How’s My Service?

We’ve all seen one of one of those How’s My Driving stickers on the back of a truck.

They seem to care but do they really?

My boyfriend recently ordered my birthday present online from a popular home and garden store. I won’t disclose the name, but let’s just say it rhymes with Shmowe’s.  Anyway, he ordered it through their In-Store Pick-Up service so that he could pick it up from a store near me while he was visiting for my birthday, but when he went to pick it up, it wasn’t there. He was told that someone was supposed to be in charge of calling him to let him know it hadn’t arrived yet, but apparently they forgot, and they would have to call him back Monday. When they didn’t call, he called them, only to continue to get the run around. Almost a week later, the item showed up at his home (in a completely different state than where he had requested to pick it up). The only solution customer service would offer was for him to return it to the nearest store (40 minutes from his house) and have me re-buy it from the store where it was originally supposed to go. Only when he went to the store to return it, they couldn’t access his order in their system and refused to give him his money back. After spending almost an hour in the store dealing with several different store associates and managers, and becoming infuriated, he was given his money back.  Needless to say, after their complete lack of help and horrible customer service in dealing with his issue, he would not be re-buying anything from any other ‘Schmowes’ store.

No matter how bad his issue became, not one person was willing to become solely responsible to insure he received call backs and verify that the matter was corrected and the customer was satisfied. Instead, he was given different answers from several different people and given the run around to the point where it ended up losing them two customers (both him and myself), and potentially more because apparently he was not the only person in their customer service line who had issues with their online in-store pick-up program (and of course all of you reading this who don’t want to take the chance of this happening to you).

The point of all this is that I work for Mills, a fairly large company that relies mostly on our site teams to handle property specific customer service issues. However, we recently added a resident relations position to our portfolio for those times when an issue reaches the level that the above mentioned story reached. This person is specifically responsible for getting to the bottom of such issues and working directly with the resident until the issue is resolved. This has become a great asset to our company and I believe that no matter how big or small the company, there should be some type of position similar to this available for customers.

Do you have a program in place to insure that customer issues never get out of control? Any tips on what has been most effective?

MultiFamily Blogging: Letter to The MultiFamily News Editor

Dear Diana Mosher,
Lost Me
I recently read a MHN blog post titled: Who Owns the Residents’ Experience? and I found myself a bit taken aback on a multitude of fronts. In the vein of pure professional and constructive feedback, I think posts of this nature demand a little more homework to include some real world example as a way of backing up key statements.
Left Me to Question

The article carries an interesting perspective but I think it’s a bit off as it relates to the property management world across the American landscape. So many of the REITs and privately held firms have made problem solving central to every role in the organization. Be it the Porter, Leasing Consultant, Property Manager and every position in between. And, they have been doing so for as far back as I can remember.
For example, when I worked for Equity Residential, we kept a lock box stocked with gift cards from various businesses around our community and the entire team had authority to “make it right” with any person who did not feel we were Making Life Easy [A thoughtful Equity tagline] for them. The team also had access to the use of concession monies if necessary. In that respect, it was not just the L.C. that owned the relationship, it was every member of the team, no matter the circumstance. Issues that made it to the home office were very rare and very extreme in nature.
Now that is not to suggest that there were not thresholds with regard to how much you gave away to right a wrong but the point is every person on the team was not just empowered but expected to take care of the people who spent both time and money with us.
On the point of pay; the lead and subsequent statements make it seem like the industry short pays leasing professionals in an effort to cause high turnover. I’m fairly certain that is not the case and maybe I just misunderstood the statement. In my own experience, I see L.C.s who make in advance of A.M.s and P.M.s in some cases. I think it really depends on the various comp structures out there. This point in the article does not seem to be well researched and is validated a bit by the qualifying remark in the lead paragraph.
As for churn and burn; I think this position more times than not is a stepping stone for other industries.  In my own experience, I’ve lost some great people to getting their degree in a discipline outside of the property management world. In essence, many good people use the position to earn some very good money while they go to school. Others work it until they figure out what they want to do when they grow up. And, rarely do I see an L.C. move into a corporate marketing role. Another point in the post where I yearned to see the premise.
Any more, P.M. firms are shopping the market for professionals outside the industry who bring a very diverse marketing discipline to the table. It goes way beyond most L.C.s capacity, background or wherewithal. Not to suggest it never happens but it is more of a rarity than a normal course of business.
To close, I very much enjoy the content provided by your magazine but this one fell a bit short.

