One of the best things to come out of 2020 was having multiple tour scheduling options. From self-guided to virtual to pre-recorded videos, the ways prospects could tour a unit adapted to a less physical and socially distanced world.
With all of these options, in-person tours still rank as the most popular tour option according to PERQ data. How do we go back to in-person tours in a way that is healthy for both prospects and the leasing team? We’ve got 3 tips to help your leasing team meet prospects expectations with health guidelines and quality of the tour.
Know the Guidelines
It is so important to know what your state’s health guidelines are. While they typically aren’t more than 2 people who show up to tour an apartment, there are states that are hit much harder than others when it comes to COVID cases.
Be sure to stand the recommended 6 feet apart from prospects as they walk around the unit. For a smaller unit where this might not be possible, consider leaving the door open during the tour and standing near it.
Masks and Sanitizer
Requiring prospects to wear a mask during the entire time they are at your property and on the tour is a highly effective way of keeping the leasing agent and the prospects safe. Offer hand sanitizer to them when they first show up and offer it again when they leave.
Some prospects might forget to bring their masks with them. Having some disposable masks on hand to give them is a great way to show how your property is taking safety seriously and allows the prospect to still go on the tour and not have to reschedule.
Clean Common Surfaces
After each tour, be sure to clean the surfaces that prospects touched. Most common surfaces are door handles, cabinet knobs and pulls, and appliances. This seems like it can be a lot of extra work but it keeps the touring unit clean and reduces the chances of spread.
This will make it much safer on days where there are a lot of tours stacked up. Give yourself 10 – 15 minutes between tours to disinfect these common surfaces to ensure that everyone is safe. We have a whole list of resources for multifamily communities centered on COVID-19. You can check them out here.
Email fatigue. We have all experienced this once or twice in our lives. The state of being so burnt out on receiving emails that we simply ignore, delete or send unwanted emails to the spam folder. Since going digital back in early March, email fatigue is a problem that most consumers seem to be facing at an alarmingly high rate.
This requires businesses to have to be creative in how they reach their audiences. Sometimes an email, which might have been used in the past, simply won’t cut it these days.
So how do you standout in a sea of people vying for the same person’s attention?
Know your audience
It is easy to get stuck in a rut when prospecting via email. Knowing your audience and how to respond to emails is an easy way to begin seeing traction with your outreach. In a recent lunch and learn, Liv Gabrielsen, Director of Marketing for Bainbridge said that the biggest downfall with email marketing is we have become so accustomed to automation. Liv says “We treat leads as a lead and fail to recognize where they are in their buying journey.” Liv goes on to explain that a lead with a 30 day close time versus a lead with a 120 day close time should be communicated with differently and not receive the same response.
Pick up the phone and call the prospect!
Another great way to stand out from the crowd is by simply not sending an email at all. Instead, pick up the phone and call your prospect. Especially now, everyone is so used to staring at their screens all day. Talking with someone over the phone and allowing them to put a voice to the name can be a great change of pace.
Lean into other forms of media
Lastly, when email isn’t working, check out other forms of media to get in front of your contacts. Exploring new avenues such as social media is an easy way to connect with prospects and current renters. When you are trying to engage your communities, use things like interactive social features including: instagram polls, swipe ups on social media, hashtags to engage audience, TikTok videos and contests! For prospective renters, make the tone of your emails and outreach more conversational. The less you are trying to “sell” to them and the more “human” your interactions seem, the higher the engagement there will be.
PERQ EVP of Marketing, Muhammad Yasin, played host to another insightful lunch and learn which explored the challenges multifamily properties faced while trying to market to shifting consumer behavior during the pandemic. Guests Liv Gabrielsen, Director of Marketing for Bainbridge, and Scott Papenfus, Director of Strategic Partnerships for LCP360, chatted about the creative ways they’ve adapted efforts and the true impact of the pandemic with an in-depth conversation on:
When asked about big shifts in general as a result of the pandemic, Liv began by acknowledging what most businesses experienced, consumers embracing the digital experience.
