Sunday, January 18, 2015

Do We Reduce Our Residents to Being A Unit Number?



Our lives revolve around numbers, especially those of us who are a part of the multifamily industry. We obsess over occupancy numbers, rental rates, market rates, competitive analysis of what our competition is charging and how they are faring in comparison to our properties. We worry over square footage, cash flow, budget adherence, maintenance costs, how much that recent snow fall will cost to remove and whether or not it will add excessively to our Overtime budget (if we even budgeted for any overtime!) We worry about the number of move outs each month, whether or not we can cover that number with an equal number of move ins and how much traffic we need to cover any other upcoming move outs. We obsess about everything.

Every January, someone usually gives us, or we buy a calendar, planner, or date book and update our Outlook calendars. We try to re-train ourselves to remember to write the correct current calendar year. However, until recently, I never realized how annoying numbers can be, especially when we are, as a person, reduced to being known only as a number.

Having the unfortunate experience of facing a somber medical crisis, I began the journey of visiting first, my family doctor, then a myriad of specialists, hospitals, outpatient clinics and so on. I never realized how much medicine has changed until then. It used to be I could call my physician’s office and the receptionist would say, “Yes, Mindy, sure, let me see when we can get you in today,” She would proceed to take my information as to my symptoms and simply tell me my appointment time. Those were the days when I might have had a strep throat, or bronchitis or simply a sinus infection. In fact, those were the days when they would often just call in an antibiotic, thus bypassing an office visit completely. It wasn’t that I called a lot for myself, but as a busy teacher raising two children, the people who worked in the office usually got to know the family pretty well since when your child gets sick, usually the whole family does.

After the first phone call to my doctor’s new office (he is now not a solo practitioner – Egads! I suppose no one is anymore!), I was greeted by a Call Center first responder whose first remark was, “Date of birth, please.”

Oh? Okay, well it’s 11/24/----.

“Address?”

I answer that I have moved from the previous address and provide the new information so she can update their system.

It is then that she asks my name. Really? That is the third question???? The kicker is that she tells me the name I provide is not the one she has in her system since they must now only use the Formal Given Name as Listed on one’s Birth Certificate. What???? But nobody knows me by that name and I refuse to even acknowledge my parents were stupid enough to name me that in the first place. Doesn’t matter. You must allow them to use that name, though you may prefer your middle, nick or whatever other name you always use. In the end, it turns out, that doesn’t even matter anyway, as the only thing they ask me each time I call (and it can be three times every week right now) is “What is your DOB?”

The pharmacy is exactly the same way, too. Nobody cares that you like your nickname and hate your “given legal first name” as they continue to ignore your requests to call you be your preferred name. Everyone in the medical profession, at every single stage of your treatment will ask you FIRST what your date of birth is.

I wonder, is this how Residents feel when they send you emails, call on the phone, or come into the office? Do we only know them by their apartment (or worse – UNIT NUMBER)? I usually recognize Residents by name; however, after experiencing the trauma of the medical profession, I will strive to never refer to anyone ever again by only his or her unit number. How impersonal can you be in one of the most PERSONAL BUSINESSES there is?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It Is Always About the Customer!



I was a terrified, eager, skinny little first grader who learned quickly in life to shut up, observe everything that is going on around her and be ready with the right answer when the teacher asks a question. Unfortunately, this can leave you excited to learn but anxious, too. It isn’t easy to be barely five-years old and burdened with the pressure of being right all the time. I mean, who could possibly have the answers at such a tender age? I was often left focusing on how to find the answer and oftentimes resorted to prayer. (Who had Google to rely on then? Not us.)

In any event, when you grow up like this, I believe you develop either good self-esteem or low self-esteem, depending upon the feedback you receive from those around you. Your peers can accept you but most likely they come to resent you. To counteract this, you must employ your keen powers of observation and learn to adapt to their patterns. For me, this meant simply being strong and deciding that if God thought I was “good enough” then why on earth wouldn’t everyone else? I made friends with others one at a time when I was little. What was the point of having too many? Friends deserve your time and undivided attention. If you spread yourself too thin, then there isn’t enough to give to make the other person feel special and appreciated, and I didn’t mind having a small group of tried and true friends – those who would stick up for you when you inevitably did make a mistake or didn’t have the right answer.

