How do you leverage your website to enhance the customer experience and convert more online leads into sales? In this episode of The Bridge Podcast, Andy Medley and co-host Muhammad Yasin discuss digital sales training for home furnishings teams with Bryan Scott, President of Big Sandy Superstore, a one-stop-shop for home furnishings with 21 locations and counting.
As president of one of the nation’s fastest-growing retailers, Scott has a unique perspective on growing a business within a shrinking industry. “The website is more important than ever, it starts that consumer’s journey,” he says. “It is our job to collect that customer information to be able to engage with that consumer online.”
Listen in as Bryan shares the secret to Big Sandy’s success and how they leverage cultural incentives and digital sales training on this episode of The Bridge.
The Bridge Season 2 is available wherever you get your podcasts including, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast and Spotify. You can see all of the episodes, on your podcast app of choice, by visiting this link.
Your doors to your leasing office may be closed for the public, but that doesn’t mean prospective renters aren’t looking for their new home. Connect with your renters digitally and empower your team with the best digital leasing practices and tips during COVID-19 by using our Digital Leasing Guide
Use our Digital Leasing Guide to learn how to effectively generate opportunities online while there are little to no in-person visits. The guide outlines how to leverage your website to generate and manage quality leads, tips on how to budget your marketing spend, and the best ways to stay connected to rental prospects during COVID-19.
Keeping occupancy up at your multifamily communities means getting in front of potential renters where they’re searching for available apartments and spending the majority of their time: online.
Carefully studying the consumer journey and gathering prospect data along the way gives your property several advantages when it comes to attracting and retaining renters.
“The internet is still the No. 1 tool for properties, and it’s just a matter of where they find it or how they’re finding it,” says Corey Egan, LeasingKC Co-Founder and Director of Client Success. “They have to make sure their own property websites are up to pace with the competition. Make sure all of the information is there and up to date … you have video content, and a really solid SEO strategy.
“We’re forever trying to figure out where everybody’s spending their time every day,” he says. “It turns out a lot of people are spending most of their time on their phones and they’re on all of these social media platforms, so those are just other ways to get in front of a potential lead.”
Collecting data at those various touchpoints as prospects shop around helps you optimize your digital marketing to better target the right renters, tailor the leasing experience for prospects, and improve the lead nurturing process. All three lead to increased occupancy over time.
“Evaluate the data to drive your decision-making,” Egan says. “It’s very valuable for apartment communities to use that data to see who their renter is and where they fit, and then create a more focused marketing strategy to reach those people.”
1. Make Data-Driven Decisions to Improve Occupancy
For Caroline Gould, V.P. of Marketing & Branding at Fore Property, one of the country’s top 20 largest multifamily developers, the property website and data analytics rank as the most valuable tools to target and convert the perfect renters for a particular property.
Gould runs daily Google Analytics reports to keep tabs on each property’s performance and look for ways to improve digital marketing results. She checks which referral sites send the most traffic to the property websites, views bounce rates for digital ad campaigns and tracks how Fore Property ranks for certain keywords in each market to evaluate her team’s SEO efforts in increasing search engine rankings.
“The website, the digital presence just has such an enormous importance,” Gould says. “Historically in property management, a lot of things were assessed anecdotally. While I agree there’s no replacement for on-site observations via a property manager and leasing team — those insights are really valuable — but the data is available for us to get away from the anecdotal.”
2. Improve Lead Nurture to Increase Leases
Set up your property website and lead nurturing process to give prospective renters everything they seek during their apartment search. With AI technology, you can transform your website into a digital leasing agent that leads prospects along the leasing journey with helpful guidance and personalizes the information they receive by collecting their data.
Live video tours offered on your website help to bring awareness to what your community offers without ever having the rental prospect step foot on your property, saving them valuable time. You can drive real-time conversations through FaceTime, Skype or your virtual tour partner, like Realync.
“The internet changed the leasing experience because people can go online and learn everything they pretty much need to know about the property before they even see it in person,” says Michael Norris, Chief Marketing Officer at Youtech, a full-service digital marketing and advertising agency. “And, they’re going to be researching your competitors in the meantime and comparing pricing, walkability, amenities and features — all of that.”
Give prospects valuable information on the property website by offering interactive experiences, such as a neighborhood tour that highlights places most important to them and a floorplan assessment to help them pick the best apartment layout for them. As they engage with your website, collect valuable lead data to make converting the lease a little easier for your on-site leasing team when following up.
