Thinking about the apartment my wife and I lived in right after we were married brings back a broad spectrum of emotions and memories. Even though it wasn’t what you’d call a class A property, we loved it for the simple reason that it was our first home together and a place where many great memories were created. Between infestations, ceilings that leaked, appliances that didn’t work, and an HVAC system with a mind of its own, there was always a new adventure waiting for us around the corner. Eventually, things did get bad enough that we ended up demanding (and winning) an early release from our contract.
As I look back on that experience, I wonder if there was anything the property could have done to retain us. Given what we were paying (next to nothing) and the age of the building (ancient), should we have really expected anything different? At the Leasing Center, we handle hundreds of maintenance requests every day and have a unique opportunity to see how apartment communities respond to them all over the country. Based on these experiences, here are a few ideas for ways we can better serve our residents and, in return, earn their loyalty.
1. Set Clear Expectations Up Front. If your residents have unreasonable expectations about how quickly their maintenance items should be fixed, what constitutes an emergency, or even what falls within the scope of your maintenance team, you are likely to disappoint them. Make sure your residents know what to expect from day one.
2. Provide 24/7 Phone Access. Nothing is more frustrating than having an issue to report and no one to report it to. A voicemail box, quite frankly, is not good enough. On average, only 20% of missed calls result in voicemail and do very little to help assuage a concerned resident. Services like a leasing center can provide affordable options for your residents to have 24/7 access to a live person who can help.
3. Don’t over-commit. Any commitment you make, even if just in passing, will be remembered by your residents to the end of time. Don’t tell them you’ll be out to fix it in the next hour unless you are certain that will be the case. In regards to the experience my wife and I had, this was a big sticking point.
4. Stay in close communication. Whether it’s a unit specific problem or site-wide power outage, the more frequently you send out updates, the more your residents will feel that you are concerned for their well-being and doing everything you can to resolve the issue.
5. Leave each home cleaner than you found it. When the maintenance folks were working on our ceiling, they frequently left our apartment covered in muddy footprints. I’ve seen that same experience repeated many times. It’s a small thing, but it can go a long ways. This requires a concerted effort to develop great customer service in the practices and protocols you expect of your maintenance team.
When you consider that turnover costs can range anywhere from $1500 to $5000, it’s important that we take a hard look at what drives resident retention and what we can do to increase it. My wife and I were willing to endure quite a bit, but eventually we hit a breaking point. There are simply too many other options available to residents for us to not take their maintenance needs more seriously. What cost-effective solutions have you come up with?