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Your Residents Don’t Deserve Customer Service

Early in my Property Management career, I attended a class to learn how to achieve a perfect score on a mystery shop. The concept was easy enough, do all of the things listed on the form correctly and get a perfect score. It sounded great in theory but putting it into practice in the real world was another story.

Not long after the class a mystery shopper called my community and I was the lucky duck who answered the phone. The call was straightforward; a 2-bedroom needed within 30 days and the caller’s price range was right in line with our rents. During the call, it occurred to me that this could be the mystery shop I was told would take place shortly after the training. It was then that I sat up a little straighter in my seat, put an even bigger smile on my face and proceeded to rack up every point possible.

The subsequent tour was even better and although I rocked the presentation and wowed the “prospect” with my vast knowledge of the community, I wasn’t the least bit deterred when she refused to lease. Her reason at the time was “wanting to look at a few other places”; textbook excuse for a mystery shop, right? I attempted to close on her once more, feigned disappointment and promised to follow up. I made sure to send her a nicely written thank you card and called her twice to ensure I didn’t miss any points for follow-up.

A few weeks later, I received my score and wouldn’t you know it – it was perfect! I was basking in the glow of self-satisfaction when I noticed there was one single, solitary box checked “NO” on the form. The box was next to the following question: Did the Leasing Associate do or say anything to make your visit “extraordinarily” memorable? Aside from achieving a perfect score and making sure I got all of the questions correct, what else could I have done or said to be extraordinarily memorable? Although the question did not have a point value, it irked me that there was a “NO” on my absolutely perfect mystery shop.

Fast forward five years, I had long since left the leasing floor and was in my current position as Director of Marketing and Training. I was asked to troubleshoot a community with traditionally strong numbers who had a recent and sudden drop. I looked at everything top to bottom and couldn’t pinpoint the issue. Then I reviewed their “Why No Lease” report and discovered they were losing leases to a nearby competitor. I decided to visit the community to see if they held any particular advantage over us.

On my way to the community, the rain started pouring, hard enough so to make me think twice about taking a tour. As I arrived, the sky opened up and I had to make a mad dash for the shelter of the Leasing Center. I was greeted by an Associate who introduced herself and began the usual routine of gathering my information and telling me about their availability. So far, nothing special I thought to myself, as we left on our tour. The Associate was nice enough to loan me an umbrella as the rain was still coming down.

The apartment home was clean and comparable to what we were offering. In fact, everything about them was comparable to our community. I still could not understand why someone would prefer them over us. As we returned to the Leasing Center, the Associate asked me if I was ready to lease and I gave her the usual “still looking” response. She pleasantly thanked me for stopping by, especially in the rain. I shook her hand and turned toward the front door. Before I reached to open the door, the Associate stopped me and said “Here take this”, as she handed me the umbrella. Completely caught off guard, I responded “Are you sure?” to which she said “Of course. You’re going to need it more than me”. I was absolutely stunned as I said thank you and walked to my car.

I sat in my car for a few minutes thinking about what had just happened. Offering an umbrella to a guest on a rainy day seemed like a courteous thing to do however it was totally unexpected. It takes a lot to catch me off guard and she did just that. It was extraordinarily memorable…she was extraordinarily memorable, which in turn made the community extraordinarily memorable. We always talk about customer service and going the extra mile for our residents, but when it actually happens it’s like an uppercut that you never saw coming.
Our training focus for the following year centered on two words: Customer Astonishment. We needed to move away from customer service and establish higher standards for our teams. Our residents deserved more than service; they deserved to be astonished. Stunned by how well their needs are met, amazed at how professionally we manage their communities and dumbfounded at why anyone would choose to live elsewhere. We raised our standards across the board and provided the necessary tools to help them succeed. Our communities jumped on board and many created their own Customer Astonishment campaigns.
Now, while we don’t always get “YES” checked in that box on our mystery shops, our teams are making a conscious effort to recognize an opportunity to be extraordinarily memorable.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hi Lia,

I love this blog... our company has a +1 philosophy that we try and instill to our colleagues, this is a great example of that. Customer Astonishment is a great way to really verbalize +1! While I'll come up with my own phrasing, your blog really got me thinking on how we can raise our bar!

Thanks for sharing

Tara

  Tara Furiani
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks Tara - I'm glad you enjoyed the blog and found it interesting enough to comment. Keep me posted on your efforts - your company's +1 philosophy sounds like a great foundation to build on. By the way, check out the book "Customer Astonishment" by Darby Checketts...it has been an invaluable resource for me. Thanks again!

  Lia Nichole Smith
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I sometimes take it for granted that because I work on an Affordable Property that is seriously the nicest one in the area people should be lucky to live here. Recently our numbers have been dropping, not only because I have filed evictions on like 28 apartments, but so has our traffic. I know there are a few other Affordable Communities in the area whose rents are like save a lot food stores but I keept insisting that was not the issue. After reading this article I realized that we are failing on giving the "WOW" factor from our leasing to service. I started asking today why residents were moving to the crime ridden community down the street and the response was because they are nice to me and my friends maintenance request are done on time. I think if we were to start changing our attitude and being tight on maintenance we may just close the gap. The umbrella would have wow me also and I remember the reason I chose to live at my current community, it was because the team here really did have resident activities that were fun.
Thank you for the insight, it trully helped me on what the issue was.Oh and I know my girls are nice but I think we need to maybe put a more WOW into it.

  Jolene Sopalski
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks Jolene for the great comment. You are so correct in saying how easy it is to assume that people would love to live at a beautiful community based on appearance alone. Kudos to you for taking the initiative to ask the "why not us" question and recognizing an opportunity to be "extraordinarily memorable"!

  Lia Nichole Smith
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great post. In a world of change, new technologies, everyone looking for a magic wand - one can never forget that creating and sustaining resident satisfaction, loyalty and retention...isn't rocket science. It has zip to do with a Facebook page, resident events and the like...it has to do with the basics. It has to do with hiring staff like the leasing associate you described. As the Ritz Carlton mantra says, it's all about "ordinary people doing ordinary things extraordinarily well." It's all about the people, heart, soul, compassion...then throw in some education...and you are on your way to consistently delivering exceptional service...which we know does impact turnover (in a HUGE way, despite what others might say). Our research backs this up year after year...focusing on service, communication, follow up, rising to the occasion when a mistake happens, and being responsive can lead to remarkable improvements in bottom line performance (our clients average a 17 lower turnover rate than reported in the NAA Income and Expense Survey - their focus most certainly pays off in reduced turnover, reduced turnover costs, increased NOI and asset values). Again, great post, great story to share. Thank you!!!

  Doug Miller
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Interesting. I had an individual who had been apartment shopping all day, told me he would take the apartment because, literally, I was the first person who had actually been nice to him, all day. This was at 4ish in the afternoon... This was an applicant anyone would want, with a salary of 70 something a year could well afford a 900 a month apartment. Lo and behold none of the other properties were exhibiting any insight into this character, turns out he's a nice guy who pays his rent on time.

  Janet Stewart

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