Apartmentalize 2022 was an all-around amazing experience. The education session speakers brought energy, engagement, and expertise. The sessions touched on many different facets of the multifamily industry, but at the heart of each conversation, the main takeaways shared common themes. This year’s education focused heavily on: culture, customer experience, and authenticity.
These topics are not stand-alone silos; they overlap, weave together, and tie into every aspect of a company: from internal customers (i.e. employees) and external customers (prospects & residents) to brand and amenities. Any “customer,” wherever they are in their journey, should see, hear and feel the same thing about your company, and the message needs to be consistent and authentic each and every time.
From the combined voices of over 10 different sessions that our team members at ApartmentRatings & SatisFacts attended, we’ve compiled key elements of what we liked, loved, and learned at this year’s conference.
The idea of who the “customer” is has shifted…and for the better. In every session we attended, the speakers made a point to mention that the customer is not only the resident, it is everyone: investors, prospects and residents, AND employees. As our SatisFacts education leaders often mention in their resident journey conversations and speaking engagements, “employees set the tone for the resident experience and workplace culture for your company.” We heard many examples and data trends from multifamily leaders about who the customer is and what they are looking for. Here are a few of those customer service takeaways:
- Apartment All Stars: 60 Ideas in 60 Minutes: “Believing that we take care of our team first, then everything else falls into place.” Kate Good provided this quote from TMG. She also shared an interesting statistic: “When residents know the names of the team members, it increases resident satisfaction by 22%.” Make sure your customers know the people who are serving them – from leasing consultants to maintenance to the cleaning team.
- A Look In the Mirror: Rethinking Site Operations in Multifamily: Virginia Love with Entrata, Suzanne Hopson with Tricap, and Dana Pate from RangeWater provided a great discussion on company culture (mentioned later in this recap), but one big takeaway that resonated with the customer experience was: “inspect what you expect.” The discussion revolved around what you take away from online feedback. Review sites (and negative reviews) can be viewed negatively, or can be viewed as an opportunity to identify pain points for your customers (internal and external), determine what is needed (training, more resources, etc) to build the right solution, and make it an opportunity to change minds. One of our favorite quotes of the day came from this session: “You are competing with the last best experience your customer has had.”
- The CX Factor: New Customer Experiences for Emotionally Charged Consumers: Christina Singleton with Show My Property, Jessica Fern-Kirkland with Grace Hill, and Karen Trueman with Legend, offered great insight to the employee and customer experience. A quote we loved was: “What’s happening inside a company is felt on the outside by a customer.” They discussed how customers can see, feel and hear your culture and they want to be part of a great one. They are looking for a culture and value alignment. Companies spend a lot of time developing a strong culture and it’s important that those values trickle down to the customers to provide meaningful experiences, which in turn, leads to building brand loyalty.
What we heard throughout many sessions we attended on the topic of how to best utilize customer service tools was: ASK YOUR TEAM. Ask your on-site teams what they want to use and how they best engage with customers: do they prefer virtual tours or in-person tours, automated review response or manual, company tablets or paid personal cell phone plans. Let your teams help choose your tech stack so that your company can better optimize technology and community features to improve performance and free up your team’s time to focus on their customers.
Data from the 2021 SatisFacts Online Renter Study concluded that online ratings and feedback from actual customers was the most trusted at 75.5% when renters were asked “Which do you trust most when deciding to do business with a company or community?” Company and/or community websites fell short at just 31.7%. Additionally, renters have become more savvy and know better than to trust websites or review sites showing all 5 star reviews. In fact, in the same study, 58% of renters said ‘No’ when asked “Would you trust a review site if all or most of the reviews were only positive?” And that number has seen consistent growth since 2015. Authentic online content from the crowd serves as social proof and backs up company brand messages.
- Social Crowdsourcing: the Non-Marketing Approach to Marketing: Lia Nichole Smith with SatisFacts, Dana Hill with RangeWater Real Estate, and Rick Leith with Legend, discussed why authenticity matters. 91% of customers are willing to reward a brand for being authentic with a purchase, endorsement, or something similar, according to Cohn & Wolfe’s “Authenticity 100 Study”, 2020. Dana Hill shared how they have created a team identity to build unity. RangeWater employees call themselves “Rangers” and they regularly celebrate “Moving Moments” – motivating stories recognizing team members for outstanding service. It is no longer about putting out your own brand marketing and hoping it resonates with consumers. They want to see and feel the real, authentic stories and experiences.
