By Beth Tuttle
It’s a common misstep in the multifamily industry: A community secures a new resident and once they move in, they pay less and less attention to that resident. It’s easy to do with the hustle and bustle of life in a leasing office. Besides, securing a new lease brings a leasing team new satisfaction, and it’s just not the same for a renewal.
However, this is counter-intuitive.
As a marketing team, you’ve already done the hard part and gotten them in the door. If the primary focus is to keep occupancy at its target level, why not start with those who are already in the building?
For evidence of how frequently residents believe they’re put on the back-burner after move-in, just peruse the pages of Yelp, Google Plus and Apartment Ratings, which feature regular complaints from those who were shown the red carpet prior to move-in and very little thereafter.
This creates the unique opportunity for apartment operators and individual communities to separate themselves by providing exemplary service to existing residents. It provides the opportunity to give them a completely different experience from what they’ve had at their past apartment homes.
While plenty of creative methods exist in utilizing service to boost retention—and we’ll examine some of them shortly—there are many “easy wins” that can be incorporated into a community’s everyday processes.
Customer service begins at move-in. So many teams dedicate vast amounts of time, marketing dollars and effort to the leasing process but don’t necessarily celebrate the move-in. Designing a campaign around the move-in—even something simple such as a cupcake and happy move-in card—can instill an immediate sense of community for the resident.
After move-in, using a community portal helps keeps residents a step closer to communicating with the team. Keeping the lines of dialogue open and presenting various means of communication—text, email, digital displays, etc.—helps prevent residents from feeling that they’ve been lost in the shuffle.
Resident events are another way to remind residents why they enjoy living at your community. You don’t want to engage with them only when renewal time nears, because if you’ve properly engaged with them throughout the year, that decision oftentimes is already made. Resident events can foster friendships and further assimilate residents with the onsite team. After all, you don’t want ask a stranger if they want to renew with you.
Feature and celebrate your associates on your social pages. Make sure the people who live there—as well as the people who could potentially live there—know the faces of the individuals who work there. It makes them more approachable and provides a snapshot of their background, which helps personalize the relationship with the resident. You want to make sure you’re more authentically engaging on social pages so that everyone feels more connected—even if its subtle.
In addition, when hosting resident events, encourage residents to refer their friends. When people live near their friends, it increases the chance of renewal. Many marketers are familiar with the Witten Advisor Study that found residents are 47 percent more likely to renew if they know seven people at a community. Resident events not only serve as a way to encourage referrals in a social setting, but also assist in acquainting fellow residents. It’s a way to get people to renew without saying “please renew.”
Along those lines, marketing teams also have to be keenly aware of not alienating current residents with any visible campaigns. For instance, you don’t want to post a huge special on social pages that was not available for existing residents.
But it’s not only the marketing team, as retaining residents is a team-wide process. While it might fall on certain channels to varying degrees, the role of a community’s service teams, for instance, is highly magnified. They interact with the residents more than most other associates by going into their homes and helping fix any issues they are experiencing.
Regularly assemble a task force involving all departments in an effort to evaluate their varying resident interactions. As part of that process, speak with the maintenance teams and gather their feedback from the front lines to help determine where you can improve policies and procedures to enhance both associate and resident experiences.
Read (and react) to your reviews
Reviews essentially serve as free market research, featuring genuine, typically unsolicited feedback from your residents. If you’re seeking ways to keep existing residents in the building, this is a good place to start.
Reviews are tricky, because you can’t overreact by providing concessions. This will set the standard that complaints will be rewarded with gift cards or rent discounts. You cannot be overly swayed by singular complaints, either. While you might want to take the necessary steps to make that resident happy, an isolated complaint doesn’t always symbolize a deep-rooted problem.
That being said, themes will oftentimes emerge in reviews. If seven residents complain that the hot water takes too long to arrive, it’s probably worth looking into. Or maybe it’s time to reevaluate your guest parking policy. If your community has an area of concern, odds are it’s going to appear on the review sites. Effectively monitoring these reviews is another way to ensure existing residents don’t feel alienated.
Concentrating on residents already in the building is a win-win. It can reduce the rate of turnover and make life less difficult for leasing agents, who won’t need to attract an insurmountable amount of new prospects, because many of those who they previously attracted and invested in are staying put.
Beth Tuttle is the vice president of marketing for LMC. She is responsible for the recent LMC rebranding efforts as well as collaborating with the LMC marketing team to support predevelopment, marketing and promotion, and reputation management for a national portfolio of new construction projects.