Survey Says...

Jan. 7, 2004
How do you know tenants are satisfied? Think big and ask them (Part 5 of 5)
On the television game show Family Feud, contestants are asked to guess popular responses to survey questions. In multi-family, retail, and office properties nationwide, building owners and property management professionals are tired of guessing what tenants want. The use of surveys has become a popular way to measure the satisfaction of tenants. Benefits are numerous and nowhere are the advantages more clear than at the bottom line.Survey BenefitsDiscovering how tenants feel about the space and its management is essential to understanding tenants’ expectations and meeting (or even exceeding) them. “It is an opportunity for tenants to express their level of appreciation and satisfaction with the variety of services, amenities, or features of the building,” says Christopher Lee, president, CEL & Associates Inc., Los Angeles. Tenants that are content with the condition and management of their leased space are more likely to renew when the lease period nears expiration.While a tenant may be thrilled with the quality of the space and service, an occasion may not arise to express their opinions. Surveys afford tenants the chance to express satisfaction or disappointment. “The information in the surveys helps us identify how effectively we are meeting our tenant expectations, and identify areas of improvement or adjustments needed in our services, building operations and equipment, and personnel,” says Mark Durno, vice president, Property Management, Mack-Cali Realty Corp., Elmsford, NY. Survey results can also provide early warning of tenants considering leasing space elsewhere – helping facilities ownership and management professionals proactively work to divert retention problems. Beyond measuring tenant satisfaction, survey results – when favorable – can help attract new tenants. Much in the same way testimonials can persuade, sharing current tenants’ happiness with the building and its management can assist with the marketing and leasing of available space.Not sure whether to renovate elevators or install new landscaping this year? Responses can help you determine which building and grounds improvements would be most appreciated by tenants. “It helps to prioritize capital expenditures. It helps to prioritize staffing levels,” says Lee.Tenants know that if the building owner or management staff is not interested in their opinion, they would not be sending out surveys. The survey demonstrates to tenants the facilities professionals’ commitment and dedication to their satisfaction and continuous improvement.Survey FormatAlthough building use may vary, the types of areas covered on a tenant survey remain the same – all of which shed light on the overall quality of management and leasing services; building condition, quality, and features; and the likelihood of tenants to renew their lease or recommend the building or management company to others. “Major categories in the survey include questions on the physical condition of the building such as HVAC, cleaning, elevators, common hallways and lobbies, landscaping and parking, and snow removal. There is also a section on property management personnel, as well as a more general category which gives tenants the opportunity to provide feedback on leasing services, property accounting, and Mack-Cali overall as a landlord,” shares Durno.Ask anyone who has administered these surveys about the appropriate number of questions to ask and it’s likely you’ll get a variety of answers. Whether the survey spans one page or the front and back of one page, it’s important to value and respect tenants’ time. Many surveys are formatted with a rating system (e.g. from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied”) and provide ample space for written comments. ‘Do and Don’t’ Survey TipsTenant surveys can be extremely effective when administered and analyzed properly. However, there are some simple rules you should follow in order to ensure success.Don’t overwhelm tenants with too many questions when administering a web-based survey. Too much scrolling will turn off respondents, reducing the percentage of returned surveys. Surveys can be administered in a number of ways, and the means of delivery will greatly shape the surveys’ content and length. Mailed or faxed surveys provide a better format for lengthier and more in-depth surveys.Do survey all the tenants in a building. “It doesn’t work to just survey part of your tenant base. Someone in Unit 102 got surveyed and Unit 103 didn’t get surveyed and if those two tenants talk, then the feeling is, ‘Why are you asking them and not me?’ ” says Lee. Also with a larger number of responses, it is easier to pinpoint trends and accurately report any consensus.Don’t survey tenants too frequently. For the best results, consider surveying tenants on an annual basis. “If you over-survey them, your ability to get quality information begins to diminish. Everyone loves the survey, but no one likes to take surveys,” reminds W. Michael Wayman, president, National Real Estate Standards Corp., Marietta, GA.Do survey both the decision-makers and the occupants. Wayman refers to these two groups as choosers and users. “You may want to get some information from the users, the people in the space, and then you may want to survey the choosers (more of the decision-makers). I think you need to at least have a method by which to touch both groups,” he says.Don’t underestimate the importance of addressing tenant concerns. “We have found that for the project to be successful year after year, the tenant feedback we receive must be highly regarded and each and every concern must be addressed in order to continue to provide tenants with top-level service,” Durno says. If tenant concerns are not addressed, tenants will be less apt to see the value of the survey – electing not to participate in the future. Tenants may also feel that the building owner or management organization does not regard their opinions, concerns, and suggestions as important, diminishing the quality of the tenant/landlord relationship.Do survey property management professionals as well. Administering the surveys to tenants and facilities professionals can provide a better perspective on how both groups think procedures are being followed and expectations are being met. “To compare our perceptions to those of our tenants, we also have our property managers complete the same survey, then compare the results and measure the differences,” says Durno of Mack-Cali’s survey process. Don’t ignore the potential to benchmark the results internally and against peers. Occasionally, compensation or bonuses are tied to how tenants rate property management professionals’ abilities. Additionally, comparing results with those of competitors or peers turns the tenant survey into an even more significant benchmarking tool. Do consider investing in the services of a third party to administer and analyze survey results. While it is not necessary, there are several advantages. You can utilize the company’s years of experience and national database to craft a survey that reveals many layers of information about the building, tenants, management, and how it (and the company) compares to space competitors are leasing. Tenants may also appreciate the confidentiality of a survey administered by a third party and responses may reflect this. However, if your organization has the expertise or the desire to conduct surveys in-house, it is possible and can even be advantageous. “By designing, implementing, and analyzing the surveys in-house, we are able to control the entire process and maintain a degree of flexibility. For example, we are able to add, drop, and change questions as needs arise, such as for new amenities and technologies in the building,” explains Durno. Explore both options before deciding which will yield the best results.Regardless of the type of tenant – retail, multi-family, or office – putting tenants’ needs first can help yield higher retention rates. Tenant surveys can help you better understand tenant expectations and improve building management procedures – a win-win for building owners who will appreciate the decrease in tenant turnover and for tenants who will enjoy the effects of customer-centric management. Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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