- What Do Post Pandemic Renters Need: Data & Industry Expert Perspectives: Marcella Eppsteiner with Mission Rock, Kate Becker with Bozzuto, and Igor Popov with Apartment List shared that millennials are increasingly giving up on home ownership, with 24% saying they plan to always rent, rather than buy, according to Apartment List 2022 Survey Data. As we heard from many sessions, these same “forever renters” are doing more research post-pandemic. This session specifically highlighted that consumers are relying heavily on reviews before they sign a lease. They expect the reviews to be real and authentic because they trust the site/brand. Losing site of that can potentially lose a forever brand advocate.
- Advanced Merchandising for Multifamily Housing: Selling With Video Storytelling: Kristi Fickert with Realync and Andrew Hudson with American Landmark rocked this session. One data point we loved was: 60% of prospects are renting site unseen post pandemic. They are touring less and researching more – a sentiment that was mentioned in many sessions this year. Knowing that the data shows they want real, authentic content that builds connection, a few of our favorite ideas that Kristi and Andrew shared were: Give “behind the scenes access” video tours – show them things that they won’t see on the website, showcase the whole team – maintenance included, answer FAQs, be authentic and give them everything they need to ensure their decision in choosing the best home for themselves. They shared a fantastic quote: “You can’t be cool without being authentic.” – Nick Tran from, Head of Global Marketing for TikTok
- How Balanced is Your Digital Ecosystem: Lia Nichole Smith with SatisFacts, Aaron Metzger with Genius Digital Marketing, and Anne-Marie Niklaus with Berger Rental Communities discussed how building brand congruency will ultimately build brand loyalty. Aaron stated: “Every touchpoint that your customer sees has to speak the same message 100% of the time.” He also recommended not just looking at the data, but analyzing the sentiment (what it actually means). Not all data has to be good data all the time (similar to reviews). It’s good to use the different data to see where you may need to pivot, change, and move forward.
- Platinum Status in Apartment 8P: Tyler Christiansen with Funnel Leasing, Mike Whaling with 30 Lines, and Jamie Gorski with Windsor Communities, highlighted key elements to providing authentic experiences and turning them into brand loyalty. One shining example was the power of Disney’s “Magic Moments.” Our favorite quote when thinking about brand loyalty was from Mike Whaling: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” When you build a culture of treating the customer right, as Tyler stated, you build brand loyalty, and those experiences are what residents remember and share. Those moments equal value in the customer’s mind, so building brand loyalty increases profits and builds lifetime residents. And perception of value, as we all know, is most often the deciding factor at renewal time when those rent increases come around.
- Success and Succession: Empowering Women Leaders with Alex Jackiw, COO of Hayes Gibson Property Services, Renee Savage, President of SavageCRE, Inc, Na-Tasha Mobley, District Manager for Liberty Military Housing, and Lucinda Lilley, President of SCRHA, was such an amazing and inspiring session! While the session was focused on being a woman in a leadership position, the qualities discussed around leadership resonate with those you want for your overall company/brand as well. Alex highlighted being authentic in your leadership style. She recommended explaining to your team how you lead and who you are as a person, and to allow employees the opportunity to question you, i.e. create open dialogue. The question “How would you describe leadership?” was posed to each woman on the panel, and they responded with: caring, listening, and courage. When you have leaders who truly care about their customers (employees and residents), listen (and actually use the feedback to improve yourself and the success of your company and team members), and have the courage to speak openly and allow open dialogue, you build a foundation that leads to an authentic culture and brand.
Our Director of Client Performance, Melissa DeCicco, kicked off the discussion on company culture during her session, A Human Revolution Leadership Guide, with a takeaway that resonated across all of the culture Apartmentalize sessions. She said talent, more than capital, defines business success. It’s time to put the focus on your people. Listen to your employees, figure out what they need, and build your strategic foundation based on your people. Everything else will fall into place. We heard from several companies who are doing just this and reaping the benefits, including seeing increased employee retention and reduced marketing expenses due to consistently high occupancy. There were so many great culture discussions, and below are some of our top takeaways:
- A Look In the Mirror: Rethinking Site Operations In Multifamily: A session that provided great examples from two companies building an amazing culture and seeing the benefits. Suzanne Hopson from Tricap explained how their company views culture using a quote from Tricap Founder, Bryan Pritchard: “Don’t ask why we can’t do something, ask why not.” She explained how they had to break how they were operating, ask everyone what they wanted to be doing, and transition them into the right place. They’re not afraid to take risks – they’ve gone completely remote with 100% self-guided and virtual tours, and are converting their leasing offices into community hubs for residents. They aren’t afraid of feedback. They have learned valuable lessons through employee feedback that is helping to make their tech stack easier for employees and residents, and getting back some lost revenue. Dana Pate from RangeWater also discussed ways their company is using feedback to create a culture of change. They created a reputation team to identify training solutions, resource needs, and to ensure they are building the right solutions for their customers – employees and residents.
