By Cyndi Sanders, Director of Marketing, AtHomeNet, Inc.

Every day, new cost-saving technology is developed to help streamline operations and make your community a better place to live. If your community wants to enhance its online presence (and do things more efficiently), here are six ways to do just that:

1. Accept Online Payments

With checkbooks rapidly becoming a thing of the past, owners have come to expect an online option to pay for almost everything. Not only do management companies want to offer these services to stay competitive, but allowing online credit card and e-Check choices for paying dues and assessments can move you one step closer to lowering collections. Whether it’s through a community bank or a national electronics payment processor, when it’s time to choose an online payment partner for your website, you’ll want to verify a few crucial aspects. Is the payment platform PCI and CISP compliant? The “Cardholder Information Security Program” is a stringent platform intended to protect cardholder data; ensuring that service providers maintain the highest information security standards. Also, does your processor work with Visa, as well as Mastercard and Discover? The majority of owners prefer to use a Visa card, but Visa’s more strict requirements have caused many payment processors to pass on offering this most popular card. When evaluating your online dues payment partner, be sure you have a clear understanding of all the fees involved and explore partners that work specifically with the community association industry. For portfolio management companies, be wary of any proposal that requires written approval from every association board – there are easier alternatives.

2. Enhance Your Email Communication

When sending an important email announcement to all your owners, do you have the choice to brand your email with the association name and logo? We’re exposed to so much information online every day and there’s an immense amount of competition for your owner’s attention. Be aware that it’s not just the content, but also the style of your email that makes your news really stand out. Can you include eye-catching graphics to highlight the theme of your message, attach documents, and distribute emails for specific groups such as book club members or tennis players? Can you preschedule an email to be released at a specific time and date? Or post the message to your website as an announcement with just one click? These options should all be part of a good email blast feature.

3. Add Voice Alert Messages

On those occasions when you need to reach out to owners immediately – in case of a hurricane evacuation order, a flood warning, or wildfires in your area – do you have the option to add a voice alert message system to your website? We’ve seen many communities suffer the devastating effects of severe weather in almost every area of the country in the past few years, making it all too apparent that a good emergency preparedness plan is essential for every association.

Obviously, timely communication is a key factor in a successful emergency program. The ability to immediately launch a voice call, send a text message, and email an alert to all residents simultaneously can provide an effective “communication insurance plan” for your association. And, while a voice alert system is an essential component of your emergency action plan, it can also be a cost-effective option when you need to notify owners of a last minute road-closing, or an elevator repair.

4. Integrate Management Accounting Software

Does your website provide integration with popular management accounting programs? This allows for automatic updating of names and addresses in the website directory, provides account information for owners to view online in a private area, as well as an easy way to track the status of their work orders, violations, and architectural requests. And, if you are offering online dues payment, accounting software integration can eliminate one more step in the accounts receivable process by allowing direct file uploads. Another time-saving use of accounting integration is the ability to make the A/P approval process available on the website for boards to review and approve invoices – all online from the comfort of their home.

5. Sell Documents and Community Items Online

What could be easier than providing online access for owners and real estate agents to purchase important community document packages, and even order Estoppels and other closing documents? Take it one step further and incorporate an area of your website for a “community store” where owners can purchase virtually any community item they need – pool keys, parking decals, gate clickers… the owner orders any time of day or night and pays for the item by credit card; the office just puts it in the mail, or the owner can pick it up. Providing these conveniences at an affordable cost is a savvy way to decrease time spent on preparation and mailing while offering 24 hour service at the click of a mouse.

6. Provide Condominium Visitor & Package Tracking

Is your condominium struggling with visitor access control, or seeking a better way to manage package deliveries? Many website providers now have the ability to incorporate services to manage these functions online from your front desk. Your owners list their approved visitors in a private area of the community website and front desk staff can then quickly access the owner’s online visitor management page and verify any guest. Incoming packages can be scanned and then tracked through the website by your staff, eliminating the worry of lost or misdirected deliveries in the heat of the holiday season rush. Even valet scheduling can be managed online – giving a sense of control and security to owners and an easy-to-use system for condominium staff.

Last, one of the most important issues when considering what services to add to your association website is the responsiveness of your service provider and the level of support they deliver. It’s critical to build relationships with dependable vendors that provide timely, knowledgeable assistance when you need it.

A version of this article first appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Common Interest Magazine.

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