Proactive vs. Reactive Efforts
Resident service has two sides. Reactive service is delivered “after the fact,” typically when a resident has a special service request or complaint, or is simply unhappy or dissatisfied. It’s a concept that we are, unfortunately, all intimately familiar with. On the other hand, proactive service begins even before the future resident walks in the door. It’s composed of all the steps we take to ensure that we’re fully prepared to do “whatever it takes” to fulfill the needs and wants of our residents both prior to leasing and after move-in. This is quality apartment management and leasing and includes what I like to call “setting the stage.”
“Setting the stage” is one of the best examples of proactive service in action, and it involves making the leasing experience as comfortable as possible for the future resident. This is where the details matter. Reduce the time it takes to fill out the application (after all, banks approve $20,000-30,000 loans based on a name, address, place of employment, social security number, and telephone number. Why can’t we?). Don’t just stop there… pare down processing time whenever and wherever you can without sacrificing the value of the leasing experience, and prove to your future residents that you value their time as much as they do. Polish the appearance of both your leasing center and staff so that the environment is pleasant and visually appealing, and creates the all-important positive first impression that your residents will carry throughout their relationship with you and your community. The entire leasing experience should begin wit h the message, “We’ve been waiting for you!” and last well beyond “Welcome to your new home!”
Proactive service and retention does wonders for a community’s bottom line. The more special details you incorporate into this proactive approach, the better! Consider such niceties as thanking residents for coming in, even when they have a complaint, or thanking them for simply paying their rent on time.
For the longest time,especially when I was first getting started in the apartment industry, “value-added”seemed to be everyone’s favorite buzzword. Every one of my supervisors told me that it was the kind of service we were supposed to be providing to our residents, but no one ever stopped to explain to me what it meant. Frankly, I’m not certain they fully understood themselves. In hindsight, I think the term entered our industry at a bit of a disadvantage.
Way back when our idea of resident service was collecting rent checks and dispatching “maintenance men”, it would have been a stretch for us to grasp the concept of value-added resident services as much more than providing the bare minimum of courtesy that’s expected of us today. As the concept of customer service evolved, and our residents’ expectations began to grow with each instance of great service that they encountered in their day-to-day lives, we finally began to get the hint and expanded our own service offerings accordingly. As a result, I believe we came to think of providing value-added service as a means of “keeping up with the Jones’s”– the Jones’s being not only our competition, but every other retailer and service provider who was out there serving our residents well and raising their expectations in the process.
Here’s the reality check.Value-added service doesn’t mean simply living up to our residents’ expectations–it means going the extra mile. One of my favorite examples is the”Baker’s Dozen.” You pay for twelve cookies and receive thirteen. If you really want to compete, you throw in a couple more. It’s important to know that value-added doesn’t just mean giving something away for free. Where added value can be clearly demonstrated, the customer is most often willing to pay a bit extra for it. If you offer custom upgrade options to your apartment homes at a fair price; you’ve seen this principle proven time and time again; ditto for that special location with the super view and higher rental rate.
Another of my favorite examples of value-added resident service is the trend toward policies that clearly state: “Resident satisfaction is more important than company policy.” Not only does this empower employees to solve problems on the spot (one of the key factors to great internal retention), but it also helps to guarantee all of the nice things that happy residents bring, like renewed leases and referrals. Conversely, residents who are either overtly told or treated as though company policy stands between what they want and what your team can provide are not likely to stick around for long, if at all. Referrals? Don’t hold your breath.
It’s important to realize that a service needn’t be new in order to be value-added. Take a close look at each of the services you currently offer. A new twist here and an enhancement there can make a world of difference in how your residents perceive the level of service they receive.
Let me close this post by with sharing my feelings towards residents when I was on-site.
I had a built-in feeling or reaction towards every single contact I had with a resident. Most of those contacts were not pleasant because I was always dealing with distressed communities. No matter how busy I was, and I was normally very, very busy. I stopped and gave the resident I was in contact with 110% of my attention, put a smile on my face and focused on making that person feel like the most important person in the world. Each contact was followed up with a hand written note (very impressive today in the electronic world) thanking them for bringing what ever new challenge I was presented with to my attention. These notes were delivered at the end of my day as I walked the community. I always felt that walking the community at the end of the day was another resident retention technique. Letting the residents see me walking the community showed that I had a personal interest in the community. The residents would never see me driving around in the available golf cart unless I was with a future resident or service technician. Managers, give it a try you will be amazed with the results of this simple and cost free way to endear the residents of your community.
What other ways can you be proactive in the service you provide to your residents? What can you do for them before it needs doing, so they will want to continue living in your community? Write down ideas, add them to your plan, and then try to implement one or more of these fresh ideas every month. Your community’s bottom line will be rewarded with the results.
Take 10 minutes and walk the community at the end of every day. Give it a try for one month and you will be amazed at what you see, learn and the difference it makes with your residents. PLUS imagine the health benefits you will receive!