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Ellis Shopping Report Multifamily Industry Benchmark 1st Quarter 2013

The flowers are blooming, trees are budding, and people in general are happier. Yes, it is spring – a time of growth, renewal, and rebirth. We thought it would be the perfect time to change the look and approach of the Ellis Shopping Report Multifamily Industry Benchmark – so we did. Each change we make supports our vision and commitment to the growing needs of our customers. We hope that you will find our new report fresh, inviting, and full of valuable content.

Gold RushThe Treasure Hunt: Understanding the Customer Experience Journey through Their Eyes

The 1849 California Gold Rush was sparked by the discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley area. This was arguably one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. Flash forward 165 years, and we have a new kind of ‘gold rush’ – Understanding the Customer Experience Journey. In many ways it is like the Gold Rush, as businesses around the world scurry to mine their customers’ thoughts, feelings, ideas, needs and wants.

Understanding the customer experience journey through the customer’s eyes is the treasure that property management companies are after. In order to find these golden nuggets of information, you must have the right tools. Property management companies who consistently receive superb shopping report scores, positive resident survey results, and raving ratings and reviews, not only have the right tools but also the right plans. Quite often these plans begin with evaluating and understanding trends and asking four important questions:

  • Where have we been?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where are we going?
  • How do we get there?

This is where the journey begins…

WHERE HAVE WE BEEN?

Q12013 Benchmark Trending GraphThe Ellis Shopping Report Multifamily Industry Benchmark has been an industry-recognized performance measurement tool for 13 years. Historically ranking companies each quarter based on the responses to the 10 Ellis Benchmark Questions and recognizing only the top five performers. The Quarterly Trending graph below provides us with a snapshot of benchmark averages since 2000. This tells us that leasing performance has been slowly edging up since the inception of the Benchmark. Where has your company ranked among your competitors over the last 13 years? What were some of the contributing factors to your placement? Knowing where you have been and how you got there can be very revealing.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

As we enter 2013, we have adopted a new approach to the Ellis Shopping Report Multifamily Benchmark quarterly ranking and comparisons. The basic premise of the benchmark – evaluating performance on the 10 key benchmark questions – remains the same, but we are introducing a variation to how companies are compared against the performance of other participants. Participants can qualify for Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze level based on their company average Benchmark performance scores during the quarter.

The overall benchmark score range by category was calculated based on all of the shops included in the benchmark for 2012.  The median score for 2012 was 92.

1st Quarter, 2013 Participating Companies Representing 3,511 Total Shops

AMLI Residential, BH Management Services, Inc., Bozzuto & Associates, BRE Properties, Carmel Partners, Colonial Properties Trust, CWS Apartment Homes, LLC, Fairfield Residential, Gables Residential Services, GHP Management, Greystar Management Services, Guardian Management, LLC, Holland Residential, IMT Residential, JMG Realty, Inc., Kettler Management, Legacy Partners Residential, Inc., Madison Apartment Group, LP, Palms Associates, Pinnacle (PRMC), Post Properties, RAM Partners, LLC, Sequoia Equities, Simpson Property Group, Sunrise Management, The Bainbridge Companies, Timberland Partners, TriBridge Residential, UDR, Venterra Realty, Walton Communities, Waterton Residential, Western National Property Management, Windsor Property Management Co / GID, Wood Partners

Congratulations to 1st Quarter 2013 Platinum Level Achievers!

  • Gables Residential Services
  • Legacy Partners Residential, Inc.
  • Post Properties
  • The Bainbridge Companies
  • Western National Property Management

* Companies are listed in alphabetical order

 How did the first quarter go?

This graph shows the average score of all participating companies for each benchmark question and the combined overall benchmark score based on first quarter 2013 data.

Overall

 

WHERE ARE WE GOING?

It can be difficult to begin a journey if you do not know where you are going. When it comes to the Ellis Shopping Report Multifamily Industry Benchmark, the majority of companies aim for the Platinum level. Who wouldn’t? But hitting the target does not happen by chance. As mentioned previously, it takes the right tools and the right plan. Here are a few tools that are used by companies that consistently achieve high shopping scores:

  • They have a vision of where they want to be that starts at the top and spreads through all levels of the company.
  • They have a detailed hiring practice which includes personality testing for their leasing professionals.
  • They have an accountability program in place for unacceptable performance – and they stick to it!

What leasing goals have you set for your company? What level are you aiming for?

 

HOW DO WE GET THERE?

As we strive to find the ‘new gold’ – understanding the customer experience journey through the customer’s eyes – we can learn a lot from history. During the California Gold Rush, some of the gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground. Later, gold was recovered from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. More sophisticated methods were developed and later adopted elsewhere. Sound familiar? This is the process of true discovery and growth. It involves gathering information from within your company as well as from your customer. Discovery of the customer experience journey can begin in a very basic way – much like in the Gold Rush – through our five senses: sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste.  These five senses are taking on a new importance in customer experience as they relate to perception. Perception is the act of gaining information through all of our senses – not just our sight.

