How effective are you at communicating important deadlines? As I ask myself this question, I think back to an experience I had early in my career. It was one of my first days in a new job at an ad agency. I had just finished walking the creative team through the details of a client project and I was having a follow-up discussion with a production assistant about timelines. She asked, “When do we need to have this project finished?” and I responded, “As soon as possible.” She immediately looked up from her paper, gave me a death stare and sternly replied, “We don’t ever say that here. That phrase is off limits!”
I was completely caught off guard by how abrupt and serious she was, but her response caused me to think about what ASAP really means and why it can be a four-letter word when it comes to effective communication.
In the multifamily industry, it’s especially critical to be clear in communicating timelines. Failure to do so can cause major slowdowns with prospects or residents and the ability to close leases. Let’s take a look at some examples of communication points that occur during the prospect and resident lifecycles and examine why using the term as soon as possible isn’t actually effective in communicating urgency.
How fast is as soon as possible?
In business settings, ASAP is usually used to convey “I need this now,” or “There’s no time to wait.” But what does it really mean? When you tell someone you need something as soon as possible, their definition of possible may be entirely different than yours. They probably have a to-do list of previously scheduled things that need to be completed prior to working on what you’ve asked them to do. Although you’re probably using the term to indicate that you want it done today, “possible” for them might be two weeks away.
In the context of interactions in the multifamily industry, are specific deadlines being given throughout the leasing process? Rather than saying, “We’ll need you to complete this application as soon as possible,” try giving a specific date/time and a reason for the timing. “If you would like us to temporarily hold this unit for you, we’ll need you to fill out this online application and submit it by 2 p.m. today.”
Lack of planning?
For the listener, the use of ASAP can be a sign that not enough planning has taken place to allow the task to be completed in a reasonable amount of time. If you find yourself constantly needing to use this term, it might be time to allocate more time for planning. Think ahead and consider how many people will need to be involved to complete an action and how much time they will each need to accomplish their portion.
Undoubtedly, there are going to be some urgent situations that come up out of the blue and require immediate action. In those cases, meet with the people involved and communicate specifically why the situation is urgent. Give some background on why you weren’t able to plan ahead and ask if there is anything you can help with to enable a quick response on their part.
When a resident calls in with an emergency maintenance request, the temptation is there to say “We’ll get someone out to look at it ASAP.” In saying that though, you’re promising to act on their request, but still not giving any real indication of when that action will take place. You could instead say something like, “We’ll call the maintenance crew right now and put in an urgent request. In situations like this, we can typically get someone to your place within one to two hours.”
By providing some actual parameters, you’ll give the resident a much better understanding of what is going to happen and when it will take place. This is key in demonstrating that you’ve heard their concern and you have a plan to take care of them.
Another way to avoid ASAP type responses is to have clear communication schedules already in place. Understanding where your prospect and resident touchpoints occur will help you to plan communications and enable faster response times. Messaging software allows you to pre-schedule emails to be sent at specific points. For example, when a guest card is entered into the system, a trigger can be set to automatically email the guest a link to the online application. By planning these automated communications, the process moves more quickly, without unnecessary lag time.
The next time you’re tempted to say, “I’ll do this as soon as possible,” or “I need this as soon as possible,” replace those phrases with an exact date or time. Don’t leave the definition of “possible” up for interpretation. By setting clear and specific deadlines and explaining why that time frame is necessary, people will have a better idea of what you’re looking for and will be more likely to meet your expectations.