite staff’s time. Multifamily best practice is to bill residents for utilities and to use a utility management automation platform to streamline utility management workflows. The most common reasons why operators adopt such platforms include higher regulatory compliance, lower utility expenses, and higher levels of conservation. However, as staff frees up time that would have otherwise been spent on manual tasks, residents also benefit from more meaningful interactions with staff and easy access to their detailed utility bill information online, where they can receive answers to frequently asked questions and submit and track support tickets online when necessary.
Resident utility billing automation extends to the full utility billing cycle, from receiving, examining, and entering utility bills to vacant unit cost recovery. Operators offload utility AP and billing tasks and improve portfolio-wide visibility. As a result, operators can reduce errors and relieve the headaches associated with the end-to-end utility process.
Pivot Focus to Residents
While automation comes with many benefits, maintaining human interaction in specific resident services remains vital. With the time saved in areas such as rent payments and utility bill inquiries, onsite staff can redirect their focus toward more meaningful interactions with residents.
Workflow automation in key areas can also directly improve onsite staff response times to resident inquiries and concerns. Whether it’s a maintenance request, a query about community amenities, or concerns about a neighbor’s noise, residents feel valued when their issues are addressed promptly and professionally. This proactive approach significantly improves resident satisfaction.
For example, WillMax, a Dallas-based multifamily owner and operator, uses a ChatGPT-style chatbot built into Google My Business to respond to prospects and residents who have questions about the community. The chatbot can give pricing and community policy information and know when to elevate the interaction to a human for a response.
Property management staff can use this newfound time to plan and execute engaging events that foster a greater sense of community, like celebrating residents’ birthdays with dedicated “birthday month” events. These personalized touches can help encourage interactions among neighbors. Similarly, acknowledging lease renewals and signings with personalized thank-you notes or small tokens of appreciation can help residents feel valued and more inclined to remain within the community.
In addition to enhancing resident interactions, the time saved with workflow automation can be channeled toward other critical tasks like property upkeep. Maintaining facilities and common areas to the highest standard is crucial for resident satisfaction. Property management teams can enhance living experiences and boost long-term retention by concentrating on preventive maintenance, timely repairs, and improving community spaces.
Empower Onsite Teams
The key is to use property management automation to support and empower onsite teams, not to replace them. Workflow automation can help apartment communities improve efficiency, accuracy, and convenience; however, human interactions are critical to fostering the emotional connections, loyalty, and referrals needed for a community to flourish. By finding the optimal balance between automation and human interaction, apartment communities can achieve the best of both worlds: a seamless and satisfying customer experience.
WillMax has skillfully achieved this balance, executing automation initiatives to help its employees focus on what’s important. The management company is in the process of having all of its texts, emails, voicemails, and ILS set up in the same way as the ChatGPT-style chatbot built into Google My Business so prospects and residents can receive timely answers to their questions. This will save their leasing agents a ton of time and allow them to focus on the more complex human interactions like closing leases or visiting local businesses.
WillMax also has an automation setup for accounts receivable. If a resident doesn’t pay rent by the first of the month, they’ll get an automatic notification that their rent is due, the best ways to make payments online, or even how to set up automatic payments. If they don’t pay by the rent due date, residents will get an automated notification to contact the office and work on a payment plan.
When implementing these tools, you must pay attention to the importance of staff training on the new tools and customer service. Even positive change brought by new technology can be challenging. Training your employees on the technology and ensuring they understand their role creates cohesion and effective teamwork. Additionally, consistent customer service training, like communication skills and conflict resolution, provides onsite staff the skills to manage residents and effectively bring positive human interaction.
The Future of Multifamily Living
Balancing workflow automation and human interaction in multifamily communities is a dynamic and continuously evolving process. The 2023 State of Resident Experience Management Report underscores that while technology unquestionably enhances efficiency, the essence of community living lies in the relationships cultivated and nurtured by onsite staff. Property management teams can concentrate on what matters most by automating mundane tasks: creating exceptional resident experiences. This equilibrium ensures operational excellence and creates the sense of belonging that residents seek from the buildings they choose to call home.
As multifamily communities evolve, achieving the right balance between automation and human interaction will remain necessary. The future of property management hinges on its capacity to provide residents with the best of both worlds, where technology amplifies the human touch and fosters an environment where residents feel valued and connected.