What information are your customers gathering through their five senses when they walk through your door, call on the telephone, or engage with your employees through social media? An experience that begins on a high note can quickly take a detour and fall flat if you are not paying attention. Something as simple as a smelly fitness center, monotone voice, trash in the breezeway or spelling errors can leave a poor impression on a customer. Mapping out the customer’s journey using your five senses can help you see their perception.

Are you using a customer experience platform that can help you pan through the dirt and discover gold – the customer journey from prospect to resident to ambassador?

1.       Mystery Shops – The Beginning of the Journey

To get the best results for your community, you need to see the entire picture – not just a one-sided view of how well you are doing. The beginning of the customer experience begins with sound, fundamental practices:

  • Did the leasing professional make an appointment?
  • Did the leasing professional sell the benefits of living at the apartment community?
  • Did the leasing professional ask for a financial commitment?

In addition, reaching beyond the factual, objective feedback of a mystery shop, allows expression of those subjective, emotional, powerful reactions to the customers interaction with you. This is the Customer Experience – and it matters!

  • The level of engagement by the leasing professional was…
  • The leasing professional came across as…
  • The community amenities struck me as…

These are the types of questions that begin to reveal what the customer experience journey really looks like. If you want to know what the customer sees, you have to meet them where they are – in person, telephone, email, internet, etc. Each touch-point presents a different angle of the experience with your community and employees. Mystery shopping should not be a finger pointing experience but instead seen as an opportunity to improve the customer’s journey. Even the gold prospectors who returned home from the Gold Rush empty handed and defeated learned something along the way. The same is true for the good, bad, and ugly shopping scores that might come across your desk.

In our research, we have found that shop scores correlate highly to conversion rates. In other words, the higher the shop scores, the higher the conversion rates and vice-versa.  When we drilled down all the customer experience shop data, we found that the highest correlating question of likelihood of the shopper to recommend your community is “the thought of calling this community home”. Certainly not rocket science, but it validates that the customer experience is also so very important even for prospects.  The customer experience journey has to include the fundamentals and a great customer experience.  Understanding the customer experience journey through mystery shops identifies the initial journey of your customer.

2.       Resident Surveys – The Continuation of the Journey

Resident surveys ultimately measure how connected your customer is with your product/services, determine critical needs and offer an opportunity to effectively communicate and build truly personal relationships with them. There is no more important business measure than the voice of the customer, and it should never be viewed as an administrative exercise. When you take both praise and criticism to heart in order to fulfill the true needs of these customers, you build invaluable loyalty that can create buzz around your community and bring in enthusiastic, highly qualified prospects.

  • Thoughtfully review survey responses and consider their implications.
  • Share the results – including specific customer comments – with your entire staff.
  • If the results are not what you want, do not sweep them under the rug or blame the method.
  • Embrace the feedback and do something with it!

By understanding “WHO” your customer is, how they think, what is important to them, and how they behave (i.e. retention rate), you can better see what is and is not having a positive influence on their decisions. After sending out thousands of surveys, we found that your most loyal customers have the likelihood to renew of 80%-85%, and your least loyal customers have the likelihood to renew of 20%-25%.  What a difference! And it boils down to the customer experience journey.

3.       Social Media – The Culmination of the Journey

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more) has transformed the way consumers research, think about, and engage with brands, creating literally millions of micro-opportunities for engagement. Ratings & Reviews sites such as Travelocity, TripAdvisor, and Renter’s Voice bring forth instant visibility of customer opinions and needs. The challenge is finding patterns in the noise and how to make sense of it all.

If you encourage and monitor apartment reviews, you can consistently and easily learn what your residents like and what needs improvement – another measure of the customer experience journey through their eyes. As you tweak the customer experience for maximum effect, this in turn will have a positive impact on future apartment reviews. Why should you care about reviews and ratings? Because they tell your story, influence your customers, and keep you engaged with your residents – all leading to increased conversions and retention.   With over 10,000 reviews, Renter’s Voice sees an average rating of 3.9 stars for communities participating, translating in many RentersVoice.com visitors contacting the communities to seek additional information about leasing.

What type of experience are you providing and how does it translate into ratings and reviews?

To understand and communicate effectively with customers, you must better envision the customer experience journey, see the purchase decision-making process and the landscape as they live it, and understand their perception. Tracking the customer’s journey – through an integrated program of mystery shops, resident surveys, and ratings & reviews – will provide a 360-degree view of how value is created in the customer’s eyes and what improvements need to be made. Ellis’ integrated Customer Experience program provides information and guidance on what customers feel but more importantly initiates the process of anticipating customer needs, both tangible and intangible, to provide a richer experience for them long term.

We hope you will find Ellis Partners in Management Solutions, a feedback company and multifamily partner since 1984, to be not only the finest source for mystery shopping but also a training and feedback resource for your organization. Additional support and information can be found under Training and Articles.

 

 

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