Apartmentalize Special Report: Best Practices for Optimizing Leasing, Marketing

Panelists offered insights on how to best utilize AI and marketing tools to refine customer engagement methods.

NAA conference attendee
Image courtesy of NAA

High-level planning, choosing the right strategies and being equipped with the proper tools can help operators improve processes for their residents, prospects and staff, experts at Apartmentalize 2024 said.

Throughout the conference, industry players proposed ways to revamp marketing strategies, build relationships with prospective residents and utilize artificial intelligence.

Connection, connection, connection

How can marketers build a strong connection with prospects? It takes more than stock photography, said Josh Draughn, vice president of marketing and customer experience at Weidner Apartments. By creating a unique website for your property, you can make an impression on prospective residents, even if you don’t have a big marketing team or budget. These sites can represent a brand or community in a unique and memorable way.

A community site that includes art or the history of your building can help you build that connection with prospective residents, said Draughn. This was the idea behind Weidner’s “For the Love of Cities” campaign, in which the company took photos of community staff members and their families on site and used these for their website.

In this role, the team members effectively function as brand ambassadors for their company. The campaign led to more people recommending the site, said Draughn, with website visitors spending 24 percent more time on the website and cost-per-lease decreasing 14 percent.

Prospect priorities

When it comes to tours, marketers should also focus on building a connection. Unit-level tours with the ability to customize furniture layout and other elements are more valuable in helping prospects do that. According to a RentCafe.com survey of more than 10,000 renters, 83 percent of prospects said that virtual tours of floorplans are important or very important.

NAA session audience
Image courtesy of NAA

“In the past, they could look at any one-bedroom unit, but now they can look at the actual unit and see where it is in the building,” shared Israel Carunungan, chief marketing officer of LCP Media. Prospects who have virtually toured your available units already know which one they want to sign a lease when they get to the leasing office. It’s a game-changer because you’re qualifying prospects and generating leads, Carunungan added.

Whether you use a smartphone or a professional camera is less important than timing. The best time to record virtual tours is during the turn process, as it is being prepared for future residents, because the unit is in near-perfect condition. Your maintenance staff is already in the unit, so training them to record the tours will not only save time but also give them a new skill set.

Encouraging engagement

AI’s impact continues to be a recurring conference topic, with panelists sharing insights and tips for chatbot integration to maximize prospect engagement and alleviate the leasing staff’s workload.

NAA conference photo
Image courtesy of NAA

The biggest value of chatbot interaction is the ability to schedule appointments without a leasing agent having to do it manually. Both Diana Norbury, senior vice president of multifamily operations with Pillar Properties, and Anne Baum, director of marketing at Towne Properties, noted that conversion rates at their properties increased after they implemented chatbot technology.

“Especially in cases where our staffing model is one person for multiple properties, this allows us to give our prospects a consistent communication experience through automation,” explained Baum.

Timing is everything

The benefits to resident and staff are clear: residents have the convenience of scheduling appointments on their own time without having to wait for a response, while leasing staff are relieved of some of the mundane tasks and can focus on the human-touch side of the resident experience.

There’s also a risk of losing a prospect, such as someone who schedules an appointment late at night for early the next morning but doesn’t get a confirmation in time. At Towne Properties, 47 percent of prospects get in touch with the leasing office after hours. “There are times when an appointment would not have happened if the bot hadn’t been the one that was immediately engaging and responding,” said Norbury.

To help residents get the most benefit from these tools, it’s vital to train your leasing staff to enhance the bot’s role and make interactions less cold. For one, giving your bot a name is a way to tie it to your brand, said Baum.

With the help of bots, leasing roles are evolving to be less focused on organization and technical skills. Enabling your bot to initiate the identity verification process before a prospect comes in to tour can streamline the process.

Back to basics

 “We’re going back to what the leasing role used to be,” said Tyler Lucas, director of marketing technology for Gates Hudson. “Now we can hire for people who have that great personal touch.” Norbury has also noticed that her teams are less overattentive to their platform queues, which has led to a better customer experience.

In an industry that struggles with high turnover, a bot can fill the gaps in leasing teams. “Can you leverage automation so you don’t force hire or rush into hiring somebody?” moderator Paul Yount, an industry principal at Yardi, asked panelists during an AI-focused discussion. AI can excel because it can learn much faster than a human, making it easier to set up if your team suddenly shrinks or if you have a smaller staffing model. “It’s so much faster to onboard AI. It’s always reaching out and it’s doing it faster than any of us can,” said Lucas.

It all boils down to a more personalized experience that becomes possible because leasing teams can respond to their prospects and residents more quickly and accurately.

Despite the bot being advanced, you still need to monitor it to see where there may be areas for improvement. “Sometimes it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, and that’s OK,” said Baum, “because we’re able to identify that and fix it.”

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