I was recently watching some old tv clips on YouTube and came across the famous “George’s Answering Machine” scene from Seinfeld. In this episode, George is excited to take his girlfriend to a work function, only to discover that she’s planning to break up with him before the event. He goes out of his way to avoid talking to her and starts screening all of her phone calls, reasoning, “If she can’t find me, she can’t break up with me.” She becomes so frustrated trying to contact him that she eventually sends his friend, Kramer, to carry out the breakup.
Are you unintentionally hiding from your prospects and residents? I don’t think there are any apartment communities that purposefully avoid answering calls like George, but occasionally properties are simply unable to handle the volume of incoming calls and may leave prospects and residents frustrated and ready to “break up”.
In an age where technology has conditioned us to expect immediate responses, failing to answer a prospect’s call can be a major disconnect, if not a complete deal-breaker. Missed calls are an increasing problem for the typical leasing office, with recent data revealing the average property misses 40-50% of incoming calls. And not only that, less than 20% of missed calls will leave a message.
From a business standpoint these missed calls represent missed leasing opportunities and ultimately lost revenue. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for companies to spend significant time and money fine-tuning their marketing strategies, and then allow a good half of leads to potentially be lost. Even the most effective marketing tactics are rendered worthless if the property staff is not able to handle and respond to inquiries.
From a consumer standpoint, what does a missed call say about your apartment community? People who call and are unable to speak to someone may immediately question the service level at your community: “Why would I try to rent with someone who doesn’t pick up the phone and answer my questions?” or “If they can’t answer my calls, how fast will they respond to a maintenance request?” and maybe even, “Which apartment is next on my list? I don’t have time to wait for someone to call me back.”
If your staff is consistently unable to respond to incoming phone traffic, it may be time to reevaluate your approach to lead response.
Know your numbers
Before making any decisions on how to handle phone response problems, properties need to clearly understand exactly where they are lacking. Using a call tracking system is a good way to evaluate when calls are coming in, and what days/times calls are being missed. Call analysis tools and the use of vanity numbers can show you where calls are coming from and which marketing channels are generating the most interest. By understanding these numbers, you can clearly identify when and where staffing increases could help resolve response issues.
Call for help
When changes to staffing are not enough, it could be time to consider using the help of a leasing call center. Outsourcing phone answering responsibilities to a call center is still a fairly new practice in the multifamily industry. According to a recent Multifamily Insiders’ survey only 27% of properties are currently using a call center¹.
Some companies view call centers as admission of operational failure, but in reality, a good call center simply empowers on-site leasing teams to be more effective and to focus on what they already do best. Because call center employees don’t have the distractions that site teams have, they can dedicate more time with callers, answering basic pricing and availability questions and scheduling guest tours. By outsourcing this initial step of the sales process, site employees are able to focus on closing leases and providing great service to visitors. This results in more site visits, higher shop scores and more signed leases.
Additionally, call centers can be a real benefit for existing residents. A call answering service allows residents 24/7 access to a live person. They can call after office hours with a maintenance request or for help with an emergency. Lost service requests are a major factor in turnover rates and being able to provide nonstop availability can greatly help to assure residents that you are listening and always ready to help.
Pick the right provider
Another big concern with using a call center is not knowing how customers will be treated—which is a crucial consideration. The important thing is to know what to look for when selecting a call center. To help ensure that customer service is consistently superior, take the time to examine these key factors:
Transparency – One of the biggest signs of an excellent call center is transparency. Any call center worth your time should provide fast, complete access to call recordings. You should be able to listen to calls at any time and evaluate how the call center agents are interacting with your customers. You should also expect transparency in call data and reporting. It should be easy for you to understand the percentage of calls the call center is answering, the result of each call, the average answer time, etc.
Qualified Representatives – A good call center will also have stringent hiring standards to aid in finding the right employees. Ask potential vendors to provide you with an overview on how they hire agents. Their hiring standards should be similar to the qualities you look for when hiring on-site leasing agents. Understanding how employees are hired can help to ease concerns about the service being provided.
Customization – Lastly, the right call center will allow you the flexibility to specify how they should function when answering your calls so that your operations are not adversely affected. It’s important to have a dedicated Operations Manager at the call center so that you can quickly update property information or communicate issues that may be occurring.
Using a third party answering service is a decision that should be carefully considered, but it’s definitely worth it to avoid the unanswered calls and missed leads. It seems like a basic concept, but remember: If they can’t find you, they can’t rent from you.