(This is a continuation of a discussion that has taken place. Links to the other blogs discussing this topic can be found at the end of this post.)
I think the fact that we are talking about it is a great sign that we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand any longer. The information above is very compelling and shows an obvious trend in transparency. I agree that it will only progress further and our industry needs to get on board in some fashion.
However, I am still conflicted about coming up with a way to embrace these websites and promote them to prospects or integrate it into our customer satisfaction process. They simply lack credibility. Here are some questions and my initial answers I’d like to throw out that could result in possible solutions that work towards equitable transparency:
1. Can the local apartment associations form a partnership with a customer satisfaction organization to come up with a solution that would benefit the prospect and portray the apartment communities in an accurate manner?
I think this could be a possibility and could actually lead to stronger apartment associations. They are already driving traffic to our communities which is great. Why not add reviews for current residents? The associations could become the JD Power of our industry. Sure there are possible conflicts of interest, but with a third party administrator and the right format there could be a great deal of integrity. Disclosure would be key for transparency to be achieved.
2. Have any owners/managers had the moxie to post ALL of the results (good or bad) of their CEL or other satisfaction surveys on their community sites?
If you have a 500 unit property and 30% of residents respond, would it be smart to post all 150 responses online? Talk about transparency. This would also take away from some of the credibility of the current formats.
3. Why not post the number of resident referrals your community receives on their websites or the number of residents who have chosen to renew their lease?
Run a counter at the top of the page that gets updated on a regular basis and have it link to a page dedicated to your resident referral program and the statement that it makes about your community. Residents don’t refer people to a community where they no longer wish to live themselves. Do something similar with a repeat customers page. Most consumers don’t give repeat business to a company with poor products and services. I sure don’t. Talk about that! Let your prospects know how many people have not renewed due to issues that do not reflect customer satisfaction such as home purchases and move outs. These are all things that we have access to that these so called consumer advocate or consumer review websites do not have, which come to think of it diminishes their ability to provide true transparency.
In spite of our desire to believe that the company we work for has the secret recipe, there are not really many proprietary secrets in our industry. With employee turnover at every level our business practices have become homogeneous. Twitter and blogs have increased that exponentially in the last few years. We thought we were in the information age years ago, but that was just the beginning.
We need to become the authority on transparency and push each other to no longer “fall short” on customer service and resident retention. Fight fire with fire ladies and gentlemen. Don’t waste time being held hostage by a website that knows nothing about our industry and who’s business model is to capitalize on content being the driving force of hits on the internet. Information is power and we have more information than we know what to do with. Put it to use and fight their candle with your flame thrower!