Testing Texting and Liking the Results
With residents spending even more time on their smartphones today, apartment managers are relying on texting to stay in touch.
“Glued to their phones” is how community manager Nicole Hamber, Morehead West in Charlotte, N.C., describes her residents—not an abnormal assessment these days.
That’s why Hamber decided to add texting to her resident communication repertoire for this market-rate apartment last summer. It was a good decision: Not one resident has asked that the community stop texting them.
“We’ve heard nothing but great things about the texts,” Hamber says. She and her staff often text residents about packages. “With the emails, people wouldn’t get their packages for two weeks, but with the text feature, within a couple minutes they come in and pick up their packages.”
Hamber has been using a communications platform that allows users to simultaneously send a message via email, text and app notification.
Hamber has email addresses for 100 percent of residents and has cell numbers for approximately 70 percent. When she began using the platform, everyone’s cell number was automatically entered, and residents were encouraged to download the app; approximately 35 percent have done so. The app offers additional information about community events, links to social media and a one-click function that summons an Uber for a ride home.
Hamber and her staff like that they can send one message that then is disseminated multiple ways. And all staff members have access to the platform, so responses aren’t dependent on any one person checking his or her email or phone. This unified messaging platform costs about $0.70-$1 per unit per month, according to Tim Litchfield, COO at Communiqué, which provides the software.
Jennifer Staciokas, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Training at Pinnacle, estimates that an approximate 25 percent of Pinnacle communities are texting residents. Those that are allow residents to opt-in instead of automatically adding their cell numbers to the platform.
“It’s important to hit the right demographic and right audience with the right message, and not over-message,” Staciokas says. “Some things should still go through email, but other things that are more time-sensitive are better for text.”
She recalls one property manager who was reticent to start texting residents. She tested it by texting rent reminders—and got 10 checks within minutes. She was sold.
Hamber and her team see real benefit in texting residents about package notifications, community events and small balances owed. She’s also used it for emergency notifications—if she needs to close the office early or if there’s a power outage.
The View on High, a student housing community near Ohio State University, recently used the platform to alert residents about a knife-wielding attacker who drove his car into several students on campus. “We felt it was best to urge our residents to remain in our secure building and to not let anyone in until we got the OK,” Property Manager Lacey Teagarden wrote in a blog post.
Of course, texting isn’t appropriate for all communication. More sensitive matters—late rent, resident complaints, any legal issue—are still best handled on the phone or in person.
Texting Potential Residents
Pinnacle also is using text messaging with potential residents who want more information about a community. Using the RokitNow platform, potential residents can text an individual apartment community, but the platform routes the text as an email to community staff. That way, they can respond in a way that doesn’t disrupt their normal work flow, but the reply to the resident is delivered as a text.
“Right out of the gate we had more than 100 text leads just from text-enabling the phone number on our community website in [the Seattle area’s] Mercer Island,” Staciokas says. The company is rolling out this texting platform for potential residents to a much larger portion of its portfolio than it has resident texting. One reason is the low cost: $20 per month per property, given Pinnacle’s large portfolio size.
While some residents, specifically many Millennial and Gen X residents, are receptive to communicating via text, Staciokas still sees email as the industry communication standard.
“We participate in several industry surveys, and when residents are asked how they want to be communicated with, the overwhelming majority still say email,” Staciokas says. “Text is very personal. It’s about finding the right message and use case for text, and not overdoing it.”