Get Connected: Three Ways to Improve Tenant Satisfaction with Data-Driven Transparency
Author: Jeff Thompson, Executive Director, AwareManager
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of working closely with top tier commercial property owners and managers. While each firm has its own priorities and culture, common to all of them is a focus on tenant satisfaction. Somewhere along the way all express some variant of “happy tenants pay rent” in any discussion regarding operational optimization.
Satisfaction can be measured by retention (e.g. lease renewal), but that’s not enough because it is reactive; it’s a bit like turning the ship after you’ve hit the iceberg. In commercial real estate – as in most businesses – it is much less costly and more profitable to keep an existing customer than it is to attract a new one. This is certainly reason enough to have tenant satisfaction as a goal.
A key to meeting this goal is bringing transparency to your building operations. There’s value in looking at a property as a community of stakeholders. The interactions between each of the stakeholders – owners, managers, tenants, vendors, visitors and regulatory agencies – create valuable data which can inform decisions and provide efficiencies.
Let’s explore three ways you can improve transparency, connect key stakeholders so they are better informed, and provide an enhanced tenant experience:
1. Build on a solid foundation: create a comprehensive data model
A solid foundation is a detailed data model of your building representing its operations, critical equipment, infrastructure and, most important, the interrelationships of all the key stakeholders.
Most organizations collect data to support their daily operations, and to gain strategic insight to support decision making. However, collecting large quantities of data without using a well-designed data model fails to unleash the power of the information hidden within.
So what do we mean by a data model? Here is a good working definition from Wikipedia:
“A data model organizes data elements and standardizes how the data elements relate to one another. Since data elements document real life people, places and things and the events between them, the data model represents reality, for example a house has many windows or a cat has two eyes. Computers are used for the accounting of these real life things and events and therefore the data model is a necessary standard to ensure exact communication between human beings.”
One aspect of the data model is the property itself and its physical attributes; the number of floors, areas, systems, and equipment. Designing your model to capture not only the property’s physical attributes but also the data generated by the interactions between stakeholders, the details of contractual obligations, and the state of physical equipment is essential.
For example, there are relationships and interactions between the tenant occupying the space, the lease, scheduled maintenance, and the vendors responsible for service requests. Accounting for these relationships in your model facilitates reporting in an informative manner.
Further, because the data model connects all the stakeholders in the property’s operation, you can proactively improve response times by triggering notifications when a request is in danger of becoming overdue. If a request is not moving through the workflow according to your model, you could see it through color cues, triggered messages, and reports, and so could those responsible for addressing the issue.
In summary, the data model is the centerpiece of your information solution; it’s the digital representation of your business. A good model facilitates reporting, creates a supportive information environment, and informs all the stakeholders proactively in the operation of the property.
2. Eliminate the noise: use decision support and analysis tools wisely
The challenge is not accumulating data – there is more data available now than at any time in history. The challenge is representing it in a way that leverages our ability to see patterns which help us make informed decisions.
Decision support with data visualization brings your information to life in a very visceral and dynamic way. For example, a dashboard could color code tenant spaces based on criteria tailored to your specific needs. You could also receive notifications when data-driven thresholds are exceeded, keeping you in front of issues that could negatively impact tenant satisfaction. Criteria may include temperature, response times, cleaning inspection results, and tenant surveys.
Most tools provide the ability to drill down into information so you can gain a deeper understanding of what is driving exceptions. This enables you to perform a root cause analysis.
Most importantly, decision support tools should be tailored to stakeholders based on the decisions they make. For instance, some owners and managers focus on additional revenue from tenants for billable services, where others do not because the services are incorporated into the rent. Neither approach is “better,” but their visualization of the data must take this into account.
Decision support coupled with a good data model enables you to answer key questions such as:
- What are average response times to tenant requests, by type, requester, responder, and priority?
- How many outstanding work orders are there? Which ones are overdue or in danger of becoming overdue? Who is responsible for them?
- How many hot and cold calls were received last week? Is that more or less than the trend? Of those, how many were calls where the temperature of the space was within the acceptable range defined by the lease?
- Is my cleaning vendor meeting the performance obligations of its contract?
- Are my tenant and vendor insurance certificates in place and current?
- What are my best-performing buildings? What are the key attributes of those buildings?
- What attributes of my specific operation are having the greatest positive impact on tenant satisfaction? What attributes of my operation carry the greatest risk to tenant satisfaction, and how is the risk mitigated?
- Decision support tools provide a visual and dynamic representation of your data model. When you tailor decision support to each stakeholder based on the specific decisions they need to make, it empowers them in ways never before possible.
3. Make it work in the real world: leverage mobile applications
The power of mobile technology has become obvious. In this particular context, mobile unchains people from their desks and provides access to the data model from anywhere. Dedicated mobile apps streamline communication by reducing response times, eliminating transcription errors and supporting timely decisions.
For example, cleaning personnel armed with mobile apps connected to the data model can record anything of note during their work overnight. If the work requires a quote, this can be priced by the vendor online, and the tenant can review and approve the quote, with management having transparency into the entire process. What used to take days can now be accomplished in hours. Further, automatic triggers notifying the right people at the right time and escalating issues as needed, makes the entire operation more efficient.
Mobile also improves the quality of communication: photographs can be added to the data model, documents can be looked up, locations can be tracked, and barcodes/QR codes can be scanned. All of this saves time and ultimately contributes to tenant satisfaction.
You can think of the three steps above – a good data model, decision support tools, and mobile tools – like three legs of a stool. With all three you have a solid and powerful information foundation. Lacking any one of them falls short in realizing the full potential of your data.
A comprehensive data model accurately representing property attributes and stakeholder relationships is the first and most important step in realizing the value of your information assets. When you couple a good data model with decision support you transform your data assets into value. Mobile tools act as force multipliers, enabling stakeholders to add important data and access valuable information anywhere and anytime.
The result is that stakeholders gain transparency and organizations can gain operational insight and the opportunity to reach new levels of tenant satisfaction.
About the Author
Jeff is a graduate of Harvard University and co-founder of AwareManager. He has over 20 years of experience working with prominent commercial real estate organizations, solving complex property management challenges and implementing successful operations management solutions.