Are your customers satisfied or totally irritated with your customer service? – The need for speed.

Bad customer service

TenantMagic makes the rental application and background screening process quick and easy for agents/landlords, as well as applicants by using technology.  As we all know, things can go wrong with even the best designed programs. It is important that rental applications are processed quickly, as any delay can result in an applicant losing out on a desired property, so at TenantMagic we need to address any issue promptly.

This is where customer service comes in and where businesses can really make a name for themselves, for better or for worse.

I manage the customer service for TenantMagic and look to consumer companies that I interact with for ideas on what to do and what not to do. After all, our expectations in the business world are shaped by what we experience as consumers.

Recently I had issues with two different product/service providers that required me to contact their customer service departments and had two distinct experiences.

The first was Amazon.  The phone accessory I purchased using Amazon stopped working a few days after receiving it.  I was unable to find the contact information for the company, so I called the Amazon customer service number.

I told them what had happened and they immediately took care of it by crediting my account. I then purchased a similar item from another provider. Amazon came through, the product manufacturer did not. I will continue to use Amazon, but will think twice about going back to the company that supplied the product.

The second experience was with my cell phone carrier which I have been with for 17 years! I was able to easily contact them about my issue regarding a phone upgrade, but the promises that were made were not kept, requiring me to call back multiple times. I will spare you the details, but in the past 2 weeks I have spent easily close to 20 hours on the phone with their customer service reps and all my problem is still not resolved – and it is not that complicated.

When things go awry in a business transaction it is vital to handle the issues quickly.

The way I look at it is, that is comes down to time. First, don’t make it next to impossible for your customers to find company’s contact information. The when you do interact with a customer that has a problem, try to resolve it immediately if possible. Your customer’s time (and yours) is too valuable to waste. Delays lead to irritated customers.

At TenantMagic we make every attempt to have a person answer the phone for customer services calls and try to get any issue resolved as quickly as possible. There are times when we cannot address a customer’s problem to their satisfaction. When that happens, we explain the situation, tell them we are sorry but there is nothing more that we can do. We might lose that customer, but have not wasted their time by stringing them along with excuses and promises that cannot be kept. And, we are not wasting our time.

Paper rental applications? Do you know what century we’re in?

It never ceases to amaze me the number of agents, landlords and property managers that still use paper applications.

In my last 2 posts I covered how paper applications can complicate Fair Housing compliance and the create personal data security problems.

Today we will look at how time consuming paper applications are, how they make  your business look antiquated and can affect compliance with Fair Housing laws.

Paper applications, whether they are handed out or a downloadable pdf, require the agent/owner/ property manager to enter all that information into the background screening program. (If you are not screening your prospective tenants, then you are just asking for big trouble.)

Typically this can take up to 10 minutes or more per application, which  adds up when you have multiple vacancies.

Paper applications are usually accompanied by paper checks or credit card information application fees that need to be written out and then entered into a payment system, again requiring even more time with data entry.

Still not convinced? Do you still feel that all this paper and redundant data entry is really not that big of a deal?

Then consider the image that you are portraying to your prospective tenants. If you are using paper applications and collecting fees with paper checks you are giving people the impression that your business is not up to date. What are going to think about your property and its maintenance?

Fair Housing compliance is also an issue with paper applications. A blog post by OneRent http://blog.onerent.co/fair-housing-rental-application/  reports that “Many landlords notice that the paper rental applications that they receive, are rarely complete. In most of the cases, the tenant provides half-finished applications that make it difficult for property owners to scourge for and scrutinize additional information. Some tenants provide basic bio data at first and additional bank statements and credit reports later, leaving the property owners with no option but to hand over the house to a new tenant in the interim period.”

Due to the lack of complete information, landlords often discourage potential tenants from looking into their properties or steer such applicants towards another property. This constitutes a violation of the anti-discriminatory housing laws.

Using a reputable online application and screening company makes sense on so many different levels. The amount of time you save and the how you present yourself and business are just two reasons to switch.

Jay Apple is co-founder of TenantMagic www.tenantmagic.net, an online rental application and background screening provider that is free to real estate agents, property managers and landlords.

 

Personal data security dangers with paper rental applications

 

Personal data security dangers with paper rental applications
Your personal data is at risk with paper rental applications

In my last post I discussed the fair housing compliance issues associated with paper applications. In this post we will look at applicant personal data security dangers with paper rental applications and how to keep applicant data secure.

Best practices in screening rental applicants require detailed personal information. You can check out this post to get a good explanation of why this data is important when assessing rental applicants.  http://www.kimberlyhowell.com/renters-landlords/why-does-a-rental-application-require-so-much-personal-info/

According to the FBI, identity theft is the fasted growing white-collar crime in America.

Believe it or not there are still many real estate agents, property managers and landlords that use paper rental application.

There are 2 variations of these

1) An actual paper application that is handed out at the location or available on line and then downloaded to be completed. The completed application is then hand-delivered, emailed or even faxed back to the office.

