For us, systematically making the highest possible level of customer satisfaction one of the company’s top priorities forms the key pillar of top-quality customer service. We want to achieve this primarily by maintaining proximity to our customers and making it convenient for them to contact us.
Customer Satisfaction as a Priority
In addition to the financial performance indicators, customer satisfaction is of particular importance to Vonovia as a non-financial performance indicator. Our company’s economic success is directly linked to the satisfaction level of our customers. We compare our service orientation and customer focus with the level of service provided by our competitors, and not only our competitors from within the industry. Rather, we also take sectors such as telecommunications or Internet trading as a benchmark, making the necessary adjustments to reflect our product promise. Since 2016, we have been available to answer all tenant questions and concerns by extending our opening hours from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. from Monday to Friday, and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturdays. In emergencies, we are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Comprehensive Availability of the Central Customer Service Team
Although Vonovia provides its services at local level in principle, it has centralized all tasks that can be provided based on uniform quality standards and in a more cost-efficient manner at a nationwide level. The Group’s property management platform is characterized overall by a high degree of automation and full integration.
The central customer service center serves Vonovia customers across Germany from two customer service departments that are identical in terms of both the infrastructure used and the content of the work they perform. The department operates across two locations in Duisburg and Dresden and can be reached by tenants with questions or concerns using a regional service hotline as well as by email, fax, app or post. The central customer service center is responsible for processing all matters relating to lease agreements, energy consumption and ancillary expense bills, among others. This process is managed according to defined service levels in order to ensure that customers receive a swift and binding response to their inquiries. The customer service structure is tailored as closely as possible to suit the needs of our customers and offers multilingual support. Two employees, for example, are currently responsible for the inquiries made by, and the concerns of, our Arabic-speaking customers. The customer service team resolves around 85% of all incoming telephone inquiries directly.
Our customer portal and the “self-services” that it offers allow tenants to access functions that meet the expectations of today’s customers in terms of interaction and communication around the clock. Customers can use these functions, for example, to download or consult contract details or important forms such as tenancy agreement certificates or ancillary expense bills themselves. As far as new rentals are concerned, a messenger service also allows potential tenants to arrange their own apartment viewing appointments. The plan is to expand these services further in the future.
The technical customer support center is responsible for scheduling the tenant visits to be made by the local craftsperson. This is done in close cooperation with our technical service, the on-site technicians’ organization. Here, too, Vonovia will be allowing tenants to arrange their own appointments using the self-service function in the future.
We conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys and measure customer satisfaction based on the Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI), which is reflected in the remuneration system.
Customer Support Aimed at Local Service
Vonovia considers the management and rental of homes to be a local business that requires in-depth knowledge of the specific local market conditions, the company’s own properties and customer needs. Local customer service is provided by the Group’s local business units. The close interaction of the departments providing local customer service – New Rentals, Property Management, Technical Service, Residential Environment and Caretaking – permits high flexibility and fast response times in the on-site handling of customers’ inquiries.
Our concept of maintaining a local presence with our own residential environment, caretaker and craftsmen’s organizations makes us less reliant on external service providers. Having our own on-site organizations brings Vonovia closer to its customers and improves the quality of our customer service. By way of example, Vonovia gardeners can work with Vonovia caretakers to better judge which measures need to be taken on the site to maintain the residential environment to the tenants’ satisfaction and develop it further, based on high quality standards and with an eye on efficiency considerations, in the long term.
On-site rental points are operated at an organizational level via the business units as a point of contact for customers interested in new rentals. These points play a key role in the reletting of units and can be opened and closed in a flexible manner in response to changes in the demand for local marketing.
