Five Features of Effective Tenant Surveys

In my previous blog post, I talked about the importance of conducting tenant satisfaction surveys in order to measure the success of your tenant service strategy. In this post I’m looking at tenant surveys in more detail.

If you’re already doing tenant satisfaction surveys then you know how important they are to your overall tenant service strategy. A well-designed tenant survey can help you identify issues that you and your property management team never knew about; they can also provide confirmation that your tenant service strategy is actually working!

While at Marathon and Cadillac Fairview – and now at Eservus – I’ve helped do a ton of tenant surveys, and I’ve learned a lot about what makes for an effective survey process. Based on my experience, here are five features of effective tenant surveys:

  1. Start with a well-designed survey: This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many poorly designed surveys are out there. Make sure your survey includes questions that cover all aspects of building operations (security, life safety, elevators, lighting, cleaning, HVAC, parking, outdoor maintenance, environmental, building staff, building services). Make sure you use an unbiased scale; for example, if your survey offers as four possible answers “Poor,” “ Fair,” “Good” and “Excellent,” that’s biased to the positive, since three of the four options can be interpreted as positive. A better scale would be “Very poor,” “Poor,” “Neutral,” “Good” and “Very good.”
  2. Be sure to measure the importance of building features. If you include a set of questions about how important HVAC, cleaning, security etc. are, you’ll be able to compare importance scores with satisfaction scores. The bigger the gap (i.e. low satisfaction, high importance), the more resources you should focus on addressing those areas. Bonus points if you can guess which building feature usually has the biggest gap between importance and satisfaction. (Hint:  it’s HVAC!)
  3. Communicate the results of the survey back to the tenants: More often than not, tenant surveys are one-way communication, where the tenants answer the questions but they don’t find out what the results are … they’re left to wonder if you’re going to do anything with their feedback. Plan to deploy a communication strategy via your building newsletter or website that summarizes the highlights of the survey. Your tenants will thank you!
  4. Commit to responding to issues raised by the survey: Like it or not, once you ask the tenants for their opinions, you’re going to raise their expectations that something is going to be done in response to their feedback. So make sure you prepare an action plan that responds to the concerns expressed by the tenants … and communicate it! A lot of issues that the tenants raise can be addressed simply with effective communication. For example, one common complaint we are all familiar with is that the building is too hot in the summer. This is a perfect time to remind the tenants of the importance of using window blinds properly to help control solar load.
  5. Conduct regular surveys and compare results: The only way you’ll know if your tenants’ satisfaction is improving is if you ask the same questions with the same scale 12 to 18 months later and compare the results. If you have an effective survey tool, communication plan and follow-up strategy, chances are you’ll see consistent improvement year after year.

So if you don’t have a tenant survey process in place, strongly consider launching one. Speaking from experience, I know that it’s one of the cornerstones of a successful tenant service strategy.

What Do Tenants Want?

In the fall of 2013, BOMA International released the results of their global office tenant survey. The survey involved over 1200 office tenants from Canada, the U.S. and abroad. I found the results to be very interesting – among other things, they highlighted the importance of customer service to overall tenant satisfaction. (To order either a digital copy or hard copy of the survey results, visit the store on BOMA International’s website.)

One of the more interesting observations from the survey was the five factors that are most strongly correlated with tenant satisfaction (from highest to lowest):

  1. Property management in general
  2. Overall quality of property
  3. Property management communication
  4. Maintenance/engineering
  5. Health and hygiene factors

Of these top five factors, only “Health and hygiene factors” scored an average of below “Good” on the survey. This suggests that focusing immediately on a building’s health and hygiene factors can have a more significant and immediate impact on tenant satisfaction than focusing on other areas.

I also thought it was interesting that even though concierge services are one of the less-common amenities (available in properties of less than 25% of survey respondents), they had a satisfaction rating of 4.39 on the five-point scale, one of the highest-rated tenant amenities. I guess one of the key findings of the survey (for me anyway!) is that concierge services are a key contributor to tenant satisfaction.

How does your building measure up when it comes to tenant satisfaction? If you’re not doing tenant surveys, think very seriously about implementing them. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your tenant satisfaction scores increase year after year as you continue to work on tenant satisfaction. Tenant surveys are the best way to confirm that your tenant service strategy is actually working.

Tenant Retention Boosts Your Bottom Line

In my first Tenant Service In Action blog post, I mentioned that tenant satisfaction isn’t just a nice idea … it makes good business sense as well. I quoted a statistic from an article in the Harvard Business Review: A five percent increase in tenant retention can result in a 40% increase in profit. That statistic comes from a classic HBR article titled Zero Defections: Quality Comes to Services. The crux of the article is that because retention rates are measurable, they’re manageable. It goes on to say that in order to effectively implement a service quality strategy, there needs to be buy-in at every level of the organization, especially at the senior level. And that buy-in must be supported by ongoing training.

This mirrors very closely my experience at Marathon Realty, where I was Manager of Service Excellence (great title, huh?) in the mid-nineties. Marathon developed an industry-wide reputation for excellence in tenant service, culminating in receiving the Canada Award for Excellence in 1996. Based on my experience at Marathon, the key to the success of its service quality program rested on three cornerstones: senior management commitment, training, and regular tenant satisfaction surveys to measure the success of the program.  

Welcome to Tenant Service In Action

I’m excited to introduce the brand new Tenant Service In action blog, which I’ve launched in an effort to share information on the latest and greatest in tenant service. Before I launched Eservus in 1999 – if memory serves! – I worked in tenant services at both Cadillac Fairview and Marathon Realty (which was acquired in 1996 by Oxford), and I still have a keen interest in all things related to tenant service. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I launched Eservus back in 1999 – I knew that a concierge was a great tenant service, and by taking advantage of the Internet, I knew I could deliver it at a price point much lower than a traditional lobby-based concierge.

More and more property managers are making tenant service – and tenant retention – an important part of their overall business strategy. It’s hard to argue with the value of tenant service when you look at the statistics: It costs five times more to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one. Happy tenants are more than three times more likely to renew their leases than unhappy tenants. A five percent increase in tenant retention can result in a 40% increase in profit. Keeping tenants happy isn’t just a nice idea … it’s good for business.

With that in mind, I hope you enjoy the articles and features I’ll be putting together for Tenant Service In Action. I’ll be including content that I think will be of interest to those of you in the commercial real estate community who value tenant service and believe that happy tenants are good for business. If you come across an article that you think provides an interesting angle on tenant service, please send it along and I’ll do my best to work it into the blog.

I look forward to connecting with you!