“There is a ton of technology, a ton of software programs, targeted to this industry, to the extent of being overwhelming and annoying,” said Sanders, vice president of marketing and training at Hollywood, Fla.-based Cornerstone Group.
“Prioritize your goals. Identify software that’s going to help you with those goals. What are your three top objectives? Revenue generation? Expense control? Employee management? There’s software for all of those goals.”
Another way to differentiate may be by allocating technology dollars to the tools most likely to have the greatest impact upon the industry in the near term.
Among major technology forces just starting to impact the industry is social media management. “Social media management is the act of managing your Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare pages,” Sanders says, noting at least 30 social media avenues are important to the multifamily industry.
Managing social media also means providing updated information, engaging information and information that motivates renters to become or remain residents of your properties. “There are companies getting into the social media management in the multifamily industry,” Sanders says. “And then there are some companies, like Cornerstone Group, that hire social media managers, who sit in cubicles full-time and tweet, blog and post on Facebook about the company, or more likely, its communities.”
Another key technology development will be the growing use of tech tools to monitor and measure a major refocus on customer service, Sanders asserts. The result of a mix of a struggling economy and steady tech advances, this trend is evidenced in the use of online services to help property management firms with phone monitoring, property shopping services and resident surveys.
“The dollar is a lot more precious to the resident today, meaning he or she has higher expectations of property management companies,” Sanders says. “Multifamily companies can monitor customer service and respond far more quickly to customer service issues with today’s technology.”
For instance, if a resident posts something less-than-flattering online about her renting experience, the social media manager can bring it to the attention of Sanders, who can quickly and personally address the issue with the resident. “The resident comes away impressed that we follow up,” he says.
High-tech solutions were once the exclusive realm of bigger players in the multifamily industry. But with economies of scale helping trim prices, smaller companies can gain access to technology formerly beyond their means.
That’s the case at Nashville, Tenn.-based Freeman Webb Inc., a 31-year-old privately held company with about 13,000 properties in three Southeast states.
Director of Property Management Daniel P. Ford points to revenue management software, which his company will roll out this year, as well as a more advanced resident portal and a dedicated iPad leasing app, as tech tools on the horizon for Freeman Webb. In addition, “doing away with manual reporting instead of doing everything online is what we’re looking at longer term,” he says.
At Chicago-based RMK Management Corp., with 25 properties and about 9,000 units across Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, Executive Vice President Diana Pittro reports technology is utilized at every level.
“There are companies like ours that over the past 12, 18 or 24 months have rolled out social media software programs that allow them to talk to all prospects and residents through an email blast, mobile application or social media,” she says. “We’ve also rolled out a technology program related to utility billing, where residents can go online, see their accounts and pay online, and another program that allows them to pay rent online, and do it via a direct debit, check or credit card.”
While she loves the new property management technology available, Pittro has one major beef with many of the applications: “There is still work to be done in the back-end analytics to allow building owners to see if a new lease is the direct result of a specific technology tool.”
The tech tools coming to the forefront these days aren’t necessarily cheap. But investing in them pays off if you’ve aligned the software or other technology with your goals. The payoff should begin in the first three months, Sanders says.
The essential consideration is that once you’ve acquired the technology tools, you must be dedicated to implementing them, to putting manpower behind them, and above all, to following up and reviewing their performance.
“Often companies implement new software, and say, ‘Oh, isn’t this great,’” Sanders says. “But they don’t follow up on it to ensure its return on investment. You must have expectations of what it will accomplish, regularly judge it against those expectations, and not just part of the way. If I’m paying for something to be implemented, I’m going to judge it for its full run.”