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CRM saves the day

CRM solutions offer efficiency, automation, and a more renter-centric approach

By Miranda Jernigan, CPM®, ARM®

Resident retention begins the moment customers start to search for their apartment homes. Whether they choose to call, email, or tour the community in person, it’s essential for companies to put their best foot forward and have a system in place to ensure every customer receives prompt, personalized attention. As the costs of goods and services continue to rise and the labor shortage makes recruiting and retaining the best talent challenging, how do we do more with less and still retain a high standard for our residents, our clients, and ourselves?

One tool that makes communicating with customers and organizing the lead process more efficient is customer relationship management (CRM) software. Available through property management software and as a stand-alone program with integration options, CRM solutions aim to create a centralized place for site teams to manage communications throughout the customer lifecycle—from inquiry to renewal.

Seamless interactions

A CRM platform makes it possible for all communication between the community team and the customer to be captured and accessible within the program. Without CRM software, when a customer emails a community and receives a response from a leasing consultant, that communication can be limited to the interactions between those two people.

When the customer visits the community and potentially tours with someone different, a new guest card may be created without the two interactions “connecting.” Depending on the email and guest card setup, when a team member leaves or is absent on the day a customer visits, the previous communication may not be easily accessible. Having all customer interactions available in one place makes it easy for anyone with access to the CRM platform to pull up all interactions and quickly get up to speed to help that customer.

A focus on the customer

Mike Gomes,
Cortland, AMO®

Looking for a resident-centric solution to meet the needs of their customers led Mike Gomes, chief experience officer at Cortland, AMO®, to seek out and implement a CRM solution. “We found it increasingly difficult to easily engage with our customers using software that was built around the property and the unit and not the customer,” he says. Cortland chose Funnel Leasing because they had a contact center solution that integrated with their core CRM product, and Cortland was in the process of in-sourcing their contact center to own all first-touch interactions with prospects.

Funnel’s product is unique in that the data is architected around the renter, with one guest card (or data entry) for each renter, no matter how many communities within a portfolio the renter has inquired about. This helps a company like Cortland ensure that its teams will find the right home for prospective residents while minimizing the risk of losing them to competitors.

Rich leasing data

Funnel reports that this centralization offered by their CRM platform resulted in 12% of residents ultimately leasing at a Cortland community other than the one they initially inquired about. This may seem like a low number, but many prospective residents do research before making inquiries and are likely to lease at the community they initially reached out to, having chosen that as their “favorite” before even speaking with a leasing consultant or visiting the community.

Without a CRM system like Funnel making the connection and tying together the guest card, measuring a statistic like that was previously difficult, if not impossible. For example, pre-CRM, if a prospective resident were to visit three Cortland communities over a weekend, they may have established a unique guest card at each community, creating “unclosed traffic” at the two sites where they didn’t lease. Being able to track where the prospective resident ultimately leased, assuming it’s within Cortland’s portfolio, gives more insightful data on traffic numbers and customer decisions.

Implementing a CRM solution

Implementing any new system can be challenging. Gomes credits change management efforts with being critical to getting the adoption and behavior changes among site associates necessary to roll out a new solution of this scope. Some of the keys to successful change management that he shared include:

  • Explaining the overall vision and why the decision was made to switch software. Be clear on what will remain the same, if anything, and where each role may be affected.
  • Setting expectations about the product’s capabilities and, if possible, how those capabilities might expand as the platform develops through integrations, customizations, and new features. Get team members excited about the new platform and set a realistic expectation for the change.
  • Developing robust training materials and programs to help associates become proficient in using the software.
  • And recognize that training doesn’t stop at implementation. Effective, up-to-date training materials will also assist with onboarding new hires and provide resources for continued success.
  • Providing hands-on coaching for site teams. Associates will learn by using the CRM platform, but they’ll need guidance as they get started and as new features are rolled out.
  • Creating feedback channels so associates can share desired features and user experience changes, tips and best practices, and other opportunities to get the most value from the platform. This feedback channel can also allow you to test your team’s understanding of the software and identify training gaps or potential implementation issues that must be addressed.
  • Continuing communicating with teams as changes and enhancements are implemented.

Refinement of the CRM solution

Since initial deployment, Cortland has worked closely with Funnel to add functionality and features as well as provide feedback. They continue to refine and extend the CRM platform to serve all their teams.

Tyler Christiansen, Funnel

Tyler Christiansen, Funnel’s CEO, recommends that operators don’t just layer on technology as a Band-Aid but instead look to transform their operating model in ways that a renter-centric platform can offer to leading operators. “The new operating model is powered by role specialization, centralization, AI, and automation,” says Christiansen. “The goal of the new operating model is to provide an excellent, streamlined rent experience while also generating operational efficiencies and staffing flexibility.”

AI and automation

Implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and automation tools are now best practices for multifamily operators to help teams with their jobs and ensure that team members can spend their time on high-value interactions, such as in-person tours and application assistance. AI and automation handle the more mundane but necessary administrative tasks and follow-ups.

They also provide service when the office team can’t, such as after hours. In fact, Funnel reports that 69% of tours scheduled by their virtual leasing agent were booked after hours. Chatbots on community websites and third-party call centers can be available 24/7 for basic questions about rent, fees, and cut-and-dry policies like parking.

AI is never a true substitute for the role our team members play on-site. When a prospective renter has a nuanced or delicate question, that should be handled by the on-site team, which is trained in both fair housing compliance and customer service. The team should then be able to respond quickly, empathetically, and professionally to meet the customer’s needs.

Role specialization and centralization

Role specialization and centralization are where Christiansen feels Funnel’s renter-centric architecture can help, allowing management companies to specialize roles and centralize administrative tasks to teams of experts in their respective areas. “This creates a positive experience for team members, as they’re able to master their particular area of expertise and play to their strengths,” says Christiansen. “Gone are the days when sales-minded individuals are asked to do detail-oriented administrative tasks, or vice versa.” Centralization doesn’t just point to who is doing which tasks but also which tasks still need to be done by team members.

We’re all trying to figure out how to do more with the same or even fewer resources, and leasing is one of the first areas operators look to be more efficient while creating a better customer experience. Introducing a CRM product and training teams on how to best utilize it offers an opportunity to streamline leasing operations and potentially increase efficiency and satisfaction.

Journal of Property Management

Miranda Jernigan, CPM®, ARM®, has over 20 years of experience in the multifamily real estate industry. She’s a past president of the IREM Northern Virginia Chapter and currently serves on their chapter board. She’s also an IREM instructor and a current governing councillor.

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