Keeping a current resident satisfied enough to sign a new lease hinges on excellent customer service, experts say.

However, interactions with leasing office associates aren’t the only factors residents use to weigh in on the renewal decision. The maintenance staff is an integral part of a resident’s living experience and can help or hinder the decision to renew a lease, panelists at the Multifamily Executive Conference at the Bellagio in Las Vegas said on Monday.

The renewal process begins the day a new resident moves in, says Kristin Stanton, senior vice president of operations at Greensboro, N.C.–based Bell Partners.

“Maintenance is a critical component to the resident’s satisfaction when they’re in our apartment homes and I would say that it starts with the move in,” she says. “[It’s our job to make] sure the apartment is ready for residents to move in.”

When it comes to resident renewals, having a stellar maintenance response team is a key component in getting a resident to stay.

“In a perfect world, we would like to not have work orders in the homes while they’re living there, but if you look on the flip side, it certainly provides us an opportunity to go in and exceed the resident’s expectations,” Stanton says.

Chicago-based AMLI Residential views the onsite maintenance staff as the fundamental foundation for winning customers over for another year, Ken Veltri says.

“We really think it’s kind of the biggest value proposition someone gets; when they come to an apartment they really want someone else to fix things for them," Veltri said. "That’s why they don't own a home; they want other people to do stuff.”

Veltri, senior vice president of asset management, says the company has a 48-hour guarantee when it comes to maintenance issues.

“If the issue is not fixed or fixed right, they live rent free until it is,” he says.

And service requests aren’t the only opportunity the maintenance team has to impress a resident, Stanton says. Preventative upkeep of the property, such as changing smoke detectors and filters, also gives the team interaction with the residents in their living spaces.

And to foster positive interaction, a little motivation is sometimes called for, Veltri says. AMLI feels the maintenance staff is so important that they’ve set up a competitive bonus program across the country.

“Everything is on a dashboard so people can see,” Veltri says. “Maintenance teams across the country are ranked against each other on service response and completion of work orders.”

Lindsay Machak is an Associate Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.