THE MAGAZINE FOR PROFESSIONALS

Everybody Happy?

Paula Hubbs Cohen

Red model house on green grassApartment residents remain concerned with a broad range of customer satisfaction issues but, far and away, the immediate opportunity to improve customer service and resident satisfaction levels is by addressing dissatisfaction with on-site staff responses to resident concerns.”

So says Joseph Batdorf, president of Houston-based J Turner Research, a company that specializes in developing and executing research services for multifamily owners/operators of both student and conventional apartment communities.

MISSION-CRITICAL COMMUNICATION

Recently, J Turner Research tracked and, subsequently analyzed, a variety of apartment resident complaints as part of the company’s examination of 10,000 customer service surveys.

“The results were unequivocal—resident relations with apartment community staff are one of the key focus areas resulting in concerns that ultimately impact community reputation management and online ratings and reviews,” Batdorf says.

RENTAL RATES TOPS THE LIST

However, while residents are definitely concerned with on-site customer service from both management and maintenance staffs the company’s analysis showed that, not surprisingly, apartment residents are more likely to complain about rental rates than any other issue.

In fact, according to J Turner Research, rental rates were more than twice as likely to be mentioned compared to concerns over the often-personalized and much-ballyhooed issue of pet waste. In addition, rental rates were almost three times more likely to be highlighted than concerns about noise.

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION = POSITIVE ONLINE REVIEWS

According to Batdorf, another area where apartment owners and managers can likely make an impact on customer satisfaction—particularly when it comes to how a community’s curb appeal ranks on online ratings and reviews—is by the timely completion of any deferred maintenance, appliance upgrades or amenity, and common-area improvements.

“We’re certainly beginning to see an industry-wide pattern where communities with the highest levels of customer satisfaction also benefit from the best online ratings and reviews,” he says. “As reputation management strategies in multifamily [housing] continue to evolve, ongoing measurement of customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction remains a critical tool for evaluating the effectiveness of initiatives designed to improve customer service.”

MOBILE FEEDBACK

Speaking of improving your customer service, residents’ perception of poor customer service is often skewed because most property managers are unable to conduct detailed daily inspections of their entire property. Therefore, the customer service issue becomes actual awareness of a problem, says Adi Bittan, cofounder and CEO of OwnerListens, a Palo Alto, California-based company that offers mobile feedback collection and communication tools for business owners. To help with a broader scope of awareness, she says that her firm recommends soliciting feedback from all property constituents via Short Message Service (SMS) and other mobile methods.

“Especially in public areas, residents will assume someone else complained, and things can linger for a while before management knows about it,” Bittan says. “Therefore, the key to [good customer service and] fixing these issues is knowing about them early, before residents get frustrated and complaints get louder. If you make it easy to reach out to you, residents will do the inspecting for you. Properties that can react quickly to these complaints can address them before things deteriorate, and can keep their properties looking professional and well-kept at all times.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

So what are the takeaways? Listen: Residents want to be heard. Respond: Take prompt action on complaints. React: Understand and manage real-time social media resources.


THE HIGH REWARD OF LOW-COST COLOR OPTIONS

Lobbies and common areas are the welcome mat of a building. It’s important that they’re kept looking clean and fresh so that residents are actually happy and even proud to return home at the end of the day.

One of the most cost-effective ways to enhance common areas is paint. For the cost of a couple of gallons of paint, you can breathe life into an overlooked space with new color. Plus, the care you give to this space may enhance resident perception of your property and the level of maintenance you provide.


USABILITY AND BRANDING COMPLAINTS

Adi Bittan of OwnerListens puts most complaints into one of two categories:

USABILITY: Problems that interfere directly with customer enjoyment and/or utilization of the facility

BRANDING: Problems that make the business or its brand look bad, unprofessional and/or uncaring

“There is, of course, some overlap,” she says, “but generally speaking, usability complaints are more common because they are of a more urgent nature.”

Some of the top usability and branding complaints that Bittan lists include:

• Poor or inadequate signage
“The building’s management already knows the building well, so it seems obvious to them how to get around. They only find out about it [problems with signage] from resident complaints. The best way to fix it is getting customers to walk through, and observing them. Once you observe the problem, changing or adding some signs is easy to do.”

• Bad reception and/or WiFi
“Cell phone and WiFi reception are now an essential utility. It’s not a ‘nice to have’—it’s a ‘must have,’ and there must be signs displayed clearly about the network name and password, if any.”

• Insufficient electrical outlets
“People are more connected than ever, which means more devices, chargers, etc. Many commercial properties were built before so many devices became part of our lives. If a building does not provide enough outlets, residents start to hack their own solutions, which can be dangerous.”

• Dirty environment
“Trash laying around, stained carpets, etc., are instantly noticeable by residents. It reflects poorly on their brand and they know it.”


Everybody-Happy

—Source: J Turner Research

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