By Aaron Hassen
Everybody’s talking about millennials, and you might want to pay attention: Most studies place this generation in the 18-33 age range, so they’re included in many of your target markets, from college students to young parents and tech-savvy businesspeople. Are you ready to turn them (and the even more mobile iGeneration behind them) into loyal, satisfied residents?
The Mobile, Millennial Apartment Hunter
Millennials say technology defines them. They’ve almost grown up mobile, and it’s seeped into everything, from what influences them to how they communicate. A Forrester study calls it the Mobile Mind Shift: “The expectation that any desired information or service is available on any appropriate device, in context, at a person’s moment of need.”
Now, you probably know these consumers prefer more mobile conveniences and fast responses. You just may not have realized it’s going from preference to expectation to demand…in all industries.
Mobile Strategies to Consider
How can you tailor your community’s outreach and services to meet those demands?
- They use digital communication heavily – Take texting: In a 2010 PEW study, millennials reported sending/receiving 20 texts in 24 hours (no doubt it’s risen by now). So communicate the same way. For example, communities can use Mobile Text Connect to safely text prospects and residents. You can even add text and chat options to Facebook and Craigslist ads.
- They’re always searching – 51% of millennials consult 4 or more sources before making purchase decisions (8095 Refreshed study)…and with mobile devices, they can do it at any time. So optimize everything for mobile viewing (images, emails, websites, apps, ads) to better influence them.
- They want to make the most of every second – Each new device is faster than the last, and millennials put a premium on speed and convenience. So offer mobile text and apartment chat, enabling instant conversations with a property from most websites and online/mobile ads. It’s a quick way to interact right on their smartphones.
- They expect real-time answers – They may not want to meet face to face, but mobile millennials want instant responses (it’s key for resident renewal, says SatisFacts). So be available to talk at any time. The good news is that on-site staff don’t need to be chained to their desks to be available like that. Mobile apps can extend chat or texting software (and all the tracking) to staff’s smartphones or tablets.
Even more of a reason to pay attention to mobile strategies like these? They don’t apply solely to millennials. The shift is happening across generations as society becomes more connected. Be ready to give them the instant gratification they expect!
By Aaron Hassen
What makes an apartment chat conversation “good”? Many components of an effective apartment chat are subjective, but there are a few quantitative points you can measure and analyze to answer that question. That’s what our helpful new feature for quality assurance and training does: Chat Quality Scoring.
What’s Measured in Each Chat & Why
Contact At Once! analyzed hundreds of thousands of chat conversations to identify the elements of an effective chat—from capturing lead information to having a quality conversation where the prospect/resident gets what s/he wanted. Not every element can be electronically measured, but the following 10 can, and are thus included in the Chat Quality Score:
- Team member or property photo (5 points) – Do the answering team members have photos associated with their chat greetings? Analysis shows you are about 28% more likely to capture lead information if you include a photo.
- Initial chat answer time (7 points) – How quickly do your team members answer the initial chat requests? Top points are given to those who answer quickly.
- Team member introduction (1 point) – Do your team members introduce themselves in the first chat response? Doing so means your chat is about 12% more likely to result in capturing the prospect’s name because people tend to respond to an introduction with an introduction: “Hello, my name is Mandy Day. How can I help you?” “Hi Mandy, this is Ray Watts. Can you tell me if…”
- Question response time (5 points) – How quickly do team members respond to specific questions after initially answering the chat request? The sooner the better (and again, that’s what gets you top points).
- Ask for prospect name (2 points) – Do team members make an effort to collect the consumers’ names? If they don’t offer their names, just ask.
- Tag prospect name (2 points) – Many will respond when you ask for their name, and you can save (tag) it to build the customer profile for follow-up.
- Ask for/tag prospect phone (4 points) – It doesn’t hurt to ask, so every team member should try to elicit this contact info at some point in the conversation (especially if getting an answer for the prospect is going to take a couple of minutes).
- Ask for/tag prospect email (2 points) – Asking for their email address can help you keep the conversation flowing even after the chat.
- Update the lead status (1 point) – At the end of chats, do team members note if the prospects require follow-up, are hot leads, are not leads, etc.? This helps your team respond in the future.
