Friday, May 31, 2013

Some Things are Better Left to the Experts

by Michelle James

Sometimes getting in touch with a large service provider can be difficult. Often, the caller has to navigate a complicated phone menu, and it can be difficult getting in touch with the right person to understand your issue. We understand this at Conservice because many of our team members spend hours a day on the phone with utility providers across the country, solving problems and answering questions for our clients. We realize that our clients are busy – and we know their focus is on property management, certainly not utilities.

Here are just a few things we do at Conservice so that our clients can rest easy and leave utilities to the experts:

We know how to contact a provider
Working with providers as frequently as we do, we are able to find the best ways to contact a provider. We know when it’s better to fax or e-mail a request, or when it’s better just to call. We also have the opportunity to form relationships with providers. 

We’ll wait through long hold times (so you don't have to)
Calling providers can be time consuming. Sometimes hold times are incredibly long. Most providers have shorter hold times earlier in the morning or in the middle of the week, and because we make so many calls, we know the best time to call.

We make a complicated process simple
Conservice employees also work to make the most of programs utility providers have available, such as landlord agreements. A landlord agreement will allow service to automatically revert back into the property’s name when a resident calls to take service out of their name. These programs save a lot of time and keep the property running smoothly, but often take a long time to set up, including filling out paperwork, sending  the forms in (sometimes multiple times), and calling to ensure that the agreement is in place. Property managers can rely on Conservice to take care of this, ensuring all the details are in place to make the program work.

We will follow through to resolution
Sometimes calling into a utility provider can be frustrating – after speaking to multiple representatives and getting contradicting answers, it’s easy to just give up. Fortunately the team at Conservice is familiar with situations like this and knows how to get the answers needed – we won’t give up until the problem is solved.

We learn through experience
The experience we have at Conservice communicating with utility providers allows us to get answers much more quickly. Additionally, when we have bad experiences with utility providers, it just makes us even more dedicated to providing a positive experience to our clients when they call us for questions.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Green Trends in the Multifamily Industry

There has been a recent rise in the number of multifamily communities that are now introducing ‘green amenities’ to entice new residents. This follows an overall trend in the world that is focusing on caring for our planet and reducing our carbon footprint. This is also in response to a new generation, ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Millennials’ who are moving away from home and starting their careers. These people are the children of the Baby Boomer generation and have grown up with technology their entire lives. These Millennials care deeply about the environment, so to live in a green space is important to them. Many multifamily companies are renovating current properties or building new properties with the Millennials in mind.

Here are some recent ‘green’ trends that are growing in the current multifamily market:

Electric-vehicle charging stations – some communities are setting up specific parking stalls or charging stations on their properties. Some are choosing to charge their residents a separate fee each month for this service, while others are offering it for free.

Rooftop solar panels – this allows for some of the power to be generated from the sun. One apartment community in San Diego generates all its electricity from rooftop solar panels.

Rainwater collector and filter – rainwater can be collected in and filtered to be used by tenants or the property. This will reduce the reliance on water systems and will reduce the community’s water bill.

Energy-efficient appliances – appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, water heaters, and microwaves have energy-efficient choices. Some low-rise multifamily properties are eligible for an IRS tax credit on units with high-efficient appliances

Bike parking stations – these can be anything from a simple bike rack to covered, lighted bike station. A bike-friendly community encourages biking and reduces dependence on cars.

Community garden plots – these plots can be as big or as small as you can afford. Communities can choose to charge a small fee per plot or offer them on a first-come-first-serve basis. In most cases, the residents are in charge of maintaining their own plot.

Other ideas - Communities can start their own on-site recycling program, install water-efficient hardware (such as low-flow showerheads), install low-E windows (reduces noise and increases natural light) and consider water-efficient landscaping.

If you haven’t considered implementing green practices into your community, you should start thinking about it. Many in the Generation Y place a higher value on a community being eco-friendly than on rent price alone/

Friday, May 3, 2013

Conservice: Our Values

Last month I came across an article that talked about the importance of letting your customers know and understand your company’s social values. We do incorporate our company values in our sales presentations, website, and in a lot of our marketing material, but this article served as a good reminder of communicating these values.

What I learned when I first started working at Conservice
The training team at Conservice does a great job of preparing team members for their positions within the company. They are sure to teach new employees the company values from day one. It might be cheesy, but they taught my training group an acronym to remember the company’s core business tenets: ACNE.

A = Accountability
Everyone at Conservice takes responsibility for their work. I learned this quickly when I found out about “conformance.” Each department has standards or goals that need to be met each month – if a team member falls below those standards, he or she takes responsibility by admitting mistakes and creating a plan to prevent any errors from happening again.

C= Continuous Improvement
At Conservice, everyone is encouraged to share their new ideas. I knew that leadership valued my ideas, too, because even as a new employee, when I would share an idea that truly added value to the company or the team, that idea would get implemented. Our internal database and software would not be where it is today without the ideas shared by team members. The company is constantly evolving, and that’s because team members aren’t afraid to share their ideas – and because employees are willing to improve themselves, as well. Goal setting, opportunities for advancement, and incentive programs help team members find new ways to improve their own work and skills.

N = No Surprises
I quickly learned that Conservice does not believe the phrase, “no news is good news.” Instead, it’s pertinent that team members share mistakes and problems. The sooner a mistake or problem is detected, the faster it can get resolved. Sharing good news is also strongly encouraged – in fact, a monthly email is distributed featuring good news that team members have shared about one another.