“It’s just good to know what they’re looking for,” Egan says. “It potentially saves everyone a lot of time. The technology drives the information to those people, and that’s important because everybody feels more comfortable when they have an idea of the other person rather than just a complete cold call. It’s more of a meaningful conversation and builds a relationship.”
3. Focus Leasing Agents with Marketing Automation
Funnel all of that online consumer behavior data and digital profiles into a CRM system that can sort leads by how soon prospects plan to sign a lease and how good a fit they are for that property. Let your leasing agents focus on the highest-priority leads, and employ automated marketing to nurture the remaining prospects until they indicate they’re closer to making a decision on where to live.
Automated emails and texts backed by AI technology draw in important details from the CRM database to personalize and time the messages, giving prospects the VIP feeling and building brand trust, while also delivering incentives to return to the website to continue their research or schedule a tour using an automated scheduling tool.
“Getting all of that information into your CRM and then into an automation system is important because it’ll allow you to follow up in both a time-efficient way for you and an effective, personalized way for your potential customers,” Norris says.
Ultimately, in whatever form of technology it takes, your hope of increasing occupancy rests on your ability to collect data and turn it into actionable insights. Those consumer insights serve as the foundation of your digital marketing, precipitating positive growth in both new leases and resident retention rates.
“Whether you’re managing a stock or you’re managing a property, it’s essentially the same goal. You want to increase the value of that asset,” Egan says. “Ensuring you have a solid foundation and a solid message in your marketing is a good place to start. Marketing is what drives everything else.
“It’s going to drive the leasing process, and that is going to drive the prospects you’re attracting and the residents you’re renting to, and then the residents equal basically everything to the property,” he says. “Once they’re in there, you want to encourage them to stay, you want them to be pleased, and that’s up to you. If you have a mixed marketing message or you’re attracting the wrong people, they might not be a good fit for your community and that’s when all of the headaches start.”
This is the time to make your website work even harder for your company. It’s the first source of information for most people and you want it to be up-to-date and informative. There are several key ways to optimize your website.
Add Your COVID-19 Statement to your Website
There is a patchwork of stay-at-home orders around the nation. One county may be ordering only essential travel, while another says it’s business as usual. Consumers are also confused about what businesses are considered “essential” and are open.
Let your shoppers know what your store’s plans are during the COVID-19 pandemic by adding a COVID-19 statement to your homepage. It should be the first thing they see.
Keep your shoppers up-to-date and make them knowledgeable about whether you are open, any reduced hours and how you will connect with shoppers and keep them safe. Offering free delivery on web or phone orders? Is curbside pick-up available? Can documents be signed electronically? That should be clear in your policy statement.
Make User Connection Simple Online
Make technology work for you. Ensure your website has the means to connect with your potential customers. Enable live chat bots, easily show direct lines of contact on your website, and equip your team with text messaging.
Consider using a virtual scheduling tool to set up video consultations or tours with a member of your sales team. PERQ just launched a Virtual Consultation Scheduler as part of its Marketing Cloud to help retailers weather the coronavirus outbreak.
Make connecting with your shoppers as easy as possible during this time to capture leads and turn them into sales.
Prioritize Digital Experiences
You’ve spruced up your website to make policies clear and connection simple. But, how are you getting customers to your site? You also need to take action to make getting to your website easy and focus on ways to draw potential customers there. Here are some areas to focus on:
Use website conversion software like interactive quizzes and assessments to help shoppers narrow their choices
Lean into SEO
Post on social media with links to your website and boost visually-appealing posts
Run digital advertising linking shoppers back to your website
Your biggest asset during social distancing is the company website. Be sure you are using it effectively.
No amount of automated marketing or AI technology will change the fact that customer service must remain at the top of your company’s priority list. If you’re not providing a quality shopping experience from start to finish, it won’t matter how many leads you generate or how much organic traffic you attract to the website. Unsatisfied customers will bust your bottom line over time.
“Customer service is No. 1 for us. Making our customers happy and excited about their purchase is what we are here for,” says Kelly Mullins, who oversees Marketing & Online Sales at Railway Freight Furniture based in Georgia. “And, we want them to come back and shop with us again … and send their friends and family! People want to feel like you truly care about what they need.”
Mullins says delivering that level of customer care starts on the website, where most people begin their shopping. They expect instant yet personal responses when reaching out to a business.
“It’s so important to be engaged digitally, because that’s where most start their buying decisions,” Mullins says. “They will have questions and want to talk to someone, and you have to be ready to help get their business.”
