Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with the ICSC for a short Q&A session about the importance of effective communication in the landlord-tenant relationship that Shopping Center operators and property managers know so well. I enjoyed the questions and hope my answers provide some insight into what operators and managers are currently doing to strengthen their tenant communication strategy.
ICSC: To get this discussion started, lets talk for a minute about technology. How have communications changed with today’s technological advances?
Daniel: Immensely. As recently as twenty years ago before the explosion of the internet, communications were much slower. We had to seek out information and if we were using some sort of “technological” communications device we had to be within reach of an electrical outlet. Now being connected 100% of the time is standard and we all expect information to come to us. How we communicate has changed, but no matter the medium, the components to communicating effectively have stayed the same.
ICSC: How so?
Daniel: There are four parts to effective communication that are timeless. First, you need something of value to say (not just anything, but something valuable). Second, the information needs to be timely (finding out on Tuesday that the mall closed early on Monday is useless information). Third, you need to make sure you have a reliable way of sending information (this is the “how” that had drastically changed in modern times). Lastly, you need to listen. Effective communication has to be two-way.
ICSC: Okay, that seems pretty straight forward. Are Shopping Centers out there today doing a good job at communicating effectively to their tenants?
Daniel: That’s a great question. Working directly with many owners and operators I get to see a wide range of situations. The good news is that everyone is talking about this hot topic and that is leading to huge improvements. Today’s communication technology can be, and is being leveraged to help improve or strengthen communication plans, emergency action plans and also help Shopping Centers improve tangible and intangible business goals. As more centers are jumping on board with these initiatives it will only be good for the industry as a whole.
ICSC: What kind of technology are you talking about and what are the business goals that can be improved?
Daniel: The market currently provides a variety of Mass Notification Systems that are wonderful communication tools, many of which provide multi-channel messaging. They are web based and very user-friendly. These systems can help Shopping Centers increase operational efficiency, drive revenue and mitigate risk and they can increase tenant satisfaction and peace of mind. And a happy customer is a paying customer.
ICSC: I think a mall tenant would definitely agree to that last statement! So, what are some ways that effective communications can help Shopping Centers to retain tenants?
Daniel: Being transparent is the best way to attract and retain tenants while increasing satisfaction. Let them know what they can expect from you. Tenants already assume that you will keep them informed in a timely manner and you need to live up to that expectation. Effective communication is not a one-way street. Tenants will also be more satisfied if you show them you want to listen. Collecting feedback — say, for example by distributing a satisfaction survey — shows your tenants you are interested in what they have to say and is a great way to increase lease renewals through satisfaction. Mass Notification Systems can help you accomplish both.
ICSC: It sounds like Mass Notification Systems can add a lot of value. What are some best practices if a Shopping Center does decided to use a Mass Notification System?
Daniel: I am glad you asked that because there are countless ways to use a Mass Notification System to your advantage. First, a Mass Notification System’s reporting feature will become your friend. You can evaluate delivery rates and if messages are not getting through you can take the appropriate action like updating your contact list — which is another fundamental best practice. Next, offering a way for tenants to self-register is an easy way to enable them to update their contact information and preferences while reducing your administrative load. Also, be sure you identify and train multiple administrators on your chosen system in case of an absence or change in shifts. And lastly, plan ahead by creating message templates to save time during any critical situation. In an emergency, stay calm, evaluate the situation and use mass communication to your advantage — you don’t want to alarm tenants or create a panic, so pre-planned messages will be key.
ICSC: Those are some great tips for Mass Notification System users. Before we end our chat today, do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Daniel: It’s about using communication technology to your advantage. Don’t use something simply because it’s trendy or new — use it to create synergy, use it to be more effective, use it to improve. A Mass Notification System, for example, should save you time not be a burden. Once you have decided to implement a system all it takes is a little prior planning to make sure you’re using it in the most effective way. Ultimately, whether a Shopping Center uses a Mass Notification System or another method, achieving effective communication is always going to be a great way to build a strong tenant-landlord relationship. My last thought is this: small changes in the way you communicate today can help you yield large increases in satisfaction, peace of mind and comfort for your current and future tenants.
ICSC: Daniel, thank you for sitting down with us today to discuss tenant communications in the retail industry. We hope you’ll come back again to chat with us!
Daniel: It’s my pleasure and I certainly would love to come back another time for another discussion! Thank you!