Before we start, lets recap the problems:
- Can’t find the link to manage the properties
- Have to create a new account for every property
- Transferred to a different website for making payments
- Need to create a separate user account to make payments (or fill out the long one-time payment form and pay the $14.95 fee)
The first thing to be done is have a login screen on the front page of the TerraWest website. Most utilities websites already do this, and it would shave off a few minutes of frustrated searching.
Instead of this:
Put in something like this:
Notice NVEnergy allows users to login while they market their product.
Second, there needs to be a way to switch between accounts without having to create separate usernames or logging out. Once again, we can follow the lead of utility companies on this. I found a nice example from the City of North Las Vegas.
Notice that I can easily select between different accounts from the front page. Also notice the nice easy link that says “Register Another Account.”
This is probably going to be one of the toughest parts of the roll out, but if cities can do it, I’m sure TerraWest can do it. As I looked into North Las Vegas’s budget, their utilities department didn’t have a clear cut IT expense (all IT expenses fall under administrative). So it’s difficult to say without further research as to how much a site like this costs the city to maintain.
The third and fourth problem can be addressed in this step. Combine the user payment system with the login system. Building the digital capacity for this shouldn’t be too difficult since there is already a user login system in place. All that needs to be done is select a third party payment processing system that can be integrated into individual accounts. Once again, looking at utility companies as an example here. The crazy thing is the Bank of Omaha might even have a way to do this, but rather than redirect users to their site, keep them logged in and give them a nice easy way to make a payment without having to create ANOTHER username with a different company.
I think the best way to roll out this digital “overhaul” is to do it by community. TerraWest has clients that are geographically segregated into neighborhoods. The natural thing would be to roll out neighborhood by neighborhood. That way neighbors (who are likely interacting with each other on a daily basis) can undergo the same changes. The nice part about this kind of a roll out is there are already procedures in place of spreading information throughout these communities (HOA meetings, proposals, thefts, etc.). Let’s say the new payment method has a problem. By rolling out to the community, the problem affects the whole community–but only that community–and you can mitigate any damages by sending out a community newsletter saying something like “please pay by check this month.”
Month by month you can slowly increase the digital capacity for all three phases by strategically rolling out certain communities. Perhaps start the roll out with communities that are most likely to use these online services (e.g., don’t start with the retirement communities you manage, but ones with higher owner occupancy rate).
The biggest opposition against this system would probably come from the top management at TerraWest. I could see them coming with the reasonable argument that people use their automatic bill-pay with their banks, and it would be a waste of money to integrate such a big digital overhaul. Yes, I agree that many people pay through their bank, however a few years ago when TerraWest changed its P.O. Box, it took me (and many others) three to four months of sending wrong payments, disputed late fees, and incorrect addresses before you could get back on a monthly bill-pay cycle. I’m sure this cost TerraWest a ton of money in customer service, mailings, and late fee forgiveness. Furthermore, it just looks unprofessional. If I were an HOA in the market for a property management company, I would avoid TerraWest solely because of their terrible payment processing system (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).
The bottom line is, TerraWest needs to look at their website as a customer service tool first and use it as a platform to create a service that people actually want, rather than a marketing technique that relies on buzzwords and slogans. My guess is that profits would increase if the company were to focus on the former instead of the latter.