- Don’t use all caps (1 point) – Train your team members to refrain from using all caps as they chat…because using all caps LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING!
Put It to Work
To turn on/off chat scoring, your apartment chat administrators simply need to…
- Log into their Contact At Once! portal management account.
- Select Settings at the top.
- Next, select Advanced Settings on the left.
- Scroll down to the Portal Controls box and check the Chat Score box to turn on/off chat scoring.
- Click Save Changes. (Every chat that includes enough data for analysis will be scored nightly.)
What makes chat quality scoring particularly useful as an apartment chat training tool is that it shows exactly where your team members can improve. To learn your chat score and how to improve…
- Look at the new Quality Score column on your IM Conversation Detail reports.
- Click “Learn More” underneath the score to see how your team member did.
- Use that score breakdown to determine where your team needs extra training (like if you need to concentrate on ways to quicken responses or establish a process of uploading agent photos).
So are you ready to fine-tune your multifamily team’s responses for even more effective leasing opportunities? Then get going with chat scoring!
By Aaron Hassen
A community’s commitment to maintaining an exceptional customer experience can help convert prospects and keep residents happy and renewing…once they’ve experienced it, of course. But how does a community convey, and even showcase, that customer experience online?
“We want to offer everything to our clients and meet all their needs,” says Tracy Bowers, Managing Director of Matrix Residential, a community big on “creating exceptional experiences.” And with about 90% of Matrix Residential’s leads coming from online sources, they’ve been adapting. Most of Matrix Residential’s websites now use responsive design, their offices are paperless…and they chat.
Instant, online chat conversations give people a taste of what each community offers, but chat isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it solution. What’s the secret behind their success?
They Understand Live Chat’s Role in Their Community
Matrix Residential first considered how prospects/residents wanted to communicate. “I’m a Gen Y-er, and I’d much rather text or chat than call you. It’s more convenient,” admits Dana Pate, Marketing Director. Most of your current and future residents probably feel the same.
So Matrix Residential treats their apartment chat like a “24/7 help desk,” as Pate calls it. Prospects can quickly obtain additional information not found on the website, residents chat in brief questions, etc. “Most chatters are working or multi-tasking online, so they appreciate this easier, faster communication (and are more comfortable). It’s all about the experience we provide at every touchpoint.”
In fact, the residents who start as chatting prospects keep chatting because they often get quicker responses. That’s key: SatisFacts says the No. 1 satisfaction topic that has the greatest impact on residential renewal is how promptly office staff responds.
They Work Together to Make It Happen
Without on-site team buy-in, though, Matrix Residential couldn’t provide that chat experience. “There’s often a disconnect between the corporate and on-site teams when it comes to incorporating new tools into daily work life,” notes Pate. She’s been on both sides, and knows that not introducing new technology with continued training and support is unproductive.
What’s helped is enhanced chat training and follow-up:
- Free training comes from their Contact At Once! chat provider. “When they walk us through the product step by step, it’s like saying, ‘We’re here; we’re going to make your life easier.’”
- Pate’s team then sets up the chat accounts, ensures that photos are uploaded, and customizes the shortcut responses for each property.
- Pate continuously checks in, making sure everyone “meets the Matrix standard” by reviewing chat transcripts. One point she stresses to every agent is response rate. “Nothing is worse than submitting a chat request and getting no response. Even if busy, we train agents to send a quick chat message acknowledging the request…something as simple as ‘Hi there! Thanks for chatting with us. I’m currently on the phone, but I’ll be with you in a few moments.’”
It’s a little extra work, but fabulous experiences never happen automatically. The result of this team effort is prompt responses and great service, no matter how prospects and residents communicate.
By Aaron Hassen
Your current and future prospects are mobilized: 95.2% of the millennial generation will have mobile phones by the end of the year, and the 35-44 and 45-55 age groups are big users too. What’s that mean for multifamily communities? Appealing to more mobile consumers may require an online approach to almost everything, from conversing to completing paperwork.