- A Human Revolution Leadership Guide: This session dug into the value of frequent and open communication and celebrating with employees. We learned from Mike Brewer with RADCO Companies and Girish Gehani with Trilogy, how their companies build their strategy and culture based on the entire team, not just a few people in the corporate office deciding what it should be, and they start at onboarding. Their companies are determined to break down the silos and encourage employees at all levels to provide ideas and feedback. A statistic shared in this session stated that 94% of workers said they’d stay at a company longer if their employers invested in their careers. At Trilogy and RADCO, along with several other companies we heard from, they pay for their employees’ multifamily education. RADCO takes it one step further by additionally paying for personal passion/hobby education as well through LinkedIn Learning courses.
- How Balanced Is Your Digital Ecosystem: In this session, Anne-Marie Niklaus, President of Berger Rental Communities stated: “You don’t have an accidental company culture; you have to intentionally build it, define it, and champion it.” She shared the same sentiment as Mike and Girish that culture starts at onboarding, and that it is important to empower your employees to be the best version of themselves and nurture both their personal and career growth.
- Reprioritizing People: Rebounding from the Great Resignation: Jessica Eberbach from Tricap Residential had several takeaways, but one that we loved was calling their mentors ‘culture champions’ to make sure that they are not only mentoring the new employee through task-based requirements, but also to reinforce the culture and soul of the organization and their place in it. Another takeaway was from Jamin Harkness with The Management Group. His company raised all the team member salaries to deal with wage compression to ensure that all team members were being paid fair market value. We learned that both companies have really innovative benefit packages to make their employment brand stand out based on feedback from their employees, such as: flexible schedules, paid maternity/paternity leave, sabbaticals, company trips, and fully-paid medical insurance plans.
- Being Your Authentic Self: The Power of a Strengths-Based Culture: This session dug into the concept of empowering employees. The first takeaway of the session was a quote that said: “It’s about what’s
wrongstrong with people.” The discussion emphasized the importance of praising team members, recognizing their talents, and helping them grow and succeed. There were many great statistics provided by David Deitz of Birchstone and Thrive with Strengths Founder, Joanna Wiesinger. Our two favorites were: 1. People who focus on their strengths are 6 times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. 2. The odds of an employee being engaged when leadership fails to focus on their strengths is 9%. However, 75% (3 out of 4) are likely to be engaged when a company chooses to focus on employee strengths.
- 15 Top Tips & Trends for Training & Engagement: This session with Robyn Cue from MAXX Properties and Valerie Sargent with Yvette Pool & Associates, mentioned a recurring concept that asking team members what they need in order to be successful is a key component in building a good culture and successful brand. In the session, they went a step further to include asking team members what type of training best suits them. Some people prefer social learning, some people need a quiet virtual option, and many like the flexibility of mobile learning. They also talked about incorporating fun into training, as well as mentorship programs, which happens to be a key component of Trilogy’s onboarding program that was discussed in detail by COO, Girish Gehani, during A Human Revolution Leadership Guide.
- Apartment All Stars: 60 Ideas in 60 Minutes: Our favorite quote from this session was from Toni Blake: “The vibe in your tribe means value in your economy.” She shared that people want to do business with good people. Several companies mentioned non-profits that their companies have created in their efforts to be part of something bigger in their communities, including: Berger’s Hope & Door, RADCO Cares, and RangeWater Impact Foundation, just to mention a few.
- Platinum Status in Apartment 8P: Mike Whaling, Founder of 30 Lines, posed the question:“Can you attract better employee talent based on brand loyalty?” When employees want to be part of something bigger, they show up and they want to contribute in meaningful ways as well, bringing culture and brand loyalty full circle.
Whether it’s determining the best style of training, having one-on-one sessions with new associates, asking for feedback at touchpoints along the employee journey, or using tools like Yammer for internal employee engagement, the key component is communication. A good company culture is one that values open and authentic communication and feedback (good and bad), and uses it to create actionable items that build and sustain a culture that resonates with team members and will ultimately trickle down to residents as well, creating authentic brand loyalty.