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Employee Engagement

The latest multifamily research and data regarding the impact of employee engagement on resident retention, online reputation, and revenue growth.

Resident Retention: A Lot of Attention for Being #29

According to the 2010 SatisFacts Index, when asked what can be done to improve the community, residents ranked “Social Activities” #29 out of 30. All this hype about being 29th?

Consider this scenario: Ms. Jones is going on Day 3 of being without A/C during a week-long heat wave. She has submitted her service request online and has also called the office. As she looks out her open window, desperately trying to catch a breeze, she sees the property manager directing a couple of maintenance techs on the set up of chairs and tables for this afternoon’s resident pool party. How thrilled do you think Ms. Jones is about the upcoming pool party?

 

Not very. She wonders, “Why is the maintenance team gathered ‘round the pool when there is an HVAC emergency at hand?” An intended perk has now become a slap in the face. Ouch.

 

Social activities should never be the meat and potatoes of a retention strategy. Think of them as gravy. On its own, it tastes good but is not ultimately satisfying. You miss the meat and potatoes when they are not there. In fact, you wonder where they are.

 

Meat and potatoes consist of the residents’ ability to a.) Communicate with your team quickly and easily, and b.) Get service requests resolved promptly the first time they report it. In fact, there is a direct correlation between residents’ outstanding maintenance issues and their likelihood to renew their lease. The more outstanding issues on a property, the less likely the residents are to renew their lease.

 

Idea: As we enter the lease expiration season, more vacant apartments mean more man hours for turnovers. The leasing team is running at top speed and is therefore pressuring the maintenance teams to hand over rent-ready apartments. This pressure means the focus is on turns, and yet the service requests from rent-paying residents don’t slow down. In fact, this is right when A/C season hits, resulting in even more work orders to compete for attention.  The compounding effect means it takes even longer to get to the service requests. And then, just as the service is declining in the eyes of the residents who are waiting for their issue to be resolved, their lease renewal letter arrives in the mail. Not good.    It is critical that perceived value by existing residents be at its highest level when a rent increase awaits them in their mailbox.

 

Look at your resident activity budget. Take a look at how much you are willing to spend on the second-to-last item on your residents' wish list. What if you re-allocated those budgeted dollars to bring on a part time maintenance tech for those heavy turnover months, with the sole purpose of ensuring that service request resolution is not impacted by the increased focus on make-readies? This allows service to remain at an all-important high, which has a significant impact when the resident gets that lease renewal letter.

 

Once you are confident your basic service delivery is performing at the highest level, then by all means bring on the gravy! Until then, let’s serve up those meat and potatoes.

 

Jen Piccotti is the VP Consulting Services for SatisFacts Research, a leading authority on resident feedback and retention programs. www.SatisFacts.com

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Numbers rarely lie. Great way to analyze critical data in order to make proper decisions that will affect residents in the long term. Great post Jen and I love the meat and potato visual.

  Jonathan Saar
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Thanks Jonathan! In the great words of the McDonald's commercial, "Where's the beef?"

  Jen Piccotti
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I have attended a LOT of painfully awkward apartment parties, and if those were my only experience, I would probably rate that experience at 29 out of 30, as well! In other words, I rate based upon my actual experience, not on the potential for a good apartment event. Now, let's say I live at a property that has an outstanding community vibe, great sense of community, and fun events... am I still going to rate it 29th out of 30th? Definitely not, since that experience plays into my emotional assessment of my home, which can be a very powerful thing.

What I'm trying to say is that yes, social events should NEVER come before quality customer service, maintenance, and other essentials. But do I think a quality social program would normally be ranked 29th out of 30th? No. I think instead, that ranking is actually more of a "score" on how well we are currently doing with creating compelling events and a sense of community overall in our industry (on average), not the potential benefit of those elements.

Great blog as always, Jen!

  Brent Williams
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Jen, resident events are what my company does, and I still agree with you. Shocking! All the resident events in the world won't help if you aren't taking care of your residents.

I think so much money is wasted on resident events because the team doesn't know WHY they are doing them, or how to even make them effective. I personally believe a resident event is a nice touch if you express to residents that it is there to show your appreciation. Also if the staff is there to take work order requests or help in other ways. It can be a great touch point for residents you never see after they move in.

Howeve, if you have a service or dedicated staff member that can provide more regular events, that's where you can see the greater potential for people to make new friends. It's really the relationships being built that make people want to stay longer, not a fun event. But I don't know ANYONE who makes a friend after one conversation at a party. In fact, I know few people who remember all of the names of those they met at a bbq. It takes multiple conversations and time spent together to really call someone a friend.

Also, too often residents come and go without talking to anyone or anyone besides the other person they brought along. You have to get them talking to each other. They won't introduce themselves. I have seen people sit across from each other at a very small table and not say a word to each other until I walk up and get them talking. One particular example that comes to mind ended up with a family and two older single ladies sitting and talking for another 45 minutes after they were done eating. If we hadn't gotten them talking, I can guarantee that they would have left within 10 minutes of finishing their food.

My favorite conversation starter is, "Have you all met? No? Well, you should; you're neighbors." It at least gets them started because they ask where the other person lives in the community. And notice that this question doesn't...