“For multifamily, what it did is forced our industry to embrace all things digital as we saw stay-at-home orders. The COVID pandemic made us shift what we’re doing to ensure we can meet consumer demands in a 100% digital environment.”
She added that the industry knew they would need to embrace consumers’ digital demands eventually. The pandemic just accelerated the process.
“We’ve known this for years; it’s been moving in this direction,” Liv says. “For me, it was still a little bit of a shock of sorts — how fast we had to lean into some of the things or behaviors we were already thinking about, then suddenly over the course of a couple of weeks went from ‘Yeah, we’re going that way’ to ‘Now this is it.’”
Scott shared that, from a technology company’s perspective, they saw a huge increase in the number of virtual tours.
“You can literally look at a graph and just see this huge spike in virtual tours when the pandemic hit,” he says. “One of the key things we’re seeing is more and more people on-site are using our guided virtual tour or mirrored virtual tour.”
He explains consumers are not touring alone, instead doing so virtually with a leasing agent on-site who shares their knowledge and expertise about the property while customizing the tour for the prospect.
“I’ve really seen an uptick in interest is people wanting to perform kind of a hybrid — it’s a virtual tour, but it’s actually led by somebody on-site,” says Scott.
“For multifamily, we want that face-to-face interaction because our communities are more than just four walls,” Liv says. “It’s the community, the environment and the lifestyle. So, how do we communicate that in a digital way when we are removing these on-site visits? That was the challenge — we knew we had to provide a full picture of what it’s like to live in a Bainbridge community.”
Watch the full video to learn more about what Liv and Scott implemented to better serve and market to their customers during the pandemic.
During our latest lunch and learn, our EVP of Marketing, Muhammad Yasin, led a lively virtual chat on how to weather budget season in the middle of a pandemic. He sat down with Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing for Mission Rock Residential, Kim Boland, Director of Digital Marketing for Morgan Properties, and Savannah Wheeler, Vice President of Finance, Treasury and IT for Mission Rock Residential to discuss not only next year’s budgeting strategy, but also adjusting to unpredictability and moving forward.
The conversation lead to discussing important considerations such as:
Prioritizing needs over wants
Embracing agility and nimbleness for future changes
Collaborating across departments for expertise
“This year is about prioritization — what we need versus a wish list,” Savannah says. “What do we need to get through this time? Then, investing in the tools and technology to have the edge.”
Savannah also pointed out that multifamily budgeting usually progresses as more of a push-and-pull process, but the pandemic requires prioritizing requests. From there, it’s all about investing in the right technology.
Marcella shares that this year data should be a key factor for budgeting, along with prioritizing requests. “Traditionally, we would share feedback and input for the strategy. This year, the real difference is seeing the granular data points that are strategy-determining factors for each department.”
This year’s global economic upheaval propelled the Morgan Properties team to get creative and increase leads and occupancy using the tools they already had in place.
“We learned a lot from last year, because our company went through so many changes and grew significantly,” Kim says. “We’ve been able to do a lot of smaller things that haven’t cost as much money, so we don’t need to budget as large.”
Our EVP of Marketing, Muhammad Yasin, had a chance to hang out with Katrina Greene (CAM, Senior Regional Property Manager, and NALP Instructor) in a virtual chat on leasing agent training to find out why she views training as an ongoing process, not a one-time event. She had strong opinions on how training itself serves as an introduction or launch of behavior that will then require practice. She also stressed that you must be brave to succeed as a leasing agent, understand your value, and appreciate having a conversation, rather than taking orders.
During her chat with Muhammad, Katrina conveyed the importance of:
Human interaction in the leasing process
The benefit of listening to calls to identify training opportunities
Using positive affirmations with prospects
Demonstrating knowledge to earn the right to sell
She also shared tools and tips to make the communication effective and the experience memorable for prospective renters.
Much of the conversation with Katrina centered on reviewing phone conversations between leasing agents and prospects. She uses these calls to reinforce what’s working and identify opportunities for improvement — not only for the leasing agents but also for the properties as a whole. She says it’s important to give your team permission to fail and permission to succeed while demonstrating ways to improve — not just telling them what to do.