How One Community Does It
Platform 14 in Hillsboro, Ore., is embracing the “right here, right now” mindset of such consumers. Mobile prospects want to make the most of every second, so paperwork, emails, even phone calls can seem too time-consuming. In response, Platform 14 offers convenient online options like online applications and live chat from Contact At Once!.
“It’s a quick, fun way to build rapport with prospects, get them the most up-to-date information on your property, and get them squared away, ” says Amber Crudele, property manager for Platform 14. And it works, as proven by an apartment she leased after chatting with both roommates. “By the time the first prospect sent her online application, the other roommate was chatting with me. They sent everything I needed within minutes.”
It’s not a one-time phenomenon. As we get more used to living in the mobile world—where you can bank, shop, book travel and watch movies via phones—people are going to expect even more of this kind of instant access.
Apartment Chat Provides This Access
“I think it’s easier for most people to chat or text as they research housing in between everyday tasks; some even prefer it to calling,” says Amber. Apartment chat is also great for mobile consumers because it helps you…
- Get & provide the instant gratification they expect – Amber admits to wanting answers now herself. “Even when I’m the customer, I feel the same.”
- Qualify leads on the go – “I like being able to chat and see if someone is really interested or just a lookie-loo. All it takes is digging a little deeper by asking questions of our own.”
- Be efficient – “Being able to answer questions on the spot means I’m not wasting anyone’s time.”
- Build rapport with out-of-town prospects – Chat’s more conversational flow makes it “easier to ask personal questions than when you’re emailing.” Adding your photo to the chat invitation gives another personal touch.
- Go beyond the expected – During chats, you can uncover prospects’ issues and offer instant solutions. “I’ve even set up a FaceTime tour, showing the property to the husband while the out-of-town wife watched from my iPad.”
Appealing to the mobile prospect with options like this is just smart business. As Amber notes, most people don’t even come into your office until it’s time to sign the lease. So if you want to influence the decision, you first need to connect with them when, how and where they want.
By Aaron Hassen
Consider the power of the text message. With millions of mobile shoppers on smartphones, it’s no wonder texts surpassed phone calls all the way back in 2008. And since more people are using their phones to browse the web—82%, says the 2013 Nielsen Mobile Consumer Report—texting for more information is a convenient next step.
Nielsen even noted that there are about 764.2 texts/person/month. Why not put a few of those to work for your property?
Pros of Apartment Texting
Your team members, residents and prospects probably already text all the time. Like Facebook posts, tweets and website chats, texting is second-nature to most of us (and is often a preferred communication). Offering the ability for others to text your property can also help you…
- Add convenience for the on-the-go prospect/resident – Enabling prospects and residents to text in questions makes real-time interactions easier…whether they are at home or anywhere else.
- Get more from your ad dollars – Make your online AND print ads (including property signs) interactive by adding a text number, click-to-text button or QR code. Prospects can then start real-time conversations from those ads, which could lead to showings.
- Capture more phone numbers – When prospects send your property a text, you can instantly save their phone number for follow-up.
- Increase likelihood of your message being read – The majority of us are already “trained” to look at and respond to text messages almost instantly. Just compare the number of unread texts to the number of unread emails on your phone!
Things to Consider About Apartment Texting
As smart as texting can be to add to your communication offerings, there are certain technical, professional and legal issues you should consider first.
- Setting up text numbers – Rather than having prospects or even residents text your personal number, it’s better to set up a specific property number. If you’re a Contact At Once! chat user, you can add the new Mobile Text Connect, which generates text numbers that you can receive/respond to through your current chat software and mobile apps—they text; you chat, which is sent back to them as an SMS text response.
- Tracking the texts – Do you know what’s really being said when an agent responds to a prospect’s or resident’s text? Increase quality control by using a system that allows you to save texting transcripts (and gather other analytics).
- Maintaining professionalism – You want your agents to give consistent service, even in the way they speak to prospects/residents. That communication policy should extend to your written communication, from emails to chats to texts. It’s easier to do if you can integrate those channels, like Contact At Once! does with chat and text.
- Putting the proper opt-in, opt-out permission process in place – If you don’t want to run afoul of the FCC, a good start is to look for texting software that follows the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) best practices for consumer privacy.
