SatisFacts and 30 Lines conducted a major national study titled “Getting Inside the Head of Today’s Online Renter” (www.TheOnlineRenter.com).  This article shares findings revealed by the study regarding renters’ technology preferences and how this feedback can be used to help improve staffing, customer service, communication and program efficiency.
The national study covered myriad topics and includes responses from more than 5,100 residents of 20 diverse management companies.  Note that residents were only recruited via email as the goal was to better understand today’s online residents (versus offline residents, now the minority).  In questions seeking a 1-5 rating, an average score of 3.0 can be interpreted as an equal number of respondents felt the topic was unimportant and important; the further the average scores varies from 3.0, the more consensus about the importance of a topic.

Technology Preferences
What implications do the following surprising findings have on your technology strategy?  Keep in mind that regardless of property type, while residents might not have a computer at home, they likely do at work and very likely have access via the Smartphone in their pocket or purse.

•    Besides a computer at home, more than 70 percent of the respondents also access the Internet at work and via their mobile phones.
•    About 13 percent own an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle, while almost 11 percent own an iPad.  (These are numbers we’ll definitely want to watch in the years ahead as the tablet market matures.)
•    More than 70 percent of the respondents are engaged in social networking, yet only 15.2 percent see it as a source for help with researching a purchase or making transactions.  Across all age groups, the use of social networking sites for input and guidance regarding buying decisions was lot and flat.  Social media for buying decisions has not taken off with apartment residents yet.
•    Nearly 30 percent responded that they are using their mobile phones to help with shopping and purchasing decisions.  Digging deeper, 26 percent responded that they used their mobile device to help during their most recent apartment search.  While this may not seem like a huge percentage today, it is significant and is an area to watch over time.

Revenue Management
While consumers have become accustomed to fluctuating prices when searching for hotels and flights, what are the perceptions of revenue management in the apartment industry?
We asked that when they were shopping for an apartment if a leasing consultant quoted different rents at different times for the same apartment; more than 54 percent of residents responded “yes.”  We then asked how this experience impacted their feelings about the community where this happened.  Using a 1-5 impact rating scale where 1 is no impact and a 5 is significant impact, residents resoundingly responded that this indeed affected their experience (average response was 4.13)  This is likely due to:

•    In almost 38 percent of these cases, the leasing consultant did not explain why the pricing had changed.
•    Even in the 62 percent of interactions where the leasing consultant took the time to explain the situation, more often than not, the resident still felt that the change affected his or her perception of the property.
•    Revenue management systems have shown value for many multifamily companies.  However, it’s critical that leasing associates are trained to professionally communicate about the program in order to minimize any negative impact in the mind of the prospect.

Resident Portals
The study dug into the importance of resident portals, the online hubs for service requests, customer service efforts and communication.  The findings showed that residents resoundingly see the value in portals.  A whopping 94 percent responded that they would use them!
•    In terms of what functionality residents use/would use in a apartment community’s portal, across all age groups, “submitting service requests” and “paying rent” were the most desired features (79% and 78% respectively).
•    Among the age groups between 18 and 44, a third of residents said they would want to use the resident portal to share ratings and reviews about the community.  This presents an opportunity that should be leveraged, especially if these residents are also willing to share their ratings on public sites such as Apartmentratings.com, Google and Yelp.
•    Beyond this, 53% desired to see news and updates about the community and 38 percent desired access to a schedule of community social events and activities.  One interpretation is that residents are saying to stop printing newsletters and instead post this community information on the “one-stop-shop” portal (where they also go to pay rent, submit work orders, etc.)
•    Due to the highly desired services offered on portals and the high use of mobile technology, it is important that your resident portal solution be as accessible and user-friendly as possible across multiple devices (computers, tablets, Smartphones).

Community Facebook Pages
Because social media and its place in the industry has been a hotly discussed topic for several years, the study explored this specific social tool.  Surprisingly, a whopping 52 percent of residents reported that they WOULD NOT visit their community’s Facebook page.  Yes, most residents said they were NOT interested.  Even among the 18-24 age segment, 46% said they would not view their community’s social networking pages.  This is likely due to the fact that most consumers aren’t using social media sites to be marketed or to hear from businesses – they’re primarily there to connect with friends, family and networking opportunities.

Portals Vs. Facebook
Using our five-point importance rating scale, with 1 being “not important at all” and 5 being “extremely important”, residents ranked resident portals 4.43, revealing that portals are very important to them.  Social networking pages, however, only scored 1.92 which is interpreted as being unimportant.  Even among the youngest age group, 18-24, the social networking pages only scored 2.09 – meaning they are not important at all.
Dennis Smillie, Multifamily Solutions says that, “People are looking for ways to simplify their communications of issues/needs but appear to be significantly less interested in “interacting” within their community without a needs-based reason.”

Communication
Residents were asked how they prefer to be contacted by apartment community staff.  Across all age groups, email was by far the preferred method (89%), followed by a cell phone call (73%).  Next, but rated much lower and in order of preference, was text messages at 28%, followed by in-person, home phone, snail mail, property portal, work phone – and lastly, with only 3%, social networking sites.
This begs the question – What percent of resident email addresses and cell phone numbers do you have in your property management system?  What is the primary means you use to communicate with your residents?  Keep in mind that the key to customer service is communication – and the key to communication is being able to communicate in a manner desired by your customer.

Doug Miller is the founder and president of SatisFacts.  Mike Whaling is the founder of 30 Lines which helps businesses drive more traffic and convert more leads through web sites, search engine optimization, email marketing and social media.  Reprinted with permission of ABODE.

Leave a Reply