The New Frontier of the Multifamily Customer Experience
Keeping up with the needs and wants of today's renters is critical for success, explains Stephanie Gonzalez of Venterra Realty.
Multifamily has reached a tipping point: Apartment operators can either continue to evolve with consumers and push the boundaries of the renter experience or get left behind in a highly competitive, tech-empowered industry. We’ve reached the new frontier of the multifamily customer experience—an experience that’s rooted in the customer and developed through the lens of the renter.
Consumer behavior patterns have drastically shifted, initiating a new age of renter preferences, expectations and needs. While the industry has always focused on providing exceptional customer service, the parameters of customer service have changed. Renters expect more detailed information online, visually engaging content, tour flexibility, quicker responses and hyper-personalized follow ups. The need for a catered customer experience is happening much earlier in the leasing journey, and it begins the moment a renter begins searching for a new apartment.
A leasing journey that’s geared towards what customers want and need in an apartment search can make a big difference when it comes to new leases, renewals and overall resident satisfaction. Highlighting specific community features are key when attracting and engaging new residents.
Modern renters need to get a sense of the entire community before they tour. They want to see the community layout, exact apartment they’d live in, precise location within the community, views, interior features, proximity to amenities, real-time pricing and availability and more on the website. Operators have been catering to these needs in the form of interactive maps, photo galleries, video tours, 3D floor plans and virtual tours while offering in-person or self-guided tours.
Offering these online visual experiences and multiple ways of touring a community not only provide a more personal apartment search, but also a more enjoyable, productive, and flexible search. Consumers like to do their own research and providing all of this information on multiple online platforms streamlines the decision-making process and gives renters the confidence they need to make a decision.
Incorporating content with visual context, like interactive maps, on a community website helps renters better understand a living experience even before they visit and provides the instant gratification they seek. Conveying this information is crucial to the customer experience as it reduces the time it takes prospective residents to go from interested to committed. Since Venterra Realty started using interactive sitemaps during the search and tour touchpoints, it has reduced that time by 50 percent on average across the portfolio.
Faster Response Time
Now more than ever, consumers have a need for speed. They want instant answers to their questions and immediate resolutions to their problems. Time has become an incredibly powerful factor in measuring the quality of customer interactions. An answer to a prospect’s question might be considered adequate if it arrives within 30 minutes, but disappointing if it is answered 10 minutes later.
Customer satisfaction research consistently shows a positive correlation between faster response times and higher customer satisfaction. According to Forrester Research, “77 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.” Based on McKinsey research, 75 percent of customers expect help within five minutes.
Time is of the essence when it comes to the new expectations of renters. Operators have been leveraging technologies like AI chatbots and automation to field a higher volume of leads in a shorter period of time. These technologies are highly customer-centric. Not only do AI and automation supplement leasing teams by responding to prospects quicker, but they also have the capability to send hyper-personalized information in the follow ups.
Like time, personalization has also become a vital segment of the new customer experience. Trustpilot data found that online conversion rates can improve by roughly 8 percent when consumer experiences are personalized. Consumers want companies to know their preferences and what they’re looking for. This attention to detail really elevates the overall customer experience and lets people know that the company cares about them.
Putting these pieces together, renters have a more informative, personalized, and enjoyable search experience. Even though renters may have different preferences, operators can really cater to a wide range of them—there’s an option for everyone.
The Personal Touch
When all these pieces are in place, it frees up time for leasing teams to focus more on their own customer service and the one-on-one interactions they have with prospects and residents. The truth is, while renters have become more comfortable with self-service leasing, many still want to speak with an expert before signing a lease.
Based on survey responses from NMHC and Grace Hill’s 2022 Renter Preferences Survey Report, 60 percent of respondents noted they prefer to tour with a community representative. Respondents said the benefits of touring with someone are because an expert can answer their questions (92 percent), provide information on the community and neighborhood (62 percent) and highlight home features (42 percent).
At the end of the day, it’s a business that revolves around people. Technology can provide accurate answers faster than a leasing associate, so prospects get the immediate, hyper-personalized responses they desire. They can do their own research and tour on their own time, so they have flexibility. And should someone have a question that requires additional context or empathy, leasing teams are ready and have the time they need to be laser-focused on the person in front of them. Teams have the necessary time to build rapport with prospects and residents and form deeper, long-lasting relationships.
The new frontier of the multifamily customer experience is all about the customer. Creating a leasing strategy through the lens of what renters want enhances the entire apartment search experience, provides a higher caliber of customer services and attracts and retains residents. When adapting to the new expectations of modern consumers, the industry should always ask: what does the renter want?
Stephanie Gonzalez serves as vice president of Innovation at Venterra Realty.