Adding the ability to text from your ads and website is one big step toward your ever more mobile customer. In fact, they may be more than ready to text with you. Are you ready?
By Aaron Hassen
Most would agree that a computer or mobile device is the likely first point of contact with today’s apartment prospect. According to the e-tailing group and HubSpot, half of consumers spend 75 percent of their shopping time researching online. In fact, about two-thirds to 90 percent of the buying process is often done before a prospect ever engages with a salesperson (or leasing agent, in this case).
How are you adapting for and engaging with this more mobile, tech-savvy apartment hunter?
Judy Newman, investment manager at Discovery Heights in Washington, added Contact At Once! chat to their property website and online ads…and it’s paying off.
Why & How Apartment Chat Works for Them
When prospects visit the website, “they’re deciding to call you or your competitor,” Judy explains. “I wanted to capture those leads before they went to our competitors, and having the live chat option helps. We generate at least five new leads per week from chat.”
- Add the apartment chat link everywhere – “The more you use the chat link in Craigslist ads and elsewhere, the more chances you’ll have to start conversations with prospects.”
- Set up everyone on your team to chat – Discovery Heights usually has three agents/day available, which gives them a “much higher chat success rate,” according to Judy. Even if there is a phone call or tour, at least one person is usually still available to chat.
- Use the shortcut responses – Contact At Once! includes a library of prewritten, customizable chat responses to increase your response speed (and help with your spelling).
- Always ask when the chatter can come see the property –Judy says this type of question is essential to work into the chat to confirm the appointment or at least get the prospect thinking about it.
- Extend chat to your residents –Residents can take advantage of the chat convenience by asking simple questions like “Is my package there?” This saves time and the immediate answers make them happy.
- Train for customer experience, not chat – Chatting is not rocket science, and Judy’s team doesn’t go through any specific chat training. Instead, they are highly trained on how to figure out what’s important for the individual customer.
- Consider the subconscious goal of the prospect – Often, prospects chat in a question that’s easily answerable from the website. “It’s like they’re subconsciously trying to learn how well your property is managed, how trustworthy it is, how well they like you,” says Judy. It’s up to you to provide the right experience, even if it’s just answering a few questions.
You can also use chat during your off-hours to generate more leases (Contact At Once! provides mobile chat apps at no additional charge). One of Discovery Heights’ top leasing agents posts and is available to chat from ads like Craigslist around 10:00pm. He tells people to call, chat or email him at any time, often resulting in several contacts and appointments for the next day.
This ability to communicate instantly—wherever you or the prospect are—is only going to get more important. “Our future leads grew up texting, chatting, using computers,” adds Judy. “We can’t ignore this communication. We have to be part of it to capture those future leads. Get in now so you can stand out…or you’ll be missing out.”
By Aaron Hassen
Way #1: Get MORE Done
Are you busy? That’s a silly question to ask leasing agents and property managers who are part accountants, part salespeople, part public relations directors and part community therapists. There are only so many hours in the day. So, the successful ones are those who figure out how to do more things in less time.
This is one way website chat can be a big help. Whereas, a leasing agent can only speak with one person at a time in person or on the phone, that same agent can chat with multiple people at once, or chat while answering emails. She can even chat with one prospective renter while speaking with another individual on the phone.
Chat helps busy professionals answer more inquiries from their apartment website and online listings, while still being able to manage the many other tasks they’re responsible for.
Way #2: Be in MORE Places
No, we haven’t figured out how to conquer that pesky space-time continuum, but online chat allows your leasing office to maintain a live presence on your website and on sites across the Internet. Are you currently getting leads from popular Internet listing sites? If so, GREAT, because you can add chat to those listings and generate even more responses. Receiving inquiries from your apartment website? Chat can be there even when you aren’t—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And, that’s vitally important today when shoppers are searching for information across many websites and doing their research at all times of the day and night.
Mobile chat adds another dimension. You can’t take your office phone with you while you’re walking the property, or showing a unit, but chat goes wherever you go, on your smart phone, or tablet. You can decide whether you’ll answer, or have a chat receptionist answer for you—live, professionally trained chat professionals who back you up when you’re away, or simply can’t answer chats for a time. This way you can remain in control (and omnipresent), accomplishing multiple tasks at once without missing sales opportunities.
