Four ways the apartment industry can shift focus from properties to people
By Mike Gomes
The apartment industry has traditionally operated with a customer-service philosophy that, at best, aims for resident satisfaction. But has “satisfied” ever been a metric of true success? In my opinion, no. We’ve transitioned into an experience economy. With ever-increasing consumer expectations, customers who are merely “satisfied” won’t drive future business results.
This shift has to be more than apartment leaders claiming to provide hospitality. Real changes to service philosophies have to take hold internally and then be followed by experience- driven, everyday interactions residents can rely on.
It’s not easy to change deeply rooted industry practices, but here are four ways the apartment industry can develop a customer service model truly focused on residents:
Aim for delight over satisfaction. Exceeding a resident’s expectations requires treating them like unique individuals and learning what their expectations are. “Customer service” is what you can expect at a fast-casual restaurant: a thank you, a smile, your meal. That’s satisfactory. Delighting a resident is the desired goal – going beyond customer service expectations to truly care for and appreciate each resident. To do this, you must aim to treat residents how they want to be treated. Some residents want a face-to-face experience, while others prefer to interact exclusively with technology. Learn what residents want, and then give it to them. To start:
- Measure and strive for excellence instead of just satisfaction.
- Listen and react to how residents rate their experience and what they say in surveys and online reviews.
- Learn from your community team. Pay attention to the challenges, software issues, and areas of opportunity they identify. They are the teams that directly serve the resident and are best positioned to know how to improve across most areas.
Value interactions over transactions. Machines do transactions, humans do interactions. Yet some in the industry still treat leasing, move-ins, maintenance, and renewals as pure transactions. These moments should be personal interactions, where each touchpoint is part of the holistic engagement throughout the resident lifecycle. With marketing automation and AI, machines can better handle the transactions – like signing leases or signing up for a parking garage – freeing up humans to deliver highly personalized interactions with one another. Consider the move-in experience. Management usually hands over the keys and residents are then on their own. But real human interaction before and during the move-in can alleviate their stress and elevate service to hospitality. A community team that surprises their new, foodie residents from out of town who miss their favorite pizza place with a pizza from the team’s favorite neighborhood restaurant shows empathy for the tough work of moving into a new home. They’ve engaged in a genuine, neighborly interaction and created lasting goodwill.
Anticipate needs. Property managers wait to be approached and asked for something, providing services upon request, often only when something has gone wrong or been broken. Hospitality demands anticipation, where service and resident needs get discovered in advance. With the evolution of tech and the Internet of Things, we have the ability to run community maintenance on a predictive, rather than preventative, basis using data and analytics. Sensors on ACs can tell community management which units run the longest or hottest, allowing a technician to fix problems before they cause a unit failure. This means residents don’t have to ask us to fix their broken AC – we’ve already done it!
Create experiences with emotional appeal. Rather than focusing on amenities, differentiate on brand and resident experience to create emotional appeal. The product still needs to be top-notch, but trying to differentiate the product in a highly commoditized world means developers ultimately only end up justifying price. This is why investing in a brand can be so powerful. After all, what really drives residents to sign or renew a lease are their subconscious feelings about your brand, your service standards, and your community. While touring, they’ll ask themselves if they would feel proud, safe, or comfortable living in that community. Can they trust your company brand and the community team to put them and their experience first? Make them say yes, and they’ll not only sign the lease, but they’ll stay with you longer.
Rentership is only growing in the U.S. – millions of 25- to 35-year-olds living at home are ready to strike out on their own. For the apartment industry to move beyond its perception as a second-class living option – to truly be a choice and not a necessity – it must evolve. The companies that don’t keep pace with or grow faster than the needs and wants of their residents will not be as successful. Each of these four steps pave the way to a mindset where people are the focus and the goal is excellence in experience – moving us far beyond the concept of customer service and changing what renting a home represents.
Mike Gomes is chief experience officer at Cortland, where he develops and implements Cortland’s approach to a forward-thinking resident and community living experience. He is the former senior vice president of Fan Experience for AMB Sports + Entertainment (Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and the former vice president of Experience Development and Media Strategy at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. To learn more, visit www.Cortland.com.