You may think your apartment community’s greatest competitor is the new construction property across the street or the low-rent leader around the block. But there’s another competitor you may not have contemplated: the customer experience (CX) your residents receive at every business they patronize.
At the recent 2022 Georgia Apartment Association Annual Conference, industry thought leaders Virginia Love, Industry Principal for Entrata and Lia Nichole Smith, SVP, Education & Performance for SatisFacts and ApartmentRatings, presented an educational program titled “Customer Experience (CX): The New Competitor No One is Talking About.” The pair shared that customer experience drives resident behaviors, and residents are comparing the service they encounter at your community with their recent stay at a luxury hotel, the care provided by their financial planner, and the attentiveness of their health care provider. It’s no longer enough to be better than the competition; you must be better, period.
The multifamily experts advised that creating a positive, memorable customer experience during a customer’s residency is of the utmost importance to earn their renewal lease. CX is important not only for resident retention, but also for creating a favorable community reputation which can lead to leases. A community’s reputation is communicated largely through online resident reviews.
According to SatisFacts’ 2021 Biennial Online Renter Study, more than 3 out of 4 renters said that online ratings and reviews are the most trusted source for apartment shoppers to find information on an apartment community during their search for a new home. 79% of renters say they researched their current apartment community’s online reviews before contacting the community directly to speak to someone about renting there.
This hasn’t always been the case. As recently as 2015, for example, 74.4% of renters said they primarily relied upon feedback from a friend, family member, or co-worker as a source of rental information. In 2021, that figure has dropped dramatically to only 60.2% according to SatisFacts. This is a trend that is likely to continue. Consider that with each passing year, consumers conduct more of their lives online including researching and buying goods and services. To manage your reputation, you must pay attention to your online reviews.
How can you leverage your online reviews and community reputation to work to your leasing advantage? Here are a few pointers:
1. Focus on what you can control. As frustrating as it may be, you really don’t have any control over what residents may say in an online review. What you do have control over, however, is the experience you provide at your apartment community. Your reviews will reflect the overall resident experience, and so that’s where your focus should be. Strive to deliver a customer experience (CX) that meets or exceeds your residents’ expectations.
According to SatisFacts’ Lia Nichole Smith, this means making your customers feel that:
I am proud to be associated with this brand
I feel valued by this brand
I feel heard by this brand
My experience has been as good as advertised
I would pay more to keep this experience going
Work with every member of your on-site community team to deliver a service experience, day in and day out, that would inspire a resident to write a positive online review.
2. Ask your residents to write a review. The customers who are most likely to write a review of your services are those in the extremes—either extremely unhappy or extremely happy. Most of your customers are not in either of those groups, and so it may never occur to them to take to their keyboard and write about their experiences at your apartment community. To inspire more of your satisfied customer to share an online review, don’t be shy about asking for their help.
Consider making such a request:
After a service request has been successfully completed, for example: “It was our pleasure to attend to this for you. Would you kindly write a review about our service?”
At a resident event, such as: “I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself. Would you consider writing a review to tell others about our fun events?”
Upon lease renewal, such as: “We’re delighted you chose to stay with us for another year. Would you be willing to share what you love about living here in an online review? It really helps others find out about us.”
You can also ask for reviews in writing in all the channels you use to communicate with residents, such as your resident website, community portal, and even in the signature line of your emails.
3. Make it easy for residents to share their experiences. The easier it is for residents to share an online review about your community, the more likely they are to do so. That’s why we’ve added Building Reviews to the Livly resident app. Residents are prompted directly from their resident app to share their opinion about your community to any platform of your choosing, including Google, Yelp, Facebook and Apartments.com. It’s simpler than ever to generate positive word of mouth, keep an eye on your reputation, establish a good rapport with residents and prospects, and attract new business.
4. Everyone is a contributor to your reputation. Your community’s reputation isn’t built solely on what your residents and prospective residents think of you. It’s also a product of what everyone who encounters your community thinks about it and the service you provide—whether they’re presently shopping for an apartment or not. People are connected to other people, and just about everyone knows someone who may be in the market for a new home. People love to tell stories of exceptional service—and exceptionally bad service.
Don’t overlook the importance of making a good impression on:
The suppliers who keep your community running, such as contractors and landscapers
Delivery persons from FedEx, UPS, maintenance supply houses, food delivery services, etc.
Experts you hire to help run resident events, such as coaches, trainers, or DJs
Realtors who bring guests to your community
Word of mouth is a powerful source of referrals and plays an important part in your community reputation. Make it your business to generate positive chatter about your community.
5. Surprise and delight residents. Many communities reward residents by recognizing holidays, birthdays, or milestones such as the anniversary of their residency. If your budget allows you to do so, providing a gift to encourage or reward a lease renewal can create good will and help to enhance your business’ reputation. Using the Livly property management app, you can easily send digital gift cards straight to their Livly app. Gift card retailers include Amazon, Uber, GrubHub, DoorDash, Sephora, Chipotle, PetSmart, and more.
Opportunities to surprise and delight residents abound; you simply must be on the lookout for them. Coach your team to seek out opportunities to be helpful, kind, and friendly to your residents and community visitors. Even small gestures, such as assisting a resident with carrying a bulky package to their door, can leave the impression that your team cares about the residents and make a positive impact on their likelihood to leave a favorable review, tell others about their experience, and ultimately, choose to renew their lease.
Managing your community’s online reputation and reviews starts with a focus on customer experience (CX). If you want residents to say positive things about you in their online reviews, you must earn their praise. Look for opportunities to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations, including surprising and delighting them when you can. Encourage their participation in your business’ reputation by making it easy for them to share an online review. Remember that many residents will not take the initiative to post a review on their own but may be happy to do so should you ask for their help. Get in the habit of asking for their online reviews, both in conversation and in your written and digital communication. With 79% of apartment shoppers researching online reviews during their apartment search, it’s clear that nurturing a favorable online reputation is critical to generating leads and new leases.
2021 Biennial Online Renter Study, SatisFacts, https://www.satisfacts.com/researchfindings/biennial-online-renter-study-february-2022-release/