Your Left Wanting Loyal Reader,
Mike Brewer

Apartment Leadership – Your Answer May Not be the Only Answer

I read a story today that held a lesson too important not to share. The overarching premise related to creative solutions for business problems. The key lesson being that just because you [leaders] don’t get the answer you are looking for does not mean the answer is not an acceptable solution for the problem.

Allow me to take you back to my childhood for a second to bring this point home. I grew up on a farm just South of a small town on the Eastern Plains of New Mexico. The summers, outside of crazy boring chores, were packed with a ton of down time.  My only mode of transportation were two wheels straddled by a frame, two peddles and a seat. It was four miles along the highway to the edge of town and another four to my nearest friend. Needless to say, I was not jumping at the chance to make the trip very often.

Both of my parents worked so my sister and I were left to make the best of each day. Days that included a long list of chores to complete before they made it home. On one occasion that list included a request for me to pull an acre of weeds no less than four feet tall [exaggerated for emphasis]. A project that wold have taken the better part of two days to accomplish [no exaggeration on this point].

Now I don’t claim to be any more resourceful than the next guy or gal but I can say that if there is a more efficient way to do something, trust that I am going to find it. In this instance, I went next door and asked by neighbor if I could borrow a few of his healthiest farm animals to assist in my assignment. He agreed and it took them the better part of a half-day to complete the project. They mowed the weeds right down to the dirt and in many cases pulled them out by the root. Needless to say, I was very proud of my accomplishment and could not wait to share it with my step-father.

“What were you thinking? I asked you to PULL the weeds,” he thundered upon my sharing. I was shocked. Devastated. And, angry. Why was my solution any less effective than his alternative? The reason according to the story I read this morning was because it was not his desired solution.

Getting to the point, how many times in our property management careers have we been put off or put back by resourceful thinkers that get things done in a different or better fashion than you. Do you coach them as it relates to your desired solution? Did you coach out of an underlying premise of frustration or anger? Here are some things to think about if you are in this crowd of thinkers:

1. Are you stalling creativity?

2. Are you screening out innovation?

3. Are you killing a free thinking environment?

4. Are you killing moral?

5. Are you losing good people?

Photo Credit: conversations.nokia.com

Influence: Consider this…

The next time you serve a fellow employee, vendor, prospect or resident by way of your thoughts and actions – consider this:

The next time you serve a fellow employee, vendor, prospect or resident by way of your thoughts and actions – consider this:

Please share the stories that come to mind from the video in the comment section below…

Influence: That resident in 205 is such a….

Influence has a new name: Always On! Be Mindful of your surroundings as you are always influencing…

Over the course of the last two weeks I have picked up coffee at two different Starbucks locations in Saint Louis, Missouri. On one occasion I sipped my freshly poured coffee and listened to a Barista belittle management over a time clock issue. It quickly struck me that there was a total ill regard for those who were in ear shot of the conversation. It was as if the customers in the room were deaf to her words, somehow shielded by an invisible sound deadening shroud.

No less than three days later I sipped coffee and listened as three Barista’s took turns making fun of various customers that had made their way in over the course of the day. As each story ended and the next began, the Baristas seemed to take on an almost perversive sense of pride in their topping of one another. It ended only when a customer entered the door and made their way to the counter to make an order. It really took me aback and in the same respect, it gave me recall to times when I sat on-site and poked fun at residents. Many times with frustration over events that just transpired.

The worst instance happened while working in San Francisco back in the early 2000’s. It was right around the time that the dot.com bubble burst. The fall out drove two bedroom apartment rents from $4100 a month to $1750 nearly overnight. It was mayhem. My days consisted of back to back one to two hour meetings with existing lease holders who were locked in to twelve month leases paying top market rate. All looking to negotiate a rate reflective of the street. Or, in many cases looking to get out altogether. Somewhere in month three I encountered a resident who not only tested my every nerve with personal jabs and barbs but managed to get me over the edge. I stood my ground, prevailed and puffed my chest as she stormed out of the office in defeat. I turned to make my way back to my office and piped up with “that resident in 205 is a real…,” – the about the time I was going to drop the adjective of all adjectives, I hear [in a voice so familiar it make the hair on the back of my neck stand to attention] – “careful.”