Way #3: Generate MORE Appointments
Last but not least, chat can help you generate more leasing opportunities. But, wait—do businesses that use website chat really generate more leads? According to our research, yes.
Many businesses who implement live chat tell us they see at least a 25% increase in the number of contacts they receive from their websites. More and more people prefer text-based communications to phone and people appreciate the immediacy of chat, especially when they’re culling through many websites and online listings in an apartment hunt. In one recent industry-specific survey, the majority of Contact At Once! users said they would recommend website chat as a “sure” way to sell more.
You can get more done, leverage your best agents better, and generate more leasing opportunities with apartment chat.
By Aaron Hassen
What do the objectives of online chat and multifamily marketers have in common? Well, everything. Sophisticated multifamily marketers are quickly learning what other industries have known for years: Online chat is the ideal way to increase both the quantity and quality of sales prospects by using an add-on that is so inexpensive and efficient that it pays for itself.
Consider major retailers who sell exclusively online. They see substantially higher conversion rates when offering the option to chat. Service industries, such as airlines, have made online chat a cornerstone of their customer contact strategy. Even technical support functions have migrated to chat sessions to dispense advice.
How Did It Happen?
It started out as a cost saving exercise. With chat, one agent can handle four or more inquiries at a time, versus one at a time over the phone. But those who launched chat for call deflection soon experienced three interesting and positive side effects:
1. Sales leads did not stay the same, they increased. Rather than cannibalize other channels (like phone and form leads), the chat sessions represented almost 100% incremental lead volume. And even though call volume did not drop as anticipated, the companies were delighted with the increased results, without having invested a single cent more in lead generation.
2. Agent efficiency improved. Agents were no longer tied down on a call and could actually accomplish more tasks while chatting.
3. Lead quality improved. Prospects who initiated chat sessions tended to be more engaged and agents were able to move them through the sales funnel with a structured nurturing process, including scripted responses and leading questions.
Why So Perfect?
Behavioral studies have shown that people have a wide range of comfort levels. Some prefer face-to-face interaction, while others like to speak on the phone. Still others prefer the anonymity of online conversations. The apartment world has long relied on email to reach this third group. But the time delay with email, sometimes days, often results in lost opportunities. Chat and text appeal to this segment, giving them the immediacy of a phone call and the convenience of text-based communication.
Check The Features
One of the most compelling selling points for chat in apartment leasing is the ability to script responses. Most prospect questions are very predictable and fall in just a few categories—price, availability and policies. It’s easy to develop effective responses and leading questions, as if your very best sales agent is communicating with every single prospect!
Some providers even offer a chat answering service. That makes a web storefront open for business 24/7 and levels the playing field for even the smallest community. A hybrid model of implementation—where internal agents answer chats when they are available and hand off to the answering service at other times—provides the perfect solution for maximizing results using limited resources.
Online chat is a quick and easy way for multifamily marketers to reach and convert more prospects. That makes advertising investments much more efficient. The tracking and reporting are invaluable to owners and managers who can review every session to see how their team is handling inquiries. An added benefit is that chat becomes a cursory research tool, providing immediate feedback regarding what’s important to potential customers.
Finally, chat and text options are the perfect way to sell your community to smart phone users who have a strong preference for on-the-go communications.
A Perfect Bottom Line
For apartment marketers, online chat opens another door to online prospects who are actively looking. And more active prospects mean more leases at higher rates.
By Aaron Hassen
For decades, placing a phone call was the quickest way to obtain property information. However, in 2012 and the era of instant access – Google, Bing, iPhones and iPads – that really isn’t the case anymore. In response to the change, Apartments.com and ApartmentFinder.com recently began adding live chat to apartment listings and properties across the country are benefiting from increased renter response and the efficiency of chat for setting appointments. What’s more, an increasing number of properties are also adding live chat to their own websites in order to make their communities more accessible to today’s renters.
With so many leasing offices now online and leasing agents taking advantage of live chat, we thought it useful to provide 7 important next steps (or tips) for getting the most out of apartment chat. Here they are:
For best results, place chat buttons alongside your phone numbers or email addresses throughout your website.
