When potential residents make the effort to call, email, and spend time at searching for a place to call home, most apartment community staffs are on their best behavior, trying to make the positive first impression in hopes to “woo” the prospect into a lease signing, rent paying member of the community. Mutual trust is built, the future looks bright, and hopes are high for a wonderful relationship. Unfortunately, after the lease is signed, the wooing sometimes stops. As a result, down the road the resident gives notice, serves the office with papers, and the sad fact is they want to end the lease agreement. Similar to a divorce, ending the relationship can be a painful, expensive process. You ask yourself, where did I go wrong?
Proactive property managers, and savvy staff know how to not only take care of the obligatory tasks of handling resident(s) needs, they are remarkably good at keeping them (residents) coming back for more and encouraging their friends and coworkers to do the same, creating new resident referrals.
Creating a community where residents choose to renew and refer is easy when you follow a few simple practices:
1. When dealing with residents expectations, it is always better to “under promise and over perform” than to “overpromise and underperform”. The key is to layer acceptable staff behavior with discretionary extra effort. It’s what I call the “choose-to-do” part of the job, not just the “have-to-do” part of the job. It’s the difference between the maximum possible and the minimum acceptable. It’s the difference between what we know we can be, and what we are. It’s the difference between a maintenance technician taking off his shoes or covering them, or leaving a trace of dirt behind. Even if the technician accurately completed the service request, what will the resident think when they come home and see unwanted dirt, materials, or leaves in their home?
2. Quality service means never having to say “That’s not my job”, and if needed, saying “I’m sorry”. Sometimes employees need to say “I’m Sorry!” Apologize! It doesn’t hurt and can only tell your resident that you care about them. If it wasn’t your fault it doesn’t matter…it still happened! Did you know that 90% of problems in organizations are the fault of systems, not people? Yet who is representing those systems? The people! My friend, Leah Brewer Penner told me a story that drives this point home: In April 2005 she went to a Walgreens to pick up photos she had self-served off her digital media. The photo clerk wouldn’t take her cash for the photos until she gave him her personal information. The computer screen could not be bypassed to make a cash sale. The software was designed for nationwide ease and convenience for those who travel, but not modified for those who did not wish to provide information and go into their computer system. The photo clerk refused to sell her the pre-ordered pictures. He did not apologize; he did go out of his way to offer any alternatives. She went to CVS. Guess how many people have heard this story? Guess how many apartment community residents will tell their story? I think you get the point.
3. Empower your employees to “delight the resident” using their creativity and resources around them, rather than limit them to compressing policies and procedures that don’t work. What sense does it make to hire talented, educated, and motivated people, only to hamstring them by a narrow set of do’s and don’ts? Stop micromanaging employees. The most progressive property management organizations take the Nordstrom’s approach to delighting the customer; there are two factors, in tandem: Attention to detail when it comes to the customer experience and secondly, the level to which they empower their employees. Their employee handbook has one absolute rule: “Use the best judgment in all situations.” It does not have pages and pages of “thou shalt not(s)”. Outdated management practices, and the old rule-book style manuals simply do not work. If your company policies have not been revisited in more than five years, it may be time to take a look. Consider the delivery method of policies, and how often employees are given continuing communication that encourages incorporating the “spirit” of company mission in their daily actions.
4. Listen to your residents. First and foremost, residents should never be required to restate their request or complaint to several employees before having it resolved. Second, if similar requests are repeatedly received, it indicates a growing need; a change in product or services may be necessary. Too often, upper management is unaware because resident feedback never makes it beyond the site level, or corporate level decision makers do not want to change the status quo. Resistance to listen to customer feedback, and change with customers’ needs is a dangerous mistake that can cost market share and revenue. When was the last time you asked residents what you could add, change or continue? A simple survey of what to stop, start and continue may prove to unveil an opportunity for a new and improved level of wooing residents to keep coming back for more.
In our business, the resident is king. To be at the top of the game, teams must remember that resident retention does not cost, it pays; customer service is not lip service, it is something that a person does (see number one and number two above), and satisfaction is a feeling that happens inside each of your residents. That feeling of satisfaction is the key to keeping them coming back… for more opportunities to serve, sell and succeed at your property.
Want more? Register for the Webinar Wednesday session, "Getting to 'I Do', Again and Again. Keeping the Resident Romance Alive!" to be held on Nov. 19.
Rebecca Rosario, NALP, CAM, NAAEI is a multifamily visionary, mentor, and speaker who owns and operates Full House Marketing, an apartment industry staffing and marketing company, in North Carolina. She has served the apartment industry for over 20 years, and is an active member of several N.C. apartment associations. Rebecca teaches NALP, CAM, and CAPS, along with being a multiple presenter and facilitator for the NAA Education conference, Multifamily Pro, and others. You may reach her via email, at RebeccaRosario.com, FullHousemarketing.com, or 1-866-29-TRAIN.