Imagine for a moment a reviews site for trains, where people can rate their experience.  If this review site was in a third world country, "good" reviews might share how the train didn't break down on the trip, that it departed and arrived on time, and other elements that related to the very basic elements of riding on a train.  In an area where breakdowns are common, having a train that didn't break down was a source of satisfaction! 

But now imagine reviews for trains in a developed country.  You would no longer see positive reviews about the train not breaking down, because that would be a basic expectation.  You would definitely see negative reviews if one did break down, but the reverse wouldn't be true.  Instead, positive reviews would focus on the cleanliness, comfort of the chairs, and higher end amenities.

The point of this comparison is to show that the level of satisfaction is relative to the expectations that customer has with the product or service.  This also means that you can see what a person truly believes about a company based upon what would make that person satisfied.  For the first example above, if a person is satisfied simply because the train didn't break down, that implies that they don't see the train in a very positive light in the first place.  It's as if they are saying, "We understand the train is absolutely horrible, but if it can at least get me to my destination, I'll be ok."  Those aren't exactly words of someone who is in love with that service, is it? 

Now let's switch to the apartment industry.   If you go to enough education events, webinars, etc, you notice one important theme - that good maintenance is the key to having a satisfied resident, or at least one that isn't unsatisfied.  But that isn't a very high bar, is it?  I am NOT saying that maintenance isn't challenging or critical - what I AM saying is that it is a basic expectation of the resident.  If they rent an apartment, it is reasonable to assume that their fridge is going to work.  It is reasonable to assume that a leak will be fixed.  In fact, providing maintenance is one of the fundamental tenets of property management.  So it is very similar to the idea of a train not breaking down - you rent an apartment, and you expect that apartment to fundamentally "work". 

So, if we consider that residents might be "satisfied" just by having maintenance actually taken care of on time, what does that tell us about their impressions of our overall service?  It means that they think so little of us, that as long as "our train doesn't break down", they will be ok.  That is so wholly uninspiring that it is hard for me to even write. 

Unfortunately, I believe some in our industry lower themselves down to our residents low expectations of us.  We start to believe that providing maintenance is some sort of magical spell that will make them love us.  That if we can conquer that demon, we will have things figured out somehow.  But it is a mirage - they only appear satisfied because they expected so little of us to begin with.  Which means that if another train were to appear, like home ownership, that supposedly satisfied resident would quickly abandon us. 

If we end up providing good maintenance, we haven't done something miraculous - we have just done the thing we promised all along.  That doesn't mean it isn't critical - it just means that it isn't the element that will ultimately make our residents fall in love with us.  If we want our industry to be a life choice for people, then we must reach higher and farther, we must become something that is special and matches the emotional level that a "home" should be.  And I think we can do that - we can be more, and we can inspire our residents to think higher of us.

What do you think?