4 Ways to Improve Customer Service at Your Apartment Community
It’s a simple fact of life that if customers feel appreciated, they are more likely to help a business. If they don’t, they won’t, and they could, in fact, harm it.
In the multifamily context, there is ample opportunity to make residents feel valued. Doing so will increase renewals and leads and enhance the community’s online reputation. Here five things to focus on to ensure customer service is top-notch.
1. Build a relationship with each resident.
From day one, residents should feel that staff members care about them and their needs—and are doing their best to meet those needs. “When it comes to customer service, creating relationships with residents should be a top priority,” says John Hinckley, CEO of Modern Message, which helps apartment communities recognize and incentivize their resident advocates. “If you can show your community members that you appreciate them, you’ll have a greater chance to increase the lifetime value of each resident.”
2. Hire staff with servant hearts, and value their work.
Robert Tinning, executive vice president at Churchill Residential, which has 21 senior and family communities in Texas, hires staff members who buy into the company’s definition of “outrageous customer service.” “We ask our staff to make someone smile or laugh every day,” he explains. “We intentionally make it a fun work environment so they find the joy in the job.”
He notes that a big part of instilling this customer service ethos in employees is valuing their work so that they are invested in doing the best job they can. “We as a company believe that if we take care of our employees, the bottom line will take care of itself,” he says. “Other companies are so busy measuring metrics that they aren’t taking care of their employees, so they don’t have engaged employees that feel like they share in the mission or have a clear vision of it.” This isn’t just a talking point for Tinning: SatisFacts has rated Churchill Residential No. 1 in the nation for multifamily customer service from 2012 through 2015.
Similarly, The Dinerstein Companies (TDC), a developer of multifamily and student housing communities, rolled out its TDC Core Values this year. “The second core value is ‘Deliver the extra degree of service,’” says Clay Hicks, TDC president of apartment management. “It’s about taking daily steps to instill this culture in every employee, and every nook and cranny of our property operations, so we can bring this service culture to … the lives we touch each day. That one extra degree of service can separate the good from the great.”
3. Incentivize good customer service.
Too often, companies don’t take the time to celebrate staff member successes, Tinning says. This is a mistake. “We slow down a minute to enjoy what we just accomplished,” he says.
In addition, Churchill created the Service Star award, which is given out at the company’s annual awards banquet. “I send out a letter and a nomination form to residents, and they can nominate one, zero or everyone on their staff that they think is outstanding,” he says, noting that the survey response rate is about 40 percent. “That’s a huge award for staff. It’s your customers saying this person goes above and beyond everybody else.”
4. Find value in the one-star review.
The five-star rating online is the pinnacle. But there’s great opportunity in the one-star review, too. “With a one-star review, you get to hear what people are complaining about,” says Kayla McCain, digital marketing manager with Modern Message. “If you are being proactive to fix that, then you have the opportunity to turn that one-star review into a five-star review just by providing great customer service.”
TDC has a new policy on online reputation management, which includes responding to reviews within 48 hours, amending complaints and making sure residents are heard. This has helped increase the portfolio’s Google review count by 238 percent over the 2015-2016 leasing season.
For more on this topic, plan to attend the “Transforming Customer Service for Great Return on Investment” session at MAXIMIZE: 2016 Multifamily Asset Management Conference, Oct. 17-19 in San Diego. Session presenters include Hinckley and Tinning along with Hicks as moderator.