Don't You Forget About Me

Yesterday I went into the community clubhouse to renew my lease for yet another year—partly because I like my apartment, but also because I’m far too lazy to clean out my car, let alone pack everything up and move.

As I was sitting there waiting to sign the papers and eating a caramel chew that I swiped from the communal candy dish, I overheard a young couple rattling off a list of complaints to one of the leasing agents regarding the state of their “newly renovated” apartment.

According to these residents, problems include (but are not limited to) condensation on the walls, a broken dryer, chipping paint and a balcony door frame that feels as though it’s going to be ripped out of the wall whenever the door is opened. (They’ll understand what a blessing that last problem is when they get locked out and need to break into their own apartment).

I attempted to mask my nervous laughter and avoid choking on my candy as the leasing agent asked them when they first noticed the problems.

The couple told her that they had complained a month ago but their requests were ignored. Even if the issues were rectified that very evening, I could tell the damage was already done.

According to Kevin Thompson, Vice President of Marketing for AvalonBay, many apartment management companies make this very same mistake—fawning over prospective residents, only to forget about them as soon as they’ve signed on the dotted line. (Note: the example above was not an Avalon property).

And as I witnessed last night, it’s the “forgotten residents” who will never forget. When it comes time for that couple to renew their lease, they’re going to remember that they were virtually ignored for a month—despite several major problems with their apartment—and they’re probably going to move. (Especially if they remember I was laughing at them).

According to Thompson, a successful apartment manager needs to maintain a long-term two-way relationship with the customer from prospect phase to the lease phase to the renewal phase to the move-out phase. It’s common sense when applied to every other relationship in life, so why doesn’t it always happen in the apartment industry?

If I had a boyfriend—let’s suspend reality for a second—who called me on the day we started dating and on every anniversary thereafter, but never in between, would that be OK? Unless I was really desperate, of course not. You have to maintain to retain.

Having once worked as a waitress, I know that the customer isn’t always right. But sometimes they can provide invaluable insight into what’s working and what’s not working. By listening to residents throughout the lease term, including using focus groups, Thompson says property managers can improve key success metrics across the board and maintain a healthy relationship with customers.

It’s advice my own apartment management company should take to heart. You never know when I’m going to figure out that cleaning the car is worth it.

For more on taking a customer-centric approach, check out Kevin Thompson’s article, “The Forgotten Resident,” in the September issue of units, which mails Sept. 12.