Vendor Communication Best Practices: The Do’s and Don’ts
Communities rely on outside partners for services like landscaping, sanitation, cable and internet services, pool maintenance, valet services and more. Without great vendor partnerships, your association might look very different.
What’s the key to maintaining those partnerships, with the goal of ensuring an exceptional association and resident experience? It starts with great vendor communication.
Open, professional and detailed communication among your board, management company and association vendors can help protect your association’s reputation, maximize your community’s operating budget and improve the resident experience. Here are 4 tips to keep in mind.
Be professional: Treat your community’s vendors with respect
Whether you’re working with a new contractor for a specific project (e.g., solar panel installer) or a longstanding vendor partner (e.g., monthly landscaping services provider), treat every individual or team with professional respect and courtesy. Communicate with transparency and set expectations from the start. Most importantly, treat vendors with care, no matter the length of your partnership.
Additionally, remember that your association acts as a non-profit business, and your board should treat vendor relationships in kind. At the end of the day, your association is their formal employer, which means that you and your management company should (to the best of your ability) ensure that they operate safely, protect their team members and don’t cut corners in order to get the job done faster or cheaper. Treat them kindly and professionally, and most importantly, keep their well-being in mind at all times.
Be detail oriented: Know your vendors and the services you need
A basic part of all communication is simply understanding the language each party is speaking. This same principle applies to your communication with association vendors. Most board members are not going to be experts in all the areas of running a community. However, when it comes to working with vendors, it’s important that you have a basic knowledge of the services you need, the requirements of the job and the vendors who can perform each job.
“As part of their fiduciary responsibility, board members need to execute contracts related to things like exterior painting, HVAC maintenance and other topics they may not be familiar with,” said Chris Hevia, vice president at FirstService Residential. “In order to be a savvy and responsible board member, it’s critical to understand what they are signing and what the vendor will actually be doing.”
Hevia added that the board should be involved early in vendor discussions and know enough about the services they require so that they can effectively communicate reasonable expectations with each potential vendor they meet with. If additional guidance is needed, the association manager and management company should help you come up with a list of requirements and success metrics.
Keep in mind that a self-managed community will require more knowledge from the board members as far as monitoring the work being done and knowing that contracts are being fulfilled properly. Having a professional management company takes that responsibility off board members.
Be consistent: Communicate frequently with vendors and third parties
What’s the key to maintaining solid partnerships with your most valuable vendors? It comes down to open and transparent communication. “Regular communication sets a positive tone with our vendor partners,” said Alyson Theale, vice president for FirstService Residential. “Without that communication, vendors may lack direction and even lose trust in the board and management company they are partnering with.”
John Mulrey, community association manager at The Oaks of Boca Raton, added, “Regularly and frequently communicating your vision and service requirements to vendors helps ensure consistent service levels. By miscommunicating or not communicating at all, your vendors simply aren’t set up for success.” Building great relationships through ongoing dialogue helps to make sure that the property is serviced at an appropriate level so your association’s residents will be happy.
Poor communication with vendors can cost your association money, too. If you don’t understand the details in a contract and don’t keep an open line for questions and clarifications, you may not realize that your community isn’t getting the services you think you are signing up for, and then you will need to pay for the missing elements separately, impacting your operating budget.
If you aren’t sure whether or not your current property management company maintains open communication with vendors, ask! It’s important to make sure that outside vendors operate in the best interests of your community. “At FirstService Residential, our property managers know how important effective communication is to building – and maintaining – great relationships with vendors,” Tom Welter, vice president, explained. “It creates a certain level of trust, which allows us to resolve issues quickly and fairly.
Be informed. Stay up to date on vendor terms and trends
How can boards and management companies stay up to date on the terminology and jargon being used by their vendors (as well as local and national trends and changes)? Some management companies offer educational seminars or roundtables that let board members hear directly from vendors.
“FirstService Residential offers various educational opportunities to board members and property managers, so that they’re able to stay on top of amenity trends, legislative changes and vendor best practices,” says Jeff Musselman, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Additionally, board members can attend association trade shows and industry events where they can meet new vendors and learn about new products and services. Vendors in many different disciplines host events that allow property managers to earn continuing education credits, and many welcome board member attendance as well.”
Musselman also said he encourages his team members to take advantage of FirstService Residential University, which offers associates professional development and educational opportunities on a variety of topics.
Why vendor communication is important
To maintain an exceptional resident experience and strong property values, your association needs to partner with great vendors. And to facilitate these partnerships, your board and management company need to be adept in vendor communication. That means not only staying up to date with the right terminology and trends, but speaking kindly, professionally and frequently with your vendor partners to build great relationships with them.
A great property management company can help facilitate these relationships and train your board and community associates on vendor communication best practices. For more information about how a professional property management company can help you work with vendors to make the most of your association’s budget, contact FirstService Residential today.