E = Exceeds Expectations
At Conservice, team members go above and beyond for one another. When I was put on my first team at Conservice, I saw how willing my team members were to help me learn the ropes and be a successful employee. They truly exceeded my expectations. This motivated me, and I soon started helping out my team as much as I could as well. Going above and beyond doesn’t stop within company walls. Exceeding the expectations of our customers is also crucial, and is seen everyday.

Instilling Company Values at Conservice
Having a set of values on paper is one thing. Getting employees to live by them is another story. There are a number of ways that Conservice has created a culture based on the company’s four main business tenets.

Initial Training
As I mentioned, I quickly learned the Conservice tenets. The first employee training quiz I took asked me to name and describe each of the tenets. Thanks to a helpful acronym, I was able to remember all four. After even a month of employment, though, I didn’t need an acronym to remind me of the company values.

Team Emphasis
Each week on my team, my supervisor had the team review a company tenet. With only four tenets, it might be easy for this to get old – but it never did. When I became a supervisor, I carried on this tradition in my own team meetings, asking a different team member to present a company tenet of his or her choosing at each meeting. The open communication about our company values brought on new ideas and everyone learned something from this exercise.

Leadership Training
Leaders at Conservice are nominated and invited to complete a 12-week course on leadership. A different course is held each week, ranging from “Management Responsibilities and Policies” to “Project Management and Continuous Improvement.” Each class offers tips and tools to empower the company’s leaders. The Conservice values are deeply rooted in each course.

Incentives and Reviews
Employee reviews are based largely on how well an employee applied the Conservice tenets to his or her work. Additionally, team incentives, such as lunches and redeemable award points, are awarded to team members who meet certain standards over a given period of time. These standards are also very closely based on the Conservice values.

Leadership by Example
Leaders within all levels of the organization have instilled these company values in each employee. By applying these values to our work, we’ve been able to grow into such an awesome and successful company.

Conservice Cares
Our company culture is also deeply rooted in the idea of service. Team members can take paid time off each month to give service throughout the community. The company itself is a sponsor of many community programs. Food drives and blood drives are held each year, and employees get really excited to donate to these events. 

Working at Conservice is a great experience. Is the company culture where you work awesome? We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Truth About Utility Bills

Last summer I posted an article titled "Myths and Facts about Third Party Utility Billing" on the blog. I wrote the article after I noticed a lot of misinformation about Conservice and other billing companies being posted on the internet. The article has had more views that any other article on the blog.

To supplement the article, I thought it would be a good idea to address a few more concerns residents have about receiving a utility bill from Conservice, especially if residents are being billed based on the number of occupants or the square footage in the apartment, and not the exact utility usage in the apartment.

RUBS, standing for ratio utility billing, means a utility bill is divided among residents based on the square footage of the apartment, the number of occupants living in the apartment, or another similar factor. Residents may wonder why they are billed this way as opposed to having a meter installed in their apartment.

There are a few reasons for this. An apartment community may not have the infrastructure in place to install sub-meters. The plumbing or electrical system may not allow for a sub-metering system. Existing sub-meters may be outdated or may no longer being functional. The next best alternative is a RUBS method.

For water and sewer, billing based on the number of residents makes sense because each additional resident uses an additional amount of water. For utilities such as gas and electricity that are used for heating and cooling, it makes more sense to bill based on square footage, since a larger home typically uses more heating or cooling than a smaller home. Some management companies choose to bill residents based on both square footage and the number of occupants in the home.

Yes, it's easier for residents to take control of their utility bill if they are being metered for their usage. However, educating residents on conservation can also drive overall costs down, especially when they are receiving a utility bill. If everyone conserves, the total water expense will go down. This in turn will decrease the individual utility expense for all residents. Many apartment communities have found success in RUBS billing programs.
Residents being billed based on the RUBS methodology need to report leaks to management right away, find ways to conserve, and avoid wasteful practices. By doing this, utility usage can decrease.

What are base fees?
If a resident is being sub-metered for his utilities, he may still notice a base fee on his bill. This is a flat fee that typically stays the same from month to month, only increasing or decreasing when the utility provider's rate structure changes. Most utility providers charge a flat base fee to their customers for the availability of that utility. For example, ABC Utilities may charge a base fee of $500 for the availability of water to ABC Apartment Community. This charge pays for the cost the utility provider or city incurs to provide water, not for the water itself. If there are 100 apartments at ABC Community, the per resident base fee would be $5.00 ($500/$100=$5).

RUBS base fees?
In some areas, including Texas, base fees must be billed separately, even if the residents are not being metered for their individual usage. The base fee on the bill is not included in the RUBS calculation. This results in a RUBS billing charge and a base fee charge.

Does Conservice benefit when the utility charges on my bill increase?
No. If Conservice collects payments from residents, this is being done as a courtesy to the management company. Conservice returns all utility payments to the property owner. Many management companies collect Conservice bills on site.

 At Conservice, we like it when residents can find ways to save money on their utility bills.

It's important for residents to remember that Conservice is a service provider - not a utility provider. We're working with apartment communities and management companies to help them manage their utility expenses.

Our goal is to help communities reduce utility consumption and recapture lost utility expenses while providing great customer service to those receiving a utility bill.

Conservice operates a live, in-house call center with extended business hours: Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mountain Time.