Create a Concierge Website Experience to Service Customers
Helping the customer starts with maximizing your company’s website, often a customer’s initial interaction with your brand, so it’s engaging and delivering information that’s relevant to each individual shopper.
“It’s important that your first touchpoint with the consumer, you’re getting across the information you want to, because that first touch sets the stage for everything else,” says Michael Norris, Chief Marketing Officer at Youtech, a full-service digital marketing and advertising agency with offices in Chicago and Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s important to have a really good digital footprint, since that’s where people start their search, and then a really good response time after that.”
Make it easy for them to window shop and collect information on your products until they’re ready to visit in person to make a purchase. Create a concierge experience that serves customers with personalized, targeted content and leads shoppers to the next best step in their buying journey, based on where they’re at in the process. Offer appointment scheduling tools so they can book a tour or in-store consultation and receive VIP treatment. Then, be sure to follow up quickly with online leads or have a system in place to automate the initial response so they feel acknowledged.
“In today’s digital world, if customers want/need help or have questions, they want answers now! On their time!” Mullin says. “PERQ has helped us tremendously with this. We already talk to our customers on social media and email, but now we have a way to talk to the customer while they’re browsing on our website. It takes a lot of time and effort, but is a great way to engage with our online customers.”
As they shop around and interact with the website, put in place software to capture data about each online lead, so your sales team can use those personal details to close the deal. Knowing things like what kind of pets they own or their favorite pastimes helps you better understand what they need, and subsequently provide the customer with better service.
Your Customer Service Reps and Digital Sales Teams Drive Your Business
Customer service representatives and those who staff your digital sales teams will likely be the main people who directly interact with consumers before they come in to visit in person. Make sure they’re prepared to adequately answer all questions that come their way and appropriately direct shoppers to the right next person, because those initial interactions often determine how a consumer views your company overall.
“The people who they talk to are ultimately going to be the people who drive your business,” Norris says. “That customer service is so important, because customers now go and leave reviews online based on their experience and what they felt. It’s so important to make them feel good every step of the way, that they have a positive-enough experience they want to go and leave a review. People only leave reviews if they’re really happy or really mad. There’s really no in-between.”
Utilize AI Technology to Improve Your Customer Service
With consumers accustomed to getting an immediate response when online shopping with big brands, technology helps smaller companies meet those expectations and give leads the instant gratification (and the information) they seek.
Once a lead comes in or a consumer submits an inquiry, it’s critical for your sales team to provide an immediate response acknowledging their request and quickly follow up with additional information.
“People are used to very snippy-snappy results nowadays,” Norris says of consumer expectations across the many industries his digital advertising agency serves.
Businesses use technology to not only instantly respond but also personalize the response through automated email or text messaging. By capturing customer data as they engage with a website’s AI-powered experiences, like a chat-to-text Q&A tool or interactive quiz, lead information can be funneled directly into a CRM through a marketing cloud.
From there, schedule personalized email or text nurture campaigns to continuously nurture the lead that shows you care about their search for the perfect purchase. Cater to their needs based on what they look at on your website and the data they hand over as they shop around. Provide helpful content, offer a scheduled meeting with an expert on your staff or include an incentive to get them to take action — and to buy from you when they are ready.
“Getting all of that information into your CRM and then into an automation system is important, because that will allow you to follow up in both an efficient way for you and in an effective, personalized way for the potential client,” Norris says.
Meet Customers Where They Shop
Consumers now have more ways than ever to communicate with companies they do business with, from online chat and messenger apps to emails and text messages. To provide top-notch service, you must communicate in the customer’s preferred format.
“People are going to have issues that extend beyond just an FAQ page or what your website can answer,” Norris says. “Having different channels of communication are important. If a customer wants to email you, they are going to expect their response to that email. Same thing, if a customer reaches out on social media; or if they call, then they want to talk to a real person.”
Norris says consumer expectations remain steady across all of the various industries his digital marketing agency serves: they want quick, helpful customer service when they have questions or encounter a problem.
“I mean, in the end, people are all people,” Norris says. “Generally speaking, people buy the same ways.”
The perfect ending to the customer shopping experience results in a furniture purchase. In today’s online commerce world, whether or not they end up in your showroom and purchase depends entirely on your website. It’s not a matter of if they visited your Home Furnishings website, in nearly all cases, they did. It’s a matter of how the customer engages with your site and educates themselves as they travel on the purchase journey. The online experience shopping determines if you got the sale or your competitor did.