In order to become less reliant on external service providers, Vonovia has incorporated on-site services into its offering by setting up its own caretaker organization. This brings Vonovia closer to its customers and improves the quality of its customer service. The Group’s caretakers support around 500 units each and respond to tenant inquiries and requests that cannot be handled on the phone by the central customer service department. The Group’s caretakers are entrusted with everyday tasks, such as customer management, smaller maintenance jobs and supervising service providers. Vonovia’s customers are given the address and telephone number of the caretaker responsible for their unit. Depending on the local demand, caretakers offer weekly or monthly local drop-in sessions, allowing customers to discuss and clarify their concerns with their caretaker face-to-face. Caretakers may be able to handle smaller maintenance jobs themselves and pass more complex repair jobs on to the company’s own craftsmen’s organization.
Vonovia has established its own efficient craftsmen’s organization (Vonovia Technical Service) which assumes responsibility for almost all repair and maintenance work for those companies in the Vonovia Group with real estate holdings. This craftsmen’s organization realizes a large part of the Upgrade Buildings and Upgrade Apartments investment programs or coordinates the use of subcontractors. Taking into account the current shortage of specialists, in particular for technical trades, our own craftsmen’s organization ensures a reliable supply and prompt service that could not exclusively be offered by an external provider.
As well as saving costs, the purpose of Vonovia’s own craftsmen’s organization is to ensure that the customer service that the Group offers adheres to uniform quality standards and increases these standards on an ongoing basis, as well as to exploit the procurement advantages resulting from bundling and standardization. The fact that the Group is able to influence quality and scheduling directly also helps to improve customer satisfaction.
In the 2018 fiscal year, the craftsmen’s organization performed around 634,000 (2017: 586,000) smaller repairs and renovated around 40,000 (2017: 40,000) vacant units.
As of December 31, 2018, the craftsmen’s organization as a whole employed a workforce of 4,986 (thereof 338 trainees; 2017: 4,943 employees, thereof 328 trainees), including 3,836 craftsmen (2017: 3,640) in 20 locations across Germany.
Vonovia also ensures compliance with the environmental, health and safety (EHS) regulations by scheduling regular safety inspections that are performed in all units. The specialized department plans the implementation of corrective measures without delay as and when required and monitors amendments to EHS legislation.
Residential Environment Organization
We systematically continued with our insourcing efforts relating to the residential environment in the form of the gardening and landscaping service, particularly in conurbations, in 2018. More than 660 employees are now responsible for managing and designing the outdoor areas. As far as maintenance is concerned, Vonovia also implemented its first gardening and landscaping projects with its own employees in 2018. This move also allows the company to expand its training opportunities in the gardening and landscaping segment. The offices in Dresden, Berlin and Hanover are currently training employees in gardening and landscaping. Future growth and expertise will be increasingly generated within the company itself in the field of gardening and landscaping as well. The development of standardized residential environment modules (such as playgrounds and refuse collection points) serves to boost efficiency and generate additional cost advantages. In addition to the higher quality of the services provided, cost savings can also be achieved in this area by bundling and standardizing procurement processes (consumer materials, playgrounds, etc.). Residential environment measures contribute to positive neighborhood development. Increased visual appeal and moves to rid neighborhoods of areas that feel unsafe help to boost customer satisfaction.
The residential environment organization is responsible for the management and maintenance of around 40 million m2 of outdoor areas, 14 million m2 of lawns, 310 km of hedges and 217,000 trees.
The residential environment plays a key role in Vonovia’s neighborhood development measures, in particular. Residential environment measures such as the creation of new green spaces and playgrounds, as well as moves to design neighborhood centers outside of buildings to provide residents with a place to meet up and communicate can, in the short term, help to increase the acceptance of renovation measures and, in the long term, create real added value for tenants. Particularly in urban environments, the issue of spaces for relaxation is becoming an increasingly important factor in terms of how people assess their quality of life, and will continue to do so in the future.
Projects such as the establishment of communal gardens for tenants can also make a positive contribution to fostering social development, particularly in neighborhoods facing cultural challenges and a difficult environment. In turn, developments like these have proven long-term advantages in terms of property management costs.