It was the resident. She made her way back into the office to, of all things, apologize for her behavior. I will say, if not by her grace or the one who governs the universe, I would have been toast that day. And, these were the days prior to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin…

Takeaway: Influence has a new name: Always On! Be Mindful of your surroundings as you are always influencing [Starbucks Barista’s – if I didn’t like the coffee so much, I would move to Panera] – if you would not want it repeated as front page news – it’s likely best left unsaid.

Apartment Marketers – Stop the C[r]ap

At the risk of causing discord with the fine people over at Mid-America – I have to ask, is it really worth it?

I ran across Stop the Cap this evening while reading some blog post and Google alerts. At the risk of causing discord with the fine people over at Mid-America – I have to ask, is it really worth it? I recognize the value in exclusive marketing relationships and revenue shares and advocate them myself but this one seems very anti-resident. In jest, I kind of wish I had a few Mid-America communities in my various sub-markets, I could use a few occupancy points.

Maybe the story has it all wrong and if so my apologies for drawing a spotlight to it. However, if it is valid the following excerpt really sums up the downside:

Mid-America earns a significant kickback bonus from Comcast for mandating cable service on all of its renters.  That upsets many renters who choose not to have cable service, or subscribe to a satellite provider like DirecTV or DISH.  The $40 fee doesn’t go away if you don’t want the service.  Earlier in July, Stop the Cap! covered Mid-America’s mandatory cable service introduction in other parts of Tennessee and Texas.

My question comes in the context of an era of social media – did anyone consider the potential for bad buzz?

What does the community think? Good idea? Bad idea? Other points?

Be gentle –

Apartment Marketing: Gather the Group

Over the next month or so, I will be reaching out to some of our apartment Facebook friends asking if I can  enlist them in a virtual ongoing open feedback Tell Dell like mechanism. The intent is to prompt the forum in the coming weeks, months and years as we move forward in building out Mills Properties improved web strategy. The friends are coming from a mix of our like pages that span across our 43 communities [Note: not all are published as of this writing] in Saint Louis. The only catalyst to their selection is  – on balance – they participate more than others. Our real hope – as part of a much larger strategy – is to build on the success of others in and out of our industry by including consumers in the process.  That said, it never ceases to amaze me just how easy it really is to get acquainted anymore. This quote below is part of a response I got to reaching out just this past week –

…..been here just over 5 years and really like it. My main interests include Conservative talk shows and Trance/Techno music. Odd combination……

I can’t wait to get some discussion going with this resident. 5 years – can you imagine the change she/he has seen in five years? Can you imagine the potential value he/she might add on the premise of that 5 years of history?

What are you doing to leverage the power of your networks?

Apartment Leasing: The Friendly Factor

How much is unfriendly costing you?

Short and sweet post today – could have been a tweet but really looking for a comment or two on the subject.

So here it is –

How much is unfriendly costing you?

I wish I could suggest that this post was inspired by an experience of mine outside this industry but it was not. It was inspired by a couple of emails I received this week suggesting as much about our firm. Yikes! But but but… In my position – it is sometimes hard to separate the juiced up aggressive nature of a hostile prospect or resident who just had a bad day and or the position of the – more times than not -pushed to the limits on-site leasing and management heros. My bias always leans to the on-site team and in the same breath I would say – I have read some compelling prospect and resident statements that made me wonder. That said, it all comes down to delivery – in my opinion.

More times than not – the statement: they are not friendly – comes up.

So, I wonder – How much is unfriendly costing you?

And, have a very friendly day –

Also, a quick shout out to the NAA bound folks from the Multi-family world. Have a great week in NOLA –

Apartment Internet Marketing – Entertainment

Consumers in the age of new media have grown accustom to a very high set of standards that sites like; Facebook, Google and Twitter have imbued on their minds. At the core of these standards there are three apparent consumer behaviors.

This is the third installment of a five part series based on a recent emarketer survey. In part one we discussed the concept of Exclusivity. Part two spoke to the idea of Education. Today we discuss: Entertainment as it relates to Apartment Internet Marketing.

Here is the chart for reference:

Reasons for Friending or Following Companies Through Social Media According to US Consumers, December 2009 (% of respondents)

What is Entertainment?

Princeton defines entertainment as; an activity that is diverting and that holds the attention. There is no doubt that we are living in an attention economy today. And, the key point to this economy is that  the consumer has choice. Consumers have near holistic control over the spend side of the attention equation when it comes to on-line activities. As such, goods and service providers are left to tailor their offerings to meet a new set of standards and expectations. Attention is the currency of today’s consumer and they will only agree to give it up if it is in exchange for they perceive as having value.

