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?

Property Management: Money Orders are a Necessary Evil

…I think there an equal amount of people out there that make all the right decisions and still get hit with the downside of adversity.

I am turning to our readers today for some feedback on process.

A lot of renter’s in our communities are one life circumstance away from total financial ruin up to and including losing their apartment. It has given cause for desperate behaviors such as sacrificing their electricity, gas, phone, cable etc. in order to make the rent. In other cases they use creative means such as robbing electricity via extension cords run to your common area outlets in hallways and laundry rooms. It’s amazing what you see out there anymore.

Now one could argue that life choices predicated on fulfilling wants over needs or necessities has contributed to a lot of this and in the same respect I think there an equal amount of people out there that make all the right decisions and still get hit with the downside of adversity.

Our residents are not the only ones faced with making the rent. Many of our employees are waging the same battle month after month. And, sometimes it leads to desperate actions.

That leads me to the premise for my question – money orders left blank by the prospective resident and or current residents paying rent are so very tempting in a desperate time of need. Can you share some of your processes with me as it relates to keeping good people honest. What do you do to keep integrity in the system on your bigger sites where you have six, eight or even ten people working an office and handling money. Specifically, what do you do to make sure these blank money order gems are not used as float to get by to the next pay period? How do you make sure that once an application is taken that it is processed in your property management software asap?

While they are a necessary evil – I have to believe there is a system of handling that keeps theft to a minimum.

Thank you in advance for your considerations and feedback.

Your ready for some economic prosperity friend,

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 Community Amenities: Promote Mystery

In lieu of printing, posted and plastering the thing all over our social media streams

About two months ago we decided to install a dog park at Brookside Apartments – one of our student properties in Carbondale, Ill. In lieu of printing, posted and plastering the thing all over our social media streams – we just let the process play out.

Power in Mystery

After working through the logistics and contract negotiations we settled on a spot and let the construction begin. What happened next was pure entertainment – are you building a pool? Are you building a new building? Volleyball courts? – Wait, it’s too big to be a pool! Arg, what is it? All the common questions begin to filter through the wifi lounge, the community and into our leasing center. That is until we could not take it any more and we disclosed.That said, we learned a real time lesson as it relates to WOM.

Apartment Marketing Stimulants

Tell them but don’t tell them. We have a number of other amenities and improvements that we are doing to this property over the next one to three years with each one major in scope. Taking the lesson from the dog park mystery – we will leave the community to – guess it out – if you will. I can see some cool social media apartment amenity mysteries playing out over Facebook and other social platforms. In the spirit of – give them something to talk about – mystery takes a front seat. And, besides who doesn’t like a great guessing game or mystery? Who can resist talking about it with their friends, family and otherwise? Which is part of the point, right?

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!

Peter is a Patriots Fan – Could he be a Mills Properties Fan?

I stopped Pete mid speech and said, “you’re not a Pariots fan, are you?” He said, “You’re damn right I am, let me tell you a funny story.”

My week was more than eventful – transitioned 1100 new units [what an amazing team we have – so many talented people made this happen], walked a fire unit with an insurance adjuster, experienced two alarms that called for an ambulance and fire truck, handed off a property and talked to a guy named Peter.

Peter was less than happy that the lighting in our parking lot was not as bright as he thought it should be. It rocked that I could tell him that we approved some lighting improvement proposals the day before but he was not satisfied. He really wanted to discuss the fact that the new parking policy was not accommodating for he and his daughter. You see they are taking a trip to Boston next week and past management allowed him to park in the open reserved parking spots for a mere $5 a day. I said, “no worries” – let’s go get you a spot now. “Okay, but did you know the reason that I moved into this apartment was that my employer is right across the street but….at that moment he raised his hand to the sky and exposed an New England Patriots watch. I stopped Pete mid speech and said, “you’re not a Pariots fan, are you?” He said, “You’re damn right I am, let me tell you a funny story.”

Pete went on for the next fifteen minutes [fifteen minutes I really didn’t have but I knew would yield huge dividends] telling me a story about Saint Louis sports teams losing every sporting event they were involved in to a Boston area team during a certain week back in 1994 – he knew it was 94′ as it bared some significance to a major family event. Pete ended his story by telling me that Mills was the best thing that ever happened to the property and that he sees the things we are doing to make the place better. I have to believe it was the fifteen minutes of listening that matter most to Pete.

Is Pete a fan? I venture to say he is still in the wait and see stage but I guarantee you he will be over the next year. And, if the Patriots ever come to town – Pete will have a pair of tickets – on me.

Tell Them How Much You are Moved by the Neighborhood

Don’t tell prospects and residents how much your apartments are – tell them how much you are moved by the neighborhood.

imagesDon’t tell prospects and residents how much your apartments are – tell them how much you are moved by the neighborhood.


velTell them about waking up on a crisp fall morning and taking a run in Forest Park just one block over from your apartment. Tell them about stopping back by Velocity Coffee Shop to have a cup of coffee – served by a friendly Barista named Tracy who rarely smiles but wants to. Tell them about the free copies of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the St. Louis Dispatch. Tell them about the free wifi. And, oh – it’s a bike shop too with cool bike motif everywhere. The bathroom even has a cool chalkboard where you once drew a giant dragon that looked as if it were eating the giant flower someone else drew.

Tell them about Papa John’s pizza and Subway at the end of the block where Tony and Charles remember your name and serve you with a smile. Tell them about Atlas Restaurant located in the heart of the neighborhood and the amazing food and desserts that they serve. Tell them about The Loop and The Central West End [very cool Saint Louis neighborhood hangouts] being just one mile away and don’t forget to mention the friendly cab driver resident who will drive you over while entertaining you with great conversation. Tell them about all the fun nights you had in those neighborhoods.

