The Demand Solutions Blog

Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: Why Multifamily Operators Should Care

by Donald Davidoff | Aug 3, 2016 12:00:00 AM

Customer_Experience.jpgA popular buzzword in the multifamily industry today is customer experience. It’s actually something many industries are talking about. Identifying and improving your customer experience is a proven way to increase loyalty, referrals and renewals and is the way to success.

But what does customer experience really mean, and how is it different than customer service – something we’ve focused on for many years? To answer that question, I sat down with my friend and colleague, Joanne Reps-Chapman from Effective Leadership Solutions, LLC, to discuss how the two are different, how they relate, and why it is important for multifamily operators to understand the difference.

What IS the difference between customer service and customer experience?

Let’s start with some definitions. Customer service is described as an interaction “limited to specific, measurable sale-related instances”, while customer experience is, “everything the customer has ever experienced, believed, thought, loved or hated about the brand.”  

By these definitions, it’s easy to see how customer service is very transactional (many times defined by standards and/or a company’s internal processes). In contrast, customer experience is related to the transactions but certainly includes a lot more, and happens over time.

Consider customer service in the multifamily industry; it is typically comprised of the ‘basic fundamentals’. For example, when a leasing agent welcomes a potential resident, the defined approach probably includes fundamentals such as stand, smile and greet the prospect using their name. Those are basic customer service skills.

Customer experience builds upon those fundamentals to deliver an experience that meets and/or exceeds the customer’s expectations during all of their interactions with us, and with our brand. This requires everyone on the team from leasing associates and service technicians to onsite and regional managers (even corporate support teams) understand the expectations of the customer and exceed those expectations to create these experiences.

It also requires that systems and policies make it easier for customers to interact with you. For example, a site associate can be very friendly processing a rent check but allowing online ACH payments may be a much better customer experience since it removes a hassle from the resident’s life.

How can a multifamily organization build a successful customer experience program?

While customer service focuses on an organization’s standards and processes (stand, smile and greet, or answering calls within three rings), building a positive customer experience begins with the customer as the focus.

It starts by listening to what is important to customers through voice of the customer feedback; that might include surveys, social media outlets, and focus groups with residents and prospective residents.  It is also important to engage associates in the research to understand what they perceive about customer preferences (this is also where you often learn about existing internal processes that get in the way of delivering the desired customer experience).   

The next step includes comparing the research feedback with existing processes and identifying any gaps that are not in alignment with the type of experience your customers are telling you they expect or would like to have.  If the two are in conflict, you know it’s time to make some changes.

For example, when your team receives a service request the standard may be to respond to that request within a certain time frame. If the person responsible for responding meets that standard, we (the company) perceive that they’ve completed that task.

However, when you think about that same service request from the customer’s perspective, there are probably additional things that are important to them outside of the timeliness of the response. Was their apartment left in the same condition as when the technician entered it? Was the item actually fixed? Did anyone communicate to them what the actual problem was and what was done to repair it?  Were other items in need of repair that were also fixed that were observed while the technician was in the apartment home?  Was the process for reporting the request convenient and hassle free? Did you give me an opportunity to confirm to you the request is closed to my satisfaction?

You can see how there are different perspectives - even if the issue was handled in a timely manner (from our internal measures) the customer experience may have been negative if the other items are not considered.

How can a multifamily operator incorporate a customer experience approach into their culture?

To build a solid customer experience approach into your culture, here’s where you need to focus:

  • Identify and focus on what your prospects and customers value…and what annoys them

  • Evaluate your processes to ensure they align with the values and expectations of your prospects and that they eliminate the sources of annoyance.

  • Evaluate your people. Are they equipped to deliver the customer experience your customers expect?

  • Make changes to processes, policies and training that reflect the desired experience.

  • Coach your teams on how to deliver that value.

  • Close the loop with surveys or other feedback mechanisms to continually improve

While customer service will always be important, in multifamily customer experience can be the difference between success and failure. In our industry, the customer’s experience begins the second the customer learns about us and our brand (that might be online or in person). It carries on through first contact all the way through move in, their time living with us and then through renewal and as they eventually move out. Customer experience considers the entire journey.

In the multifamily industry, our customers live with us which is often more of a challenge, but this also gives us a better opportunity to create loyal residents who rave about their wonderful experiences!

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