Standing Out with Service
By focusing on customer service, student housing operators can set themselves apart. Find out how to standardize the process and why marketing messages may need to begin with parents.
In today’s amenities battles, student housing developers often try to win with flash. Lazy rivers, rock walls, golf simulators are all the rage in competitive markets.
By focusing on these frills, Dan Oltersdorf, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer, thinks companies might be missing an important opportunity. Offering other perks, such as credit reporting and career development services, can set student housing operators apart from competitors,
while also potentially helping their residents’ chances for success after college. You wouldn’t think of putting things like credit reporting or career success tools under the umbrella of customer service, but it has worked for Campus Advantage.
To find out how Oltersdorf, who will be presenting “Differentiating Yourself from Your Competition Through Customer Service” at NAA’s CampusConnex next February 12-13 in Orlando, is standardizing customer service throughout his portfolio and why some marketing needs to start with parents, read on.
Tell me about your new customer service initiative?
Oltersdorf: We are calling it E3. The first E is “Everyone is important.” Everyone is your customer. It is not just the resident. It applies to internal customer service. It applies to the secondary resident—our guarantors. It also applies to our institutions—the schools, community and vendors.
The second E is “Every team member is responsible.” It is getting past the stigma that it is only the frontline leasing folks or it is solely the community managers who are responsible for customer service. From the CEO to the porter, everyone is responsible for successful customer service.
The final E is “Everything speaks.” This is the idea of using your sense of sight, smell, touch and feel, whether you are looking at curb appeal or whether someone’s uniform is wrinkled. A piece of trash on your property speaks. Everything speaks.
None of the E3 platform is new. We are just repackaging things. It is more digestible, and we are using it as a differentiator.
What new customer service offerings are you trying?
Oltersdorf: We just rolled out credit reporting. That has steadily been gaining traction in the multifamily industry. Our residents can opt-in to have their rent payments included in their credit report. We have one person whose credit score went up 289 points. On average, during the first few months of this program, we have seen a 46-point increase in peoples’ credit scores, which is the difference in being able to finance their first car. It is really laying the foundational for financial success.
We also have a career success portal that can be accessed by all of our residents. It includes tremendous resources and the system is used by a lot of companies. Job seekers who use it are employed at three times the rate of the national average.
The big message around all of this is that you wouldn’t think of putting credit reporting under the umbrella of customer service. We have.
How are you conveying these expectations throughout your organization?
Oltersdorf: Our policy is that our residents can expect a standard of service regardless of which Campus Advantage community that they live in. Unless you dig in and have some nuts and bolts behind this [E3], then customer service is just a philosophy. Philosophy is great, but you also must have some substance underneath.
We are including many of our existing policies and procedures under “Everything speaks.” For example, we are making sure the tour path is walked twice a day as stated in our onsite standards checklist. With “Everyone is important,” we want all of our properties to do some sort of birthday recognition for their residents each month.
What is the value of emphasizing customer service to your company? Is this something that can be more important than other amenities, such as rock-climbing walls?
Oltersdorf: Customer service is king. It may be more important than ever because we are in an era where customer service differentiates you. People just expect it. People have higher standards now for the level of service that they’re receiving.
Customer service is also more important now because a lack of it can badly hurt your reputation. With online reviews, people have a megaphone and they will use it. If you do a good job, someone will tell one person. If you do a bad job, they will tell the world. Word of the mouth is still the biggest way that people find out about our communities.
What is the best way to convey your commitment to customer service to your residents?
Oltersdorf: Customer service needs to be part of your brand. Whether you are branding an exclusive luxury lifestyle or concierge-level service, you must find a way to label it that shows it is truly something substantive and it is not just saying, “We have a commitment to customer service.”
We have a big focus on the way we label this. We tell people that signing a lease in a Campus Advantage community is an investment in their future.
In addition to figuring a unique way to brand customer service, the second part is realizing that you are targeting different customers. With credit reporting, I had really high expectations for the level of adaption and they were not met. When we provided information about it during move-in, we were not getting a lot of traction with the students. We found out that we got more traction when we promoted it to their parents—the guarantors.
We realized that how we packaged it was important. For the student, it is about the here and now. But for the parent, they respond to the longer-term benefits. We promote the rent credit reporting by saying, “Give a gift that lasts a lifetime.” That messaging should resonate with the parent.
Are you promoting E3 through social media and other channels?
Oltersdorf: Yes. We hit all the bases. It is teaching your staff to be able to speak about it intelligently, having it in print materials and on social media. You really need it in every customer touchpoint.