The Demand Solutions Blog

5 Customer Experience Mistakes MFH Operators Make

by Donald Davidoff | Dec 21, 2017 12:00:00 AM

customer-experience-mistakes.jpgToday, customers want an experience, not just a transaction. In fact, they expect it. They get it in their interactions with many other companies, e.g., Amazon, Uber or Lyft, Nordstrom, etc., so they expect it from you. Design and innovation company, Fjord Accenture refers to this new world where customer’s drive expectations for one business based on what they experience with others as “liquid expectations.”

If you ask virtually any multifamily employee or executive, they’ll tell you they care about the customer, want to provide rewarding customer experience and value customer satisfaction. Despite the lip service paid to customer experience, in our interviews with associates and residents, we still see many missteps in how multifamily operators are pursuing these aims.

For years, this was not a significant business issue. As the real estate ethos states, if you paid attention to location, location and location, and added a focus on managing costs you’d be profitable. Besides, your competitors weren’t providing a much better experience, so it was easy to think it made little difference. Today the tide is shifting and if your company does not pay attention you will miss out. Here are the most common and vital mistakes we see operators make when focusing on the customer experience.

1. Mistaking Customer Service for Customer Experience

Customer service is a considerable part of processes and standards. It's the basics that we have defined for our teams: the stand, smile and greet; or perhaps the way that we are engaging with a customer when we meet them, when they come in the office, when we pick up the phone and so on.

Customer experience, on the other hand, encompasses so much more than just the “soft” skills of customer service. It’s the online experience, the policies and procedures that make it either easy or hard for a customer to do business with you, etc. Whereas customer service can be a training exercise, getting customer experience right is a journey that companies go through as they start to evolve from providing service that’s focused on our processes to truly focusing on the customer and crafting an experience designed for them. Training is a necessary, but not sufficient, task for great customer experience. Customer experience means equipping teams with the necessary processes and products to deliver that experience purposefully.

Customer service is about standards, processes and techniques. Customer experience is how everything comes together to create an experience for the customer and it’s how that experience feels to the customer.

It is not an initiative. It is something that you build into the fabric of the organization. You look at it from a systemic approach. Companies go through this journey as they're evolving and growing and it often begins with random experiences that teams are offering.

2. Viewing Experience Through Your Lens Not the Customers'

I'm a big fan of Hertz Number One Club. Why? Because I get off the plane; I see my name telling me where my car is (actually now I get an email as I get off the plane which is even easier); I immediately go and get my car and I never have to talk to a person or think. On the way out, I show somebody a driver's license, but that’s it. There's no forced or inauthentic niceness involved and it's a great customer experience.

Conversely, when I use Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I have an entirely different customer service experience. I have to speak with several different people. Everybody's trying to be nice—asking how my flight was, what I'm in town for, etc. I know they mean well, but I'm just a tired business traveler who wants nothing more than to get my car and go to the office. There are also those times where this creates a line for me to wait for that person to be so helpful. Those lines are excruciating as I could easily go to the car myself…if they’d only tell me which car and let me do that. I willingly pay more (up to a point) for Hertz so that I have the better experience.

Now, I'm sure Enterprise is doing what they're doing because it follows service "best practices." Be friendly, empathize, smile, etc. However, they forgot to listen to their customers (at least those like me) for whom our best experience is, in essence, the least interactive experience possible.

3. Lack of Good (Sometimes Any) Metrics

As with any important initiative, identifying metrics that align with, support and track progress are crucial. The problem operators have is that “measuring” experiences is an inherently difficult task. While the intangible nature of providing strong experiences makes measurement hard, not utilizing metrics is not an excuse and far too many operators fail to use proper metrics.

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a common and useful baseline metrics. The trends shown through the consistent measurement of NPS provide a strong indication of how well your initiatives are working and aligns with the notion that the quality of the experience is in the eyes of the customer.

Some additional tools to use to track and measure the effectiveness of your customer experience efforts include:

  • Voice of the customer surveys
  • Voice of the associate surveys
  • Associate NPS
  • First Call Resolution
  • Average time an issue is ‘In Progress’

4. Viewing it Through the Prism of “Training”

As with many areas required for an effective operation, training is an important part of delivering a strong, branded experience, but it is not enough. If you’re treating customer experience as a set of skills that need to be learned rather than an overall mindset, your efforts will be hamstrung.

A good customer experience program requires involvement and commitment from all areas of the organization, from headquarters all the way down through the front-line and support teams. If you were a leasing associate and got poor internal customer service, that would not put you in the mind frame to deliver great experiences to residents.

Looking at the experience through such a holistic lens presents a lot of the opportunities to change process and policy that would make for a better overall customer experience. Ask, how does risk management handle claims? How does accounting handle overdue payments? How do we allow or not allow for online leasing? All these different departments including the IT team very directly affect customer experience.

5. Not Getting the Right Help

Moving from a product-focused culture to a customer-focused one is all part of crafting the right customer experience and essential to the success of your MFH business. In fact, it’s one of the few ways you can differentiate your firm from your competitors. It’s also what today’s savvy renters expect. But it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a cultural change. It involves creating the experience, equipping the associates to deliver on it and typically also includes changing other areas of the company required to support it (which sometimes includes removing disgruntled associates who aren’t on board). This approach also requires buy-in from the top down, modifying hiring criteria and leading by example – just to name a few.

The right program has multiple facets and lasts for numerous months. Classroom or online training is a critical part of it, but it needs to be embedded into the fabric of the organization. Such a program should include monthly coaching activities and reminders, and a plan for communication. You have to build a whole ecosystem for introducing and coaching adult behavioral change.

At the onset, the right outsourced help can put you on the right track. Eventually, as the culture grows, you can morph it into something that can be sustained and expanded with inside resources alone. But to start, outside help is a valuable tool and cost-effect resource.

Customer experience is becoming the new competitive battlefield. MFH operators who employ modern technologies that can save time for prospects, create conveniences in the leasing process, and offer a better customer experience will stand out from their competitors. That’s a win. 

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