By Barbara Hale (MultiFamilyExecutive.com Article) — As a service-oriented individual starting out in the hotel hospitality industry, I was ready to stand on my feet 12 hours a day, anticipate the needs of others, and deliver authentic experiences that would exceed both client and guest expectations.
Whether it was making sure maintenance fixed the sink for Jim in Room 312 before his fiancée arrived or securing a suite for Tina for her parents 50th anniversary, I strove to provide each hotel guest with genuine, one-on-one experiences and personalized care.
Now, with more than three decades of experience in the hospitality/multifamily industry and a portfolio of more than 40,000 units across the United States, I rely on my Village Green team to provide the same impeccable service to each of our renters. To maintain an open, two-way flow of information, my team and I use several feedback tools to obtain insight on renter needs. The resulting data allow our team to build trust, solidify relationships, and reaffirm our commitment to offering best-in-class service for our residents; notably, all reasons why I got into the hospitality business to begin with.
When to Obtain Feedback
Property managers often wait until the end of the year or the end of a contract to ask for renter feedback. However, that strategy does a disservice to renters and property managers alike because it stunts any opportunity to provide immediate solutions to festering problems. Admittedly, this was a mistake we made before recognizing the harm that infrequent touch points cause in building connections and receiving actionable data.
One year, one of our properties implemented a single survey during the winter. The seasonal questions yielded heavily skewed data that adversely affected the overall feedback. Notably, residents were significantly less likely to be satisfied with landscaping when there was snow on the ground (go figure!). Once we implemented a separate survey in the spring, we gained a much more comprehensive understanding of renter sentiment.
Instead of relying on this archaic, one-survey-a-year method, Village Green properties switched to soliciting survey responses at four critical points during a resident’s lease: Selling Experience, Move-In Experience, Maintenance Experience, and Decision to Renew. These times have proven to have a direct correlation with renewal intentions, allowing us to stay up-to-date on demands and keep an accurate pulse check on our communities.
How to Gather Information
There are a variety of tools, including comment cards, messaging boards, online surveys, and feedback management software, that produce immediate feedback and open communication with renters. We use online analytics to locate potential customers before they contact us and identify online shopping behaviors of current customers.
Personally, I’m a big fan of questionnaire platforms, such as Kingsley and Typeform, because they provide hassle-free experiences for renters while providing my team with valuable data. By using multiple-choice questions and optional long-form comment boxes, we can collect qualitative and quantitative data both quickly and easily.
Across our portfolio landscape, more than 57% of our online visitors use a smartphone, increasing the need for mobile-friendly online marketing. We’ve also improved our response time to customer inquiries, since many of our customers communicate through a device that’s within arm’s reach and expect instant responses.
Additionally, we’ve seen tremendous results from having real, in-person conversations with our community members. For example, we recently held an event at one of our suburban properties where we provided pre-work breakfast and coffee in exchange for a rolling dialogue about their living experiences. This event experienced record-high participation, fantastic feedback, and unbelievably strong social engagement among our residents. A win-win-win!
What to Do With the Data
Of course, once you collect the data, your job is only half done. With years of trial-and-error experience administering surveys, I’ve found there’s significant backlash when residents feel their concerns aren’t being heard. To avoid this issue, we always respond shortly after distributing our surveys and provide updates as we work to make improvements.
At one of our properties, we received poor feedback a couple years ago on the building’s exterior lighting. Immediately, we responded to the community, acknowledged the issue, and provided updates as we moved to solve the problem. The following year, we received the highest participation and the most detailed feedback on that property’s survey. From this experience, it was clear our residents felt they could make a difference in their living environment by providing us with honest feedback.
In another survey, we uncovered a trend that showed residents increasingly wanted to feel like part of a community. Recognizing our role in making that happen, we worked to foster opportunities for our renters by encouraging philanthropic participation alongside Village Green associates. Yearly opportunities such as Holiday Harvest, which helps provide food for families during the holidays, and Splash Day, an annual event created to support the Ronald McDonald House, have allowed our residents to come together and build connections while contributing to a greater cause.
Not only residents benefit from data collecting; clients do, as well, because it helps remove emotion from their decision-making process. Recently, we had a client who wanted to know if their residents valued an amenity package. We sent all residents living at the property a brief survey, which received a 51% response rate. The survey not only showed residents we valued their feedback; it also allowed our client to plan based on data instead of gut instinct.
A Wealth of Invaluable Information
Renter feedback can provide a wealth of knowledge about which developments, facilities, or properties can be improved upon, as well as validation of what’s already working. Additionally, data from current and prospective clients can provide clues to larger trends to help property managers stay abreast of upcoming industry changes.
A recent Village Green study uncovered an increase in demand for flexible lease terms, with transit-oriented millennials looking for low-commitment housing options. Knowing this information, we were able to adjust our marketing narratives to emphasize our versatile policies and allocate available resources to sharing this information with residents. This insight not only increased renter satisfaction but led to new leads, stronger client retention, and an enhanced bottom line.
When leveraged correctly, feedback mechanisms can lead to improved branding and increased customer loyalty. Most importantly, these insights have allowed us to tell each of our residents that their voices really matter. For us, data aren’t an indifferent list of numbers; rather, they’re the collective voice of our community and the catalyst for our continued focus on providing authentic, personalized, and hospitality-based experiences.