Value Exchange

While it is a race to attract a consumers’ attention, it is in the same respect just as, if not more, important to keep it once you have it. One way to do that is to entertain your audience. Two great examples of this from the blogging world are Perez Hilton and TMZ. TMZ ranked number one in the most popular blogs of 2009 – I contend for the absolute entertainment value it exudes. For their massive audience there is a willingness to give up time and attention because of the exchange they receive in the way of value [entertainment].

Consumer Expectation

Consumers in the age of new media have grown accustom to a very high set of standards that sites like; Facebook, Google and Twitter have imbued on their minds. At the core of these standards there are three apparent consumer behaviors. First and foremost, I think it fair to say that we as a population have grown much more impatient in that we want our information now and we want it delivered our way. Second, I think it fair to say that we have grown very intolerant in that if a good or a service does not meet our expectation – we vote by not returning and moreover we tell our friends about it. And, finally we expect and demand trust. Our ability to sniff out the BS has gone hyper and as such we return to the things we can trust most. Now I’m going to step out on a limb here and look at these things in aggregate and contend that their essence is entertainment.

Offer it and they will come

I contend that if apartment internet marketers get these things right – we will have created an activity that diverts and holds attention. I write that presupposing an understanding that content is king here – the content has to be compelling. But, I am considering that a given. The point I am attempting to get across is that entertainment is a key concept in working up to that thing we are all after. That thing we will discuss in the final post of the series. But, not before we pen our thoughts on one last concept. We will have that out in a few days.

Until then – make this a compelling and entertaining week.

Apartment Internet Marketing – Exclusivity

Came across an interesting survey at over at emarketer that spoke to the want’s of social following. The results were captured in the following chart:

Reasons for Friending or Following Companies Through Social Media According to US Consumers, December 2009 (% of respondents)

Using this chart as a catalyst, we are going to do a five part series titled: The Five E’s of Apartment Internet Marketing. The overarching premise will be playing to the want’s of would be apartment Facebook, Twitter and other social medium friends. We start the series with Exclusivity.

What is Exclusivity?

Exclusivity can be defined as the sole right to a specific business function. AT&T’s exclusive right to market the iPhone is likely the most paramount example of this. Beyond that there is a huge push by aggregators to secure exclusive rights to content. We have seen this with the likes of Harvard Business Review striking a deal with an aggregator and Steven Covey striking a deal for distribution on Amazon’s Kindle. These are mass examples of exclusivity but the concept can be applied to things as simple as white papers. In this case the exclusivity comes in the way of getting for giving or more specifically, give me your email address and I will give you the white paper. It’s exclusive in the sense that not everyone would be willing to give personal information to get.

Value Exchange

The overarching point is that exclusivity has a give and take scenario baked in. You give up Sprint to get the iPhone, you give up buying from B&N and buy a Kindle so you can read Covey, you give up personal information to get information. The goods, services, experience or information requires an action on the part of the consumer and guess what, it’s the overriding reason they friend brands. They want to learn about specials, sales, etc..

Consumer Expectations

Human beings have a few things in common – one being the innate need to feel important, wanted or needed. When we apply that fact to the concept of exclusivity we can clearly see that the perception of being a part of what could be considered an elite group is compelling. We own an iPhone so we can feel cool. We read the HBR so we can feel cool. We read the latest Covey book so we can feel cool. We found our apartment on Craigslist and it was a great deal so we feel cool. Consumers are willing to give up stuff and things to feel important, wanted or needed – all day long.

Offer it and they will come

As it applies to Apartment Internet Marketing in the context of social mediums – more times than not, if you offer it they will come. Now, before I go on, I am not suggesting that you can just put any old thing out there and expect participants to join in, you have to work it. You have to willing to commit to listening, joining in, trying, failing, retooling and trying again. Otherwise it’s all for naught. I am suggesting, however, that if you do things as simple as offering a rent concession to the resident that increases your fan page base the most, or something we eluded to awhile back with tryvertising, or simply setting up a kiosk in your lobby set with twitter and facebook and asking anyone that walks in the door to friend you – you will gain an audience. However, it does not stop here…

…in part two of this series we will talk about what to do with that audience: Education

In the mean time, feel free to continue the Exclusivity conversation by leaving us a comment below.

And, have a compelling day!