Jen, resident events are what my company does, and I still agree with you. Shocking! All the resident events in the world won't help if you aren't taking care of your residents.

I think so much money is wasted on resident events because the team doesn't know WHY they are doing them, or how to even make them effective. I personally believe a resident event is a nice touch if you express to residents that it is there to show your appreciation. Also if the staff is there to take work order requests or help in other ways. It can be a great touch point for residents you never see after they move in.

Howeve, if you have a service or dedicated staff member that can provide more regular events, that's where you can see the greater potential for people to make new friends. It's really the relationships being built that make people want to stay longer, not a fun event. But I don't know ANYONE who makes a friend after one conversation at a party. In fact, I know few people who remember all of the names of those they met at a bbq. It takes multiple conversations and time spent together to really call someone a friend.

Also, too often residents come and go without talking to anyone or anyone besides the other person they brought along. You have to get them talking to each other. They won't introduce themselves. I have seen people sit across from each other at a very small table and not say a word to each other until I walk up and get them talking. One particular example that comes to mind ended up with a family and two older single ladies sitting and talking for another 45 minutes after they were done eating. If we hadn't gotten them talking, I can guarantee that they would have left within 10 minutes of finishing their food.

My favorite conversation starter is, "Have you all met? No? Well, you should; you're neighbors." It at least gets them started because they ask where the other person lives in the community. And notice that this question doesn't include me sharing any personal information about either resident that could get me in trouble.

I'm sorry that this comment is so long, but I've been thinking about this for awhile.

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  Kimberly Lee
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@Brent - I'm all for well-planned, community-building events when the service standard is recognized as being excellent and value-adding. Those events can truly be the cherry on top that gives a property that magic X-Factor (Kimberly gives some great examples of what you're talking about)! The point I want to offer is that value begins with service, and the events only do what you intend them to do when that service is firmly ingrained in the culture already. Thanks for providing additional perspective!

@Kimberly - THANK YOU for sharing this important insight.The "Why" of resident events. I learned at a recent NMHC event that one company found a direct correlation between lease renewals and the number of friends a person had at the property. A resident event to "show the love" may not really accomplish much, but a resident event to "meet your neighbor" where the staff's goal is to facilitate a minimum of 5 resident-to-resident introductions (for example) creates a sense of purpose and a value-add. I love the examples you gave - they illustrate the point so well. If the "Why" for your resident event is "Retention," then it's critical to evaluate whether the service basics are in place first. If they are not, as you said, "All the resident events in the world won't help if you aren't taking care of your residents." Thanks for your comment!

  Jen Piccotti
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Thanks, Jen. I can also say that once these friendships are formed, they can last for a long, long time. We lived in a community for 3 years as a CARES Team, and then a Community Team with our at the time new company. During that time, we got to know so many people. That was FIVE years ago this month, and I'm still receiving email updates on families, birth announcements and unfortunately, this week, the news of the passing of a sweet, sweet lady who was in our Seniors Coffee Group.

When the earthquake and tsunami hit, about twenty of us were frantically emailing from all over the world (Seattle, Texas, Dubai, Italy) to find out if our friends were safe. Thankfully they all were.

Of the friends we made at the last community we were in before we moved to our condo, we keep in contact through facebook updates. We have shared groupons that we think they would like, see pictures of the babies growing up, and even attended and helped with the food at a wedding last month. That couple told us they stayed much longer at that community because of all the friends they had made.

So can residents actually build friendships while they live in an apartment community? I always respond emphatically, "YES!". Does it take work? Another emphatic, "Yes!".

  Kimberly Lee
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I am not surprised by the low ranking, but I'm also curious what percentage of those surveyed live in communities where there are no resident events. Many of our clients with older urban properties have no community amenities, let alone resident events.

On another note, I hold two gigantic parties at my home every year. I find I do a better job with these events than keeping up with my friends on a day to day basis. I'm not surprised it's harder to get the day to day maintenance issues right, and this article is a good reminder to focus on the everyday basics.

  Ellen Thompson
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As to comment on the above of having directing maintenance to set up for a pool party.... I have either came in the night before myself as a manager (who is on salary pay, I understand this might not work for those paid hourly) or early in the morning before work to set up for parties if needed depending on the work day load. This is a very demanding job in which residents, staff and vendors need our attention and there is never enough time in the day for most of us. We have to go above and beyond in this business to stay ahead, and to not only keep the great residents we have but to bring in the new ones also. Take care of your residents 1st, they pay your wages. Manage your time wisely and plan far in advance for the parties. We have a least 3 to 4 a year and have National Night Out in which all the residents are involved. Everyone stays happy this way!

  Kimberly Stanziola
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@Ellen - I don't have the data breakdown to show which respondents live in communities who have events vs. no events, but my personal theory is that it would not make much difference on their resulting opinion. As you point out, it's always a good reminder to focus on those everyday basics!

  Jen Piccotti
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@Kimberly - You are such a perfect example of what our industry is about. Doing the behind-the scenes work before or after hours because there are only so many hours in the day and always so much to do. It IS a demanding job, and when you take care of your residents, especially focusing on those basics, the payoff is significant. Not only in dollars, but in relationships and strong communities! Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  Jen Piccotti

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