2) An online fillable pdf.

Both present serious security problems as they are ultimately printed out to be viewed and distributed.

A paper application contains the applicant’s name, date of birth, current address and social security number.  I have also seen credit card information on an application

This is everything an identity thief needs to wreak havoc with an individual’s ID.

Paper applications are not easy to keep secure and away from prying eyes. I have seen them laying out in the open at many offices. These offices typically have a steady stream of people regularly visiting them. There are also cleaning and maintenance people that could access them, especially when the offices are closed and no one else is around.

Fillable, on-line pdfs present an additional security problem when there are multiple applicants. Many times the co-applicants are required to complete the same application as the primary applicant on the same form. The primary applicant will complete his/hers then the co-applicant will continue with the same application. This allows the co-applicant to see all of the primary applicant’s personal information. This is a cause for concern when the applicants don’t know each other all that well.

The solution to resolving these issues associated personal data security dangers with paper rental applications is to use a secure on-line application program.

Make sure it has the following features-

–  Individual applications (that can then be combined for review) for each applicant.

–  The ability to capture an SSN for screening purposes, but not make it visible to anyone after it is entered.

–  Access by permission only. If more than one person needs to review the application, each needs to have their own log on credentials.

Paper applications are obsolete and provide a tempting target for identity thieves. Many of the personal data security dangers with paper rental applications can be greatly reduced by using a reputable on-line rental application and background screening service provider.

Are you still using paper rental applications? – You really need to stop.

There are a number of very valid reasons why paper rental applications can adversely affect your business.

  • Fair Housing compliance issues
  • Information security concerns
  • Redundant data entry
  • Negative impressions

I will address each reason in separate posts.  In this post I will look at  potential Fair Housing compliance issues with paper applications.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to protect rental applicants and tenants from discrimination and bias by a landlord or real estate agent.  The law which is very comprehensive and among other things, prohibits property owners and landlords from:

  • Refusing to sell or rent out a house based on the race, religion, color, gender or nationality of the tenant
  • Having different terms and conditions for different applicants based on the race, religion or nationality of the tenant for the rental or sale agreement
  • Promoting or advertising the rental with a section that seeks a specified  preferred gender, race or nationals to apply

Please note that Fair Housing laws can vary by state and even municipality. This post is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have any questions about the fair housing laws in your area, please check with an attorney or the proper authorities.

According to Ron Leshnower, who is an attorney, and Founder and President of Fair Housing Helper,  addressed the question – “Do I Have to Accept Applicants in the Order they Applied?”

His answer is “no,” but adds that “…you might want to because accepting applicants out of order, though not illegal, could give the impression of discrimination and may cause legal problems for you.”

Penalties for violating the Fair Housing Act can be very severe. Violations are typically investigated weeks or even months after they are reported. It is incumbent on the landlord or real estate agent to provide documentation that the violations did not occur.

Paper rental application makes compliant rental documentation next to impossible for the following reasons.

Many landlords and real estate agents that do use paper applications can tell you that they regularly receive applications that are missing information. While they are trying track down the applicants to get the information, they are getting new applications for that property.

Landlords can appear to be discouraging potential tenants from applying to their properties or steering them to another property when they select an application from someone who has provided a completed application after a partially completed application was submitted.

This can be considered a violation of the anti-discriminatory housing laws.

Even when the landlord does follow the rules, rejected applicants can claim, rightly or wrongly, that they were turned down due to race, ethnicity or any other of the protected classes. As indicated, the burden is on the landlord to show the first qualified applicant was accepted, which can be very difficult with a paper application months after the fact.

With properly designed online applications, you get two benefits to help keep you compliant with Fair Housing regulations –

  • The application cannot be submitted unless it is complete.
  • Successfully submitted applications are date and time stamped.

Assuming you are complying with Fair Housing rules and consistent with your application process for each applicant, an online application provides you with documentation should a complaint arise.

 

Ignore at Your Own Peril

In a previous post I wrote about the 4 critical steps you need to take when considering rental applicants. They are –

  1. Pre-screen your tenants by clearly communicating your residency standards
  2. Require complete applications, have each co-applicant complete their own individual application and collect an application fee
  3. Conduct a comprehensive background screening for every applicant and co-applicant 18 years or older that includes credit, criminal and eviction results
  4. Make sure the applicant’s ID is properly verified. Is the applicant who they say they are?

However, going through all the effort to properly screen an applicant is useless if you don’t pay attention to the results.

Here is a story from Tina who didn’t pay attentions to the screening report results.

“This new applicant was a nice guy and has a sweet dog, but I am never going to forgo the Tenant Magic approval again after what happened with my last tenant. I had her complete the application and go through the screening program, the recommendation was to refuse the applicant, and boy do I wish I had listened.  What a worthless nightmare she turned out to be.  Thanks for your help.  We’ll see what he does.”

This a great example of being able to learn a valuable lesson from the (easily avoidable) mistake of someone else.