If you have purchased Contact At Once! Property Edition for your website, chat can become a primary way your website visitors connect with you. The placement and appearance of your chat buttons are important factors in how many responses you’ll receive. Contact At Once! users and administrators automatically gain access to the Contact At Once! portal where a variety of button styles and options are available. If you’d prefer to upload your own button design, just email Contact At Once! Support with your custom button image as an attachment and they can upload it for you.
Remember: Chat buttons won’t actually appear on your website unless someone is available to answer.
Contact At Once! technology is presence-aware, meaning that your chat buttons appear on your website only when users are active and available. Be sure you and your team are online, and when you are, don’t disappoint prospective renters by ignoring incoming requests. This can create a negative perception of your property.
Download the free iPhone/iPad App from the iTunes App Store.
Did you know: The number of chat inquiries your property receives is directly tied to your team’s online availability? By nature, leasing agents are often called away from their desks. The mobile chat app from Contact At Once! can help you and your team remain online and available to prospective residents. With chat in general, and mobile chat in particular, its easy to multitask, so you can be out to lunch, at the mall or even showing a unit to one prospective renter while setting an appointment with another.
Get trained and know exactly how to respond.
While some agents treat chat requests like phone inquiries, others find it challenging to respond to prospective renters on chat. For help with this, Contact At Once! offers free online video tutorials and live training webinars to educate users on the best ways to respond. The training offers best practices and tips for ways to optimize results from chat.
Consider adding a personal photo to your chat drop-in.
By displaying a personal photo the prospect knows they’ll be talking to a real person, not a machine. The use of real photos (instead of models or stock photography) has proven to increase the number of inquiries properties receive by as much as 50%! If for some reason you’re not comfortable uploading your own photo, try using a team photo or a photo of the property.
Consider allowing your current residents to chat with you.
Chat can help you interact with residents more regularly and improve relations. Also, accepting maintenance requests over chat can help improve service and response times. Chat transcripts provide written record of maintenance requests (versus hearsay from phone calls and in-person conversations).
Add chat links and buttons to your emails (For Deluxe subscribers only).
For Contact At Once! Deluxe subscribers, adding chat to your emails can make them more interactive and increase the number of responses you receive from eNewsletters. To do this, simply contact Contact At Once! Support and request your personalized link. Then, add the link provided to the email or place a linked image (such as a chat button) in the email and embed the link code behind it.
By Aaron Hassen
In a digital world of algorithms and online marketing, there are often misconceptions about what truly captures a prospective renter’s attention – which avenues help your property interact with and engage more renters. Studies continue to indicate that the content of your pages is not necessarily what drives conversions. Still, website content continues to remain the focus for many marketers: what the copy says, the keywords used, the links and images on the pages, etc. Often overlooked is the very thing that can impact conversions the most: Engagement.
In order to engage with more prospective renters, properties must realize that impressive graphics and an engaging layout are only useful in garnering interest and establishing legitimacy; they do little to drive interactions.
On most apartment websites, there are typically two primary ways to engage: call the number or fill out the form. From the renters perspective, neither is ideal. Email takes too long and a phone call means the loss of anonymity and control of their personal information. Unless your apartment website content is exceptional, most visitors will stop in, glean what they can, then move on without ever contacting your leasing office.
A Third Option
What if there was a third option to engage? A way to connect immediately and directly with a live person who could answer their questions? Instant chat is the missing link. It’s interactive and it’s discreet. It addresses the concerns of renters while creating more opportunities for leasing agents to set appointments.
“We know that our customers want to contact us in a way that is most convenient to them. They want to text and chat online. That is what our customers want. That is why we decided to [use chat].” – Dean Boswell, Director of Marketing at Tribridge Residential
If your vacancy rates depend on the ability of your leasing agents to set appointments and build trust and rapport with prospective renters, than engaging renters on their terms, when their interest is highest, is essential. The content on your website may be the bait. But, the ability to connect with renters and engage them in a way they are most comfortable with, is the hook that will help your property reel in more prospects.