Maybe this is why in today’s world I enjoy exploring stores and shops that exude those personal touches that make going there fun. During this holiday season, as promoted a couple of years ago, I love “Shopping Local” on #SmallBusinessSaturday. Shopping in these stores is usually a much more friendly experience and it seems to mean more to the shop owners and employees who don’t ignore you when you walk into the door.

A couple of weeks ago, when my best friend was with me from Kentucky, we stopped at a store called Backyards around 4:00 PM. The shop was closed and dark and as we turned to walk back to our car, the Owner opened up the door and ushered us inside. I tried to protest – I know what that is like when you are closing your Leasing Office and someone comes to tour at the last second. It can be annoying if you’re tired and cross but it can also be an opportunity for a lease too, if you have the forethought to rally once more time.

Anyway, it was such a pleasant experience! Although this store carries beautiful outdoor furnishings, all the things you need to create a real life Fairy Garden, I did discover it also carries a line of paper goods with a killer sense of humor and a lot of inexpensive wine accessories, too, that I was not expecting to find among the otherwise high price merchandise. My best friend discovered a jewelry line she loved, so we had a great time, bought a few inexpensive items and left. I returned the next Saturday to purchase a piece from the jewelry line for my friend, and wow! Those Owners made me feel very special – they remembered tidbits of the conversation with my friend, they showed me a couple of fun wine corks (only $1.99!!!!) and had cookies and hot chocolate waiting to boot. No questions asked about how many cookies one took (because there were some hubbies nibbling more than one, haha). I realized how relaxed I felt, how nice it was to be acknowledged, and if I ever return to house ownership, I will definitely purchase the Adirondack chairs they carry!!! They put the customer experience first and for someone who frequently reverts back to that little girl who feels anxious and scared and is afraid of feeling inferior, I truly enjoyed shopping there. This is the kind of experience we need to create for our Prospects who come from all kinds of backgrounds and who may feel a bit anxious and overwhelmed themselves when looking for a new place to call home. How do your Leasing Teams create this experience for your properties and communities?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is Twitter Real?



I happen to manage a few social media accounts for our properties and of course, for myself. What is so ironic about this is that I knew nothing of this a few years ago. So, what did I do? I started my own personal Twitter account and started following some highly respected and very knowledgeable industry professionals. I found myself participating in a 4:00 pm Friday afternoon apartment Chat with these multifamily marketing professionals and I started taking notes and paying attention to how they post content, etc. Their support was and still is invaluable to me.

Then I started reading their posts and following their links to articles on improving SEO, getting creative in content marketing, and learning how to use some of the great tools available to everyone to manage account posts. Now, I am not an expert. I am not a guru on this stuff and likely never will be. I find Twitter to be insanely informative and supportive of spreading the good news in our multifamily world (which it kind of turns out is a small world, after all.)

What really rocked my world was discovering another section of real estate professionals: Realtors, investors, marketers, media experts, bloggers and developers who formed a morning Chat group. There are others who also join in and it has become a fun time. Occasionally, the group has informal conversations at other times of the day as well, and people tweet as they can. Sometimes, the discussions may turn serious depending on someone mentioning personal circumstances. All in all, it is a relaxed, no pressure thing designed to bolster people who may have lost a deal or just need a word of encouragement.

Recently, I began to notice that some people being “introduced” to our group were really vaguely familiar so I investigated a bit. These “newbies” were really extensions of current Tweeters who were singling me out in a “conversation” and attaching all their other personae to their tweets.  Huh? Then I began getting “followed” by all these people who wanted me to buy followers from them. Double HUH?

“Why would anyone buy followers? Vanity? To make themselves look bigger and more engaged than the competition? To look like they have greater marketing reach than they actually do?” Chris Jones asked in an online article back in 2013.

I don’t know about you, but this is not how I intended to use Twitter. I do not want to connect to people who are not sincere and who are in fact not even real people. For the accounts I manage, they are not linked as followers to my personal account. I can't think of a reason to do this. I also have to question the sanity of someone who hosts “conversations” between their personal account and all their fake accounts – isn’t that the very definition of associative identity disorder? If blocking and unfollowing these insane people is the only answer, then at least there is that.I wonder, is this the intention of Twitter?