After listening to Katrina, it is obvious why the oath she keeps for every interaction works:
“I did everything I know to do using my knowledge, personality and skills to help this person understand my community is a great place for them.”
Think about the very important people in your life. You care about them and know a great deal about what is meaningful to them. They receive special treatment for a reason. They earned VIP status. Now, consider your customers. They are important people to your business. You care about keeping them happy. Odds are you know a great deal about them, so do they receive special treatment? Are you offering VIP furniture consultations?
Creating exceptional customer experiences can set your business apart from the competition. Ritz Carlton hotels are known for going above and beyond. Management authorizes each employee to spend up to $2,000 per guest per visit to make their stay memorable and personal. A Google search for “Ritz Carlton customer experience” produced over 39 million results. What they are doing works for their business.
In the home furnishings business, arming employees with $2,000 to create an exceptional customer experience isn’t sustainable. Don’t let that keep you from providing a VIP furniture consultation. Begin with defining the criteria for who qualifies as your most important customers and reviewing the sales data. Ensure that this group is indeed worth cultivating and what you offer them will be considered desirable for each customer included.
Create VIP Furniture Consultations With Your Digital Sales Process
Start with what you know about those VIP customers. If they’ve been interacting with your website, gather their useful and insightful information. What are they shopping for, what’s their design style, preferred color, size, brand or desired features? Even better, collect their preferences from the results of an interactive online quiz.
Nudge them to tell you even more and launch the in-store engagement by giving them a way to schedule their VIP appointment while on your website. Without a way to collect this data from your store website, you and your team miss out on gathering crucial customer information and the opportunity to set the business apart by adding value through an in-store design or product consultation.
Ideally, the customer can schedule via your website a VIP appointment from preselected times. Strategically schedule those appointment openings during your sales team’s downtime or the least-busy hours for your store to maximize productivity. If the customer doesn’t schedule online, you still have a meaningful opportunity to reach out to the customer and offer a VIP appointment if you collected their lead data online.
Services You Can Provide the Customer Add Value
Give your customers the feeling they are getting something special and make them excited to visit your store. What can you provide that customer above and beyond what they can do on their own? Without added value, it’s just another visit to a home furnishing store. Strive to help them save time and feel important.
Take the information you’ve gathered through your digital efforts and tailor the experience specific to their situation. Do your homework. Asking questions they have already answered via website interactions may diminish the experience. Remembering their preferences and customizing the appointment to their needs makes for an impactful and effective interaction.
If your customer is looking for a couch in a certain color and size, offer a customized showing of different options. Give them a sneak-peek into recently delivered pieces. Prepare the space ahead of time to resemble the size and shape of the room where their purchase will ultimately be enjoyed. Give your salespeople a head start to think about accessories, lighting and other upsell opportunities.
Prepare ahead and take care of the time-consuming aspects of the transaction. Prepare financing information or get approval from management to adjust the price if required to make the sale. Look at delivery dates and times, and have that information handy to amaze the customer by anticipating their needs.
It’s also important to make them feel special in small yet significant ways. Greet them by name and stun them with your attention to detail by personalizing the entire shopping experience. Offer a special design consultation, drink of choice, a special gift or a chance to win an incentive only open to your VIP consultation customers.
Perfect the Appointment, Then Introduce VIP Furniture Consultations
Make the VIP furniture consultation unique for you, your store, and especially your customers. Once you gain traction and figure out what works, consider taking the next step and create a VIP program. Incentivize your customers and build brand loyalty by offering exclusivity, special offers, discounts and special events. You can also keep customers engaged and motivated by offering a tiered loyalty program. Make whatever you do memorable to create an emotional connection.
Surprise offers or gifts for being a customer (61%)
More convenient shopping process (50%)
Solving a problem or question (45%)
Recommending products based on needs (27%)
Keeping customers up to date on the latest news and products (23%)
Welcoming customers when they visit (20%)
Creating a VIP furniture consultation and potentially a VIP program takes customer data and some extra work, yet will result in highly engaged and satisfied customers. These customers will continue to give you a return on your investment by providing repeat sales, keeping your retention rate high and providing free marketing through word-of-mouth referrals.
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