Advice for Property Managers: Creating Better Customer Experiences

Part 1: Purging the Junk and Adding More Cowbell at Your Apartment Community

Anybody else love to purge old junk? I’m all about it, so today, let’s do a little radical purging together. No, I’m not asking you to throw away your favorite old t-shirt with the wine stains on it. (P.S. I would NEVER!) We are going to throw away old marketing ideas that are cluttering your strategy and holding back your success. Let’s get started!

Bigger Isn’t Always Better when it comes to marketing your apartments

Everyone always acts like bigger is better. But it’s just not true, especially when it comes to marketing. I see onsite teams constantly making the mistake of waiting. Waiting to execute a “bigger/better” marketing strategy, but there is no such thing. Ideas keep flowing, plans get bigger and more complicated but then what happens? Those teams get stuck in a creativity trap and end up going nowhere.

Takeaway: big, over-complicated marketing strategies are a handicap. They prevent us from actually DOING! Starting small may not be sexy, but it works. P.S.: A simple, working strategy is way sexier than a flashy mistake.

When property managers understand how to create better experience for their residents and prospects, the results are hugely profitable. The idea that customer satisfaction is enough is outdated. Exploring ways to create meaningful relationships is key to your apartment communities success.

Customer Satisfaction is Worthless in a Long-Term Apartment Marketing Strategy

The next idea that we are going to ditch has to do with customer satisfaction. We’ve been going to customer satisfaction seminars for years but they are outdated. They somehow keep trying to sell the idea that: customer satisfaction is worthless in today's market. Does that sound like a good longterm plan?

Walt Disney said it best when he said, "A customer who is merely satisfied is still likely up for grabs in the marketplace."

Do you want to be creating relationships that are always up for grabs? Now, in the housing industry, with competition the way that it is, most of you have competition to the left, to the right, and across the street. That means any customer that is just satisfied is still up for grabs and ready to walk to a competitor at a moment’s notice with only a ‘Bye, Felicia!’ And, that's a scary place for us to be when it comes to our retention, referrals and our renewals.

Takeaway: Settling for satisfied customers isn’t a way to build a longterm marketing and retention strategy.

You with me so far?

Understand Your Prospective Renter’s Buying Process

We have to chuck the idea that customers are making logical decisions. I used to think that every single customer was weighing the features, benefits, price comparison, and then making strictly a logical decision. NOT TRUE (at least not completely). Their decisions are a little more psycho, not the serial killer kind, but psychological.

It’s about the mind and the emotions. Think subconscious more than conscious.

You know that feeling when you walk into a new place. Your subconscious is instantly sizing it up. You might even say something like, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I really like the vibe of this place.” That’s it, you little psychological thinker, you!

Our prospects aren’t any different. Yes, they are looking at features and benefits, but there's so much more that's going on inside their heads.

Takeaway: For us to really stand out from our competition, we have to reach our prospects at that meaningful “heartstring” level. Stop overselling features and benefits. Focus on connections.

What Does Your Prospect Want?

Understanding what our residents and prospects really want from our onsite teams is critical in building lasting connections.

So, the million dollar question, “What do they want?”

They want to be WOWed.

And, not just with the latest and greatest amenities, or gadgets, or awesome move-in gifts, because those things can always be topped, right? So, we've got great gadgets, we have great technology, we have fun things that we're doing. I mean, you look at some of these high rises and you think, "Oh my gosh, how can we come up with something even better?" All of those things are fun, they're important, they're part of marketing, but they also fade because they can always be topped with the next gadget.

We are talking about those small, almost insignificant moments, where your prospect or residents says:

  • "Wow, that was fast!"

  • "Wow, that was easier than I expected!"

  • "Wow, that was sweet."

Takeaway: Insignificant moments where we show up in a “wow” way puts a little equity in the “I can't put my finger on it, but I can feel it” bank. These small wows lead to big wins over time.

Wow Experiences Yield Huge ROI

Residents and prospects at your community are looking for more in terms of customer experiences. As property managers, your goal is to give stellar customer service and then look for opportunities to wow your customer. Think of those wow resident experiences as Will Ferrill’s cowbell. You always want more cowbell.

Here’s an example of one of those moments with Hyatt House Hotel.

Picture this scene: You’re waiting to check in at Hyatt House Hotel. Out of nowhere, a dog bounds up to the hotel to the front desk from the hallway, wagging his tail. You watch as the desk agent leans over and tosses a rolled newspaper into the dog's mouth. You're probably thinking, "What in the world is going on," but you keep watching. The dog then walks away, down the hall, and the desk agent goes back to assisting customers.

So, what's going on here?

It turns out that a lady was staying at this Hyatt House because she had just sold her house after living there for 40 years. And, like many of the other guests there at Hyatt House, she was in a sort of limbo before moving into her first empty-nester home. A member from the Hyatt House team overheard her mention that her dog felt lost. For years, the dog’s job was to get the newspaper from the yard. The dog was missing his home and his routine.

So, the team at Hyatt House came together and decided to create a “Wow” experience. Not just for their resident, but for their resident's dog. This dog now, every day, comes out and gets this rolled up newspaper from the agent behind the desk.

Can you say, “WOW!” Bravo to the Hyatt House team. This was unexpected, it's way above and beyond.

Was it required? Absolutely not. One might even say that it would be absurd to expect that level of attention.

But, do you think it made a lasting impression? I know it did for me. Since hearing about this experience, I’ve shared it over and over at many of the events I’ve presented at. Each and every time, the audience lets out a big “AWE” when they hear this story. No doubt, they’ve gone on to share this with others.

Here’s what a representative from The Hyatt House had to say. “This is a situation where, in an extended-stay, people are out of sorts. People are moving, they might be recently divorced, or on a long job assignment and are away from their families, or those whose houses have sold, but their new house isn't ready. This is a situation where the psychological realities of a customer's life can be weighing heavily on their perception of the goods and services that you're providing. And, that's where service and hospitality like this can shine.”

Takeaway: As housing professionals, we help people find their home. It may be their first home, their right-now home, their life-took-an-unexpected-turn home, or their forever home. Whatever it may be, it’ an opportunity for us to make a meaningful impact in their life. That beats customer satisfaction by a mile!

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About the Author: Barbara Savona is the CEO of Sprout Marketing with 18 years of housing experience. Sprout Marketing offers an exclusive marketing platform for multifamily professionals. Whether you are struggling with outreach marketing, social media, resident retention, events or overall community engagement, Sprout Marketing has you covered. Learn more at

Next in this series…Beyoncé Has Everything to Do With Your Customer Experience Journey