Today’s furniture shopper starts with initial research by comparing products, pricing and deal options online. They may spend minutes to months browsing home furnishing websites researching that perfect mattress, piece of furniture, or appliance.
Understanding what is important to consumers who are shopping for furniture, mattresses or appliances, keeping them engaged with your store’s brand and recognizing when they’re ready to buy not only provides you with valuable information, it saves time and resources. Along with those benefits, your store gains invaluable consumer data to influence future marketing and operational decisions while also building relationships.
“We had a very typical website, with products and a banner running across the top. The PERQ experience adds animation and movement, and things to attract the customer to interact with the site, to ask for information, and so it adds value,” says Justin Allen, Owner of the Mattress Store with four locations in Utah. “It also allows us to contact the customer and bring the experience into the store.”
Allen’s stores can see a comprehensive browsing history for online shoppers who engage with interactive tools and incentives on the site, giving his team a cohesive consumer journey for each lead. Here’s a look at the insights they receive from PERQ data.
Follow the Online to In-Store Shopping Experience of a Mattress Shopper
A mattress shopper arrives on the Mattress Store site after a Google search from their desktop computer at 12:19 p.m. on a Tuesday. They browse and search mattresses, specifically “adjustable base queen mattresses.” The shopper is prompted to inquire about special pricing and enter contact information to receive a special offer via an online form powered by PERQ. The shopper views Tempur-Pedic mattresses and store locations on the website, spending just under 5 minutes total and viewing 9 different pages.
The mattress shopper returns to the site a few hours later and looks again at Tempur-Pedic mattresses. They launch the Design Style Assessment and search some more. Just 2 hours later, they return a third time to review search results. That same day, they arrive at the store and purchase a mattress and base for around $3,000. This converted lead visited the Mattress Store website three times, spending a total of 10 minutes and 53 seconds, and engaged with two interactive pieces of content on the website.
“This really does well for us and helps convert all these thousands of people who go to our website to an actual name and face, a customer and a sale,” Allen says. “When a prospect is going to buy a bed today, they’re choosing between store A and store B. Interacting with our website and online engagement tools, they have a great experience, which sends them right into the store.”
Actively Influence the Furniture Customer Shopping Experience
Take an active role on your website to influence the customer shopping experience by providing engagement opportunities, capturing data and nurturing the prospect along the way. Your website serves as your second showroom with the right technology, and engagement tools tailored to the customer experience provide valuable and timely information seamlessly.
Taking an active approach in how to leverage the website for in-store revenue is a big leap forward, versus passively waiting for the door to swing in-store,” says Scott Hill, Co-Founder of PERQ. “Get more data from your website and look for ways to get the consumer to give you more information, because it is valuable to them.”
Since leveraging interactive content on their website which utilizes artificial intelligence, Mattress Store prospects spend approximately 11 minutes longer browsing on the site than the average visitor and view approximately 7 more pages per session. With better engagement and more customer information, in the first 90 days Mattress Store’s lead-to-sales conversion rate reached over 22% — well above the industry average.
“The website technology helps funnel traffic in the desired direction,” Allen says. “For consumers to come in and we know their names, and they have an appointment along with understanding our products, prices and services — a better-educated customer comes to your door. We’ve had customers say they’re on their way and before I can notify the store, that customer is already in the store making a purchase.”
A Furniture Shopping Journey
A furniture shopper arrives on the Kemper Furniture site from their desktop computer on a Friday. They view the living room furniture page and complete the New Customer Welcome form. The lead chooses that they are shopping for “living room furniture” and is taken to the page to view the Nerviano Chocolate Recliner. The shopper is prompted to inquire about special pricing. They continue to browse and sort “living room furniture” and view several other recliners. The shopper spends 37 minutes viewing 35 pages during the first visit.
Two days later, the shopper returns via a personalized lead nurture email and completes the Design Style Assessment. They browse living room furniture for another 30 minutes.
The shopper returns to the website for a third time three days later as a result of an automated email and clicks on “Man Fort Brown Recliner.” He completes the Special Pricing engagement feature, views the financing page, and returns to the “Man Fort Brown Recliner.” He also completes the AI-powered Request for More Information to get further details on the recliner, continues to browse living room furniture, and then looks at office furniture.
About one month later, the online shopper visits the store and spends $2,737. Overall, the shopper spent a total of 90 minutes online before going to the store and making a purchase.