Tell them about Mr. and Mrs. Wang who own the dry cleaners right next door to Papa John’s and how they wash and fold clothes for $0.75 a pound. Tell them how much you love the fact that each Christmas they give your children big canisters of candy as a thank you for your business.

Tell them about the dog park even if you are not a pet lover – not even in the least.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is the neighborhood that I fell in love with in Saint Louis. Oh yeah, and I lived in a great apartment that overlooked a tree lined street that looks amazing in the fall.

Tell them with conviction how much you love the neighborhood the rest will fall right into place.

Apartment Marketing Idea: You are not Your Apartment Prospect

How about we call this Creating Experience by Walking Around [CEWA]. The real key to remember here is that you are not your customer and in order to understand your customer you must engage and participate with them.

1124847_person_questionI think one of the easiest traps to fall into when marketing to apartment prospects or residents is to think that they want what you want and they will like what you like. It is really easy when you don’t take the time to understand who your customer is and what they value. In order to that you have to be willing to spend time asking questions, trying new things, testing new theories, crushing sacred cows and refining your successes. All in the name of your client’s changing tastes.

Always done it that way

We have all heard the statement that if you keep doing what you have always done expecting a different result – you get the definition of insanity. It’s as true in our space as it is in different industries across America. We keep at it year after year because it’s easy. It’s really hard to go against the grain. It’s really hard to convince the powers that be that giving up tried and true processes is a good thing. Problem with this is that change, if not embraced, will free up your future sooner or later.

The ABC’s of change

In selling ABC stands for Always Be Closing, in understanding that you are not your apartment customer it stands for Always Be Changing. With the advent of the internet came the rapid acceleration of change. In one fell swoop we had every piece of information we could every want at our finger tips. That is not to suggest that it has not taken time to morph our imbued information gathering habits but it is to say it’s not your older brothers world anymore. If you don’t like change you will like irrelevance even less and that is your prize for standing still today.

How do you keep up with your customer

Tom Peter’s popularized  the phrase Management by Walking Around [MBWA], defined by this way;

Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. Also called management by wandering around.

I think it is a fair way think about how to keep up with your customer. We should be interacting with them both on and offline. Here are just a couple of ideas on how to do that;

  • Ask for their opinion any time you see them
  • Hang out where they hang out
  • Eat where they eat
  • Read the magazines, blogs and tweets they read
  • Read the books, ebooks and ezines they read
  • Ask permission to enlist them on your Facebook, MySpace and Tweet pages
  • Participate on their Facebook, MySpace and Tweet pages
  • Shop where they shop
  • Read what they review
  • Ride the buses they ride
  • Frequent the places they work
  • Experience the products and services they like
  • Work out where they work out
  • Ask what keywords they used to find you

How about we call this Creating Experience by Walking Around [CEWA]. The real key to remember here is that you are not your customer and in order to understand your customer you must engage and participate with them. And, make it easy for them to do the same with you.

Apartment Reviews – Reimagined

The more important point here is: how do we increase participation to an Amazonish or iTuneish type level?


Looking back

 Back in October of 2007 we wrote about participating in the conversation via rating sites and even suggested incorporating a mechanism into your property management website to make it easier. Here is a bit of a revised excerpt from that post;

 “If you are still of the mind that dismisses the value of sites like, listen up. The feedback outlined in the brief above [Deloitte] should move you to action as soon as possible. I truly think we should all open up our company websites to include a consumer and resident feedback mechanism. Instead of internal score keeping, make it completely transparent. My only suggesting is that you have an editor just for the sake of carving out names and character attacks as we know they will come despite our best efforts. Even with that in mind you have to be courageous enough to leave the meat and more importantly act on it.”

 Two years later

 Here we are nearly two years later in the midst of the conversation marketing buzz and while a good many of us are participating there is still a hesitancy to move that conversation to our websites. Even those that have don’t really have a great deal of participation in terms of consumers reviewing them.

 Two years from now

 Not only is the writing on the wall but the ink is dry and the conversation is going on with or without you. And, the benefits are immense when you bring the conversation to you;

  •  You have the ability to increase your credibility
  • You have the ability to participate
  • You have the ability to influence
  • You have the ability to increase your Google Juice
  • You have the ability to innovate with your consumer
  • You have the ability to create evangelist
  • You have the ability to generate further participation
  • You have the ability to create loyalty
  • You have the ability to create an environment where people feel they are part of something larger than themselves
  • You have that ability to respond in lieu of react [there is a big difference]

The more important point here is: how do we increase participation to an Amazonish or iTuneish type level? Do we ask former potential, existing or former residents to review their experience relative to their specific unit such that every unit takes on its very own unique rating? Would that allow us to price higher rated homes differently than lower rated homes. I see it as a great mechanism to allow us the opportunity to really maximize our rents. Maybe the lease rent optimizers out there employee a unit rating lever into their pricing algorithms. The ideas are endless – acting is the key.



All in the name of savings

You have undoubtedly heard of maximizing your mortgage payment by paying 1/2 of your payment every two weeks in lieu of once a month. The fact is you would pay one full payment more in the year than if you paid the traditional way.

Well with that in mind what if we as owner/managers partnered with a local community bank and promoted; All in the Name of Savings.

The promo would encourage people to pay 1/2 of their rent every two weeks thus creating a surplus that we would match $1 for $1 up to $200 or whatever we deem. And, if they renew with us what if we deposit their concessions dollars in their savings account in lieu of giving them rent credits.

With electronic payments becoming more mainstream, it could catch on.

Tell me what you think by clicking [here]