Ask any manager today, “Who is your favorite resident?”  He or she will probably tell you the one who drops the rent in the night deposit, is never late and never comes to the office to complain.  These residents are great – move them in and they leave you alone!

Some of us will agree that this sounds like an ideal resident, but is it really good to have residents we never see?  What is the average amount of time you spend getting to know a resident during his or her first year in your community?

We are in a customer service revolution and my advice is to stay in touch with your customers – do not avoid them!

Communication, or lack of it, is a major factor in many areas, including the high divorce rate.  A lack of communication between parents and teens has been linked to the alarming increase of teenage suicides. To keep any relationship healthy, an open line of communication is not optional, it is a must.  Top business consultants tell us that in order to create a successful business we must establish a good relationship with our customers.

With this in mind, I have designed a five-phase program to help you keep in touch with your residents.    These phases can be implemented with a simple clipboard system.  List all move-ins and when each move-in is completed, remove the name and place in on the Phase 1 clipboard for personal visits.

Upon completion of Phase 1, put the residents on the Phase 2 clipboard, etc.  Each phase is designed to keep the lines of communication open and to take care of any problems before they become difficult.  Involve your residents in the property and activities.  Make sure they are living at the level of satisfaction you guarantee.

Phase 1:  Personal Visit

This is the most important part of the new relationship between the resident and management.  A personal visit, made three to 10 days after move-in, will let the resident know you mean service.  How often people give lip service only!  This is not a surprise visit – call first and ask if a visit within the next hour would be convenient.  Take an unexpected gift.  You will need service requests and maintenance “tips.”  Make sure everything is OK in the apartment, walk through it and check again personally.  A gift of a small fresh herb or mint plant might be the final touch for your resident.  It says “We care,” and it shows!

Educate your residents – spend some time explaining maintenance “how-tos” and give them cards with the phone number.

Encourage your residents’ use of community services such as banking, dry cleaning supermarkets, restaurants, etc.  Make notes on a calendar for your follow-up visit.  This visit will establish a trusting relationship and let your residents know you really mean what you say!  Ask again if everything is OK in the apartment.  If not, fill out the necessary service request while the resident watches, then follow up.

Phase 2:  Welcome Letter

Thirty days after your resident has settled in, send him or her a welcome letter saying, “We hope you are enjoying your new home.”  Enclose a small gift.  I recommend address labels. These inexpensive, self-adhesive return address labels work to get your residents “stuck on you” when they are presented as your special “welcome gift” to each new resident or as a “thank you” to each renewal.  This thoughtful gesture creates instant goodwill and secures positive relations from the start.

When you send this follow-up letter to your new resident, include a community calendar and coupons from local merchants (outreach marketing).  Also, extend a personal invitation to the next community activity or program and encourage the resident’s involvement.  Ask for service request and resident referrals.

Phase 3:  Phone Call

The purpose of this call is to touch base before you contact a resident for a renewal.  Phase 3 is a time to clean up any reasons why he or she might not be willing to renew.  Check all completed work orders for any recurring problems and discuss the resident’s general satisfaction with the apartment.  The personal touch of the phone call validates your seriousness about service.

Telephone follow-up:  Review residents’ files, know their names and any problems or complains they have had.  Familiarize yourself with pertinent information concerning your residents.  Personal concern in communication is the key element to good resident relations!

Marketing questions:  Are you using our amenities?  How do you like X, Y and Z?  Discuss any property surveys and ask residents to participate.  Thank them.  Ask again:  Is everything OK in your apartment?  Do you have any requests for service?

Resident Referrals:  “By the way, we have a beautiful apartment available just around the corner – do you know of someone who would enjoy living in our community?”

Phase 4 – Renewal Letter

Ninety days before the resident’s renewal date, print a formal invitation such as, “We would like to extend an invitation for you to reserve another year in your apartment,” and leave it on the door with a flower.  This is the first reminder of the lease renewal, so be creative – use your marketing genius!  Bring a gift to the apartment such as teddy bear with a note that says, “We can’t bear to lose you.”  Your goal with this contact is to make an appointment for the renewal.

Some managers take renewing residents out to lunch to sign a renewal.  To replace a resident in today’s market can cost as much as $1,597.  Compare that to a $15 lunch.  It is worth it!  Be flexible with the time and place, be creative with your invitation and be bold with your rent increase.

Phase 5:  Personal Visit

Make an appointment and go for renewal and increased rent.  Be creative.  Check the resident’s file before the appointment, take a gift with you and send flowers after the appointment.  This is the actual renewal, so be prepared and go on time.  Have your paperwork neat and in order.  If the resident is coming to your office, serve refreshments.  If you are going to his or her apartment, take a gift.  Some managers send flowers or plants to the resident’s workplace after they sign a renewal lease.  It’s impressive and a great way to get referrals.

This five-phase program is designed to help you get to know new residents and stay in touch with long-time residents.  Practice this and renewing leases will be no problem!

Toni Blake is a nationally recognized expert in customer service, sales and marketing and speaks to more than 30,000 management professionals each year.  She has been involved with multifamily housing since 1979.  For more information, contact her at info@totallytoni.com or visit www.TotallyToni.com.

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