Balancing Online and In-Person Leasing

August 9, 2018 |

Updated August 4, 2021

4 minute read

The industry has come a long way from when it received leads primarily via fax or email. Now leads come through email, text, phone and in person. Find out how one industry leader navigates those channels.

Kortney BalasPersonality is one key attribute that apartment communities look for when hiring leasing professionals. A pleasant, witty, sincere or empathetic employee, for example, will likely out-perform one who struggles to connect with prospective residents.

Many have the perfect temperament for in-person communication, while others might have a real knack for connecting through email, texting, social media or phone conversation. With today’s demographic moving more toward digital dialogue, property managers will look for the ideal blend.

Striking the balance between in person and digital communication is something that Kortney Balas, Vice President of Process and Technology at JVM Realty, Oak Brook, Ill., thinks about a lot. Balas recently took some time to chat with NAA and offer tips on using technology to convert leads to sales.

How does the need to “shine” across all these mediums affect hiring decisions?

Balas: Many apartment management companies are still determining how skilled use of technology will impact hiring, but absolutely it should be on the forefront of everyone’s mind as we all become more “electronic.”

The industry experienced something similar about 10 years ago when pricing optimization software started getting big. You’d watch some of your most amazing leasing associates start to struggle under the confines of an electronic platform.

The leasing agent who can dazzle in person and on the phone may not be able to do the same via text, email, chat and vice versa. Someone who is amazing in the electronic channels may not be as effective in person.

It’s going to take a very special talent to be all encompassing, and management companies are going to have to decide which method of sales and what type of sales force they are going to emphasize. Ultimately, though, you will need all types of skills on your leasing staff, as we have to meet customers through their preferred channel.

What are common mistakes you see leasing teams make when engaging prospects through their various technologies?

Balas: Timing and originality. The timing of how long and when you contact a lead has become a science. Keeping leads open too long can crowd your leasing pipeline. Keeping them open too briefly can eliminate potential prospects.

You also see today a lot of responses that are too reliant on “templates.” I’m a big advocate of not using templated responses in electronic communications whenever you can, because, when you do, there is nothing personal, nothing to set you apart from the rest.

Technology can greatly enhance the lead management and connection process, but what are some challenges these technologies pose for apartment operators?

Balas: Believe it or not, one challenge is that it can create too many leads. The best operators work on figuring out the proper management of those leads. Many industry service partners are offering lead-scoring and behavioral/data science in their lead management products, but selecting the right software to help you win your lead management race can be a challenge because there are so many options out there to choose from.

Which communication channels — email, text, phone, walk-in, etc. — are the most popular with residents? How has that changed over the years, and how do you see it changing in the future?

Balas: Where the prospective resident is in the home-finding journey will dictate the channel.

Someone who is testing the waters may start with email (this makes up about 11.8 percent of our traffic and only has a 5 percent visit-set ratio).

Someone looking to start collecting answers to questions as she begins to narrow her search may choose chat (26.3 percent of our leads and a 27 percent visit-set ratio).

Once someone is looking to schedule tours and asking detailed questions about a particular type of floor plan, he is usually calling (43.3 percent of our leads and a 40 percent visit-set ratio).

Once a prospect becomes an applicant, she trends toward returning to email and text-messaging via our resident portal. 

It will be interesting to see if voice will still continue to lead the pack as automated attendants and AI start to become the norm.

We’ve come a long way, though. We used to receive our leads primarily via fax or email. Many apartment management companies didn’t even have email addresses assigned to their leasing agents. Now, I can look in our CRM and see leads whizzing in from three channels at the same time.

Talk about the impact of having a chat function. What effect did integrating that within your community websites have on lead conversions?

Balas: We’ve been using “live chat” for about a year and a half at all of our sites, and it’s been successful. We just started testing a chatbot at one site in July, so I don’t have a lot of data yet to speak to its impact on lead conversion. I’m curious to see how a chatbot performs against a live human chat in terms of success rates.