We Are in the People Business

I was in a brainstorming meeting when the owner of multiple properties said these words and they just stuck with me.  I’ve heard this before, but I think it’s often forgotten, especially the further removed from the front lines you become.  This owner just happens to check in on his communities quite frequently, so he understands the magnitude of his words.

We are in the people business and apartments are simply a way to attract people.  When all else is equal, we attract prospects and get them to become customers because of the people we have on our teams.  We attract the people we have on our teams by having good people in leadership positions.  We attract good people for our leadership positions because we have strong, supportive executives.  It is a chain of executives (people) serving leaders, (people) serving teams (people) serving customers (people).

The most successful leaders I know in this industry are the leaders who have not lost sight of this.  They are the ones who are out at their communities frequently inspecting the product, staff and level of customer service provided to their residents.  They also inspect the level of customer service they provide to their own teams.  They are leaders who understand that they work for their employees just as much as their employees work for them.

As a leader or supervisor, I like to ask my teams what I can do for them.  That sets an example for them to ask their teams the same and of course ask their residents the same.  When you operate with this mentality, your organizational chart should end up looking more like a wheel with spokes rather than a pyramid.  The center of that wheel will be your residents.  Ever try hauling a heavy load with pyramid shaped tires?

Follow Up Discusson on Apartment Review Websites

(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!

Links:

Apartment Marketing Blog

Multifamily Pro

Aptly Spoken

Multifamily Insiders

“Under No Management”

And so it begins….   Please read this article before you go any further.   “Corporate Meltdown Leaves Renters in Limbo”

My argument to compete against homes for rent written at the end of 2008 is out the window.  Now owners of apartment communities are losing their investments and the fallout is impacting their former residents and will begin to impact all of us in one way or another.  For management companies looking to grow, if you’re on top of things, you should be able to pick up some management deals out of this and there will be business out there for everybody.  You just need to decide if this type of business is a fit or a distraction for your current business model.

While this situation is hopefully an extreme exception to the rule, the resident quoted in the article is 100% correct.  She “shouldn’t have to pay $800 a month to live in a… hole.”  Listen to her story.

So the question is, how do we make it easier on the residents?  There’s not much that can be done to change this specific situation as it unfolded, but there is much that can be done once new management takes over.  For the management company that takes over, communicate with the residents immediately.  Notify the residents that new management has taken over and by all means explain what happened in the first place.  A little empathy goes a long way.  Do not make any promises that you cannot keep.  These residents just want to have peace of mind that their water and power are not going to be shut off.  Set up a temporary call center so residents can voice thier concerns or hold a “town hall meeting”.  Know that you are walking into a hornet’s nest and the only way to change the perception of the residents will be to tackle their issues head on.  If you don’t have an in house Public Relations Manager, working with an agency would be a smart decision.  This is an opportunity where you can’t make things much worse and in the end can be a “hero”.  The concerns voiced in this article can be addressed by Property Management 101. 

I have my own opinions on how this should have been handled up front and if you are a frequent reader of my blog you can probably come to those on your own.  I am no expert in this arena, but I’m sure someone reading this might be.  Please feel free to share your opinion on how this could have been avoided or at least how the residents paying $800 a month could have been warned in advance.  There is a solution out there somewhere that makes sense.  As an industry of professionals, it’s our responsibility to make it known so the next company to face a similar situation doesn’t leave thousands of residents in limbo.

“Under New Management”

I went to my gym on Saturday and brought a friend with me who was in from Chicago.  The guest policy as I knew it was no fee for first time guests and $10 per visit thereafter.  So I told my buddy it was free, let’s go.  When we got there they informed me that the policy had changed, as they were “under new management”. 

I did not receive any written notice of the new management or policy changes.  I acknowledged that I understood and asked for an exception since I had not been informed prior.  They said no (of course).  Then they proceeded to inform me that my account wasn’t up to date and I owed for January and February.  Mind you I was with my friend and right at the main entrance of the gym.   I told them to run my card again and they said they needed a new card.   Needless to say there was some confusion and the person helping me was not making himself clear and I was a bit embarrassed

At this point, “Under New Management” meant “Under Bad Management” to me.

Eventually, the new Manager got involved and apologized for the confusion, however by that point their first impression had already been made.  I shared with him how they could have handled things differently and that any reasonable person would understand.  In all honesty, I wasn’t upset with the policy changes, rather the delivery of those changes. 

In this scenario, I was only paying $20 per month for a gym membership, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.   I began to think about management changes at our apartment communities and how this style and poor delivery of policy changes would have a much greater impact on the success.  If I was paying for a premium gym membership and there was decent competition, I would have cancelled my membership on the spot.  If it was my apartment community and I was paying $800 in monthly rent, you can be sure I would be shopping around a few months before my lease renewal.

So what could “New Management” have done differently in this situation.  First of all, they could have notified their membership by mail and posting on their bulletin board (which I read every time I’m there) of the policy changes and put a date on when they would be enforced.  That way, they’re not coming into the place like a bull in a china shop.  Most customer service driven management companies already do this.  They could also use more experienced personnel to deal with membership issues.  It was clear the young man asking for my billing information was new and had little customer service experience.  These were two situations that could have been easily avoided by planning ahead to make sure there was a smooth transition with experienced personnel dealing with the customers.  

These are definitely things to consider when we “take over” management at an apartment community.  Quite frankly, good residents don’t care about “our company policy”.  They just want to be treated fairly and be given proper notice of any changes.

How We Communicate Matters. Always.

 

Your rent is late.

Your rent is late.

A good friend of mine lives at a local apartment community that is managed by a well respected management company that prides themselves on customer service.  They have a great reputation and they always make a strong effort to pay attention to the details.  As a matter of fact, they even have a resident satisfaction award posted on their website for this particular community.   That is why I had to take a picture of this note they have posted by their rent drop box.  According to my friend this note is always up and it ticks him off every time he sees it.  I asked him why.  He said it bothers him because it does not have the word “If” at the very beginning of the message.  Reread the note starting with the word “If” and you will see how much more polite this message could be.

This picture was taken March 1.  Nobody’s rent was late on March 1, but everyone who stopped by the drop box was “accused of being late with their rent”, at least according to this message.  Unfortunately,  this message has been taped up above the drop box for several months. 

So what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that a simple note such as this can completely undermine a mangement company’s entire approach to customer service in the eyes of a resident.  The grounds can be clean, the grass mowed and service requests done in a timely manner, and yet the absence of a subordinating conjunction at the beggining of a message can tick off your residents.  What you say matters to some.  How you say it matters to most.

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