The Tools to Reach Prospects and Residents in 2021
Communication is a priority in 2021, necessitating the right tools, tactics and training are in place.
Marketing to potential prospects has grown increasingly sophisticated during the past decade. But the move from an old-fashioned grassroots approach to digital lead generation intensified during COVID-19.
“2020 really accelerated the rollout and adoption of technologies that allowed us to maintain continuity during a rapid transition to a virtual way of doing business,” says Melissa Brady, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Fogelman Properties. “Given the pace of innovation and the corresponding change in consumers’ expectations for more virtual and self-service options, we will continue on this path while looking for ways to optimize and consolidate our MarTech stack.”
The situation is similar for interaction with current residents. Some property managers have reported that COVID cases spiked in their communities. “We have several properties where we have employees in quarantine or out ill,” says Steve Hallsey, Executive Vice President of Operations for Wood Residential Service. “This situation puts a lot of pressure on other site employees.”
Social distancing is essential to prevent these virus outbreaks, but it has made it difficult for onsite teams to connect with residents in ways in which they have grown accustomed.
“I think it’s a challenge, especially for some folks that are right out of college, to be able to connect with the residents and be authentic as they’re also trying to socially distance,” says JoLynn Scotch, Managing Director of Operations at Bozzuto.
To be successful in this environment, apartment operators need to think differently.
“Creativity is at a premium to maximize leasing velocity and generate higher retention rates,” says Woody Stone, Executive Managing Director of Operations Cushman & Wakefield, Multifamily Asset Management, Americas.
In a digital, socially distant world, there are many ways to introduce your brand to potential residents. For Cortland, social media has been a strong driver of leads during the pandemic.
“With more people working remotely, we’ve also noticed an increase in social media usage this year,” says Tim Hermeling, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Cortland. “As a result, we have shifted marketing dollars to social media advertising.”
In 2021, Fogelman plans to rely on customer relationship management (CRM) software to optimize its media mix and drive lead conversions. Once those leads come, it plans to roll out live chat and text options across its portfolio to maximize engagement with prospects and use artificial intelligence (AI) to respond to leads in real-time, 24/7.
On average, Brady says customers use 10 channels to communicate. Fogelman’s teams will need to lean on technology like CRM, AI, chat and text to identify viable prospects and respond in near real-time this year.
“This requires a continued focus on training so that our front-line teams are confident in not only managing these tools but also delivering personalized experiences and great customer service, virtually or in-person,” Brady says.
Before prospects get to an apartment operator’s front-line teams, they usually check out a property’s reviews. In the digital world, one can argue that online reviews are the new curb appeal. Depending on positive online reviews is nothing new. Review sites have been around for decades. But with apartment searchers cooped up at home, they may be even more critical.
“Drawing prospects to our properties is heavily reliant on positive online reviews,” Stone says. “In this virtual environment, a poor reputation is much harder to overcome.”
Good reviews start with good management. At Bozzuto, enhanced resident engagement and awards have increased customer satisfaction. Cushman utilizes various software options to enhance communication with its prospects or residents and address issues before they are posted online, which helps it elevate scores. “We have also been reminded during the pandemic how important it is to go beyond the basics of simply managing a unit,” Stone says.
During the pandemic, part of the management process has been working with customers who need help with payments. Technology, again, can play a role in these discussions. Scotch says her company has relied on its CRM during this time to put those customers on payment plans.
“It has been instrumental,” she says. “We also used Zoom and FaceTime as additional communication tools.”
In 2021, as in 2020, having the right tools to communicate with prospects and residents will help operators successfully navigate what is bound to be a challenging year ahead.
Les Shaver is a freelance writer.