We know you have a choice of where to live…

choice 2

How many times have you traveled by air and heard the flight attendant say something like this…”We know you have a choice when you fly and we thank you for choosing our airline?”  I’ve always thought…”no, I don’t really have a choice, unless it’s based on price, flight times or if you are part of a rewards program.”  I’ve never chosen a particular airline because I like them over another. It’s not all that different when choosing where you want to live (which apartment community that is.) Most choose based on location and then price.  Then there is a chance that the sales associate might tip the scales and be the reason someone chooses your property over another.  I want to share a recent air travel experience that has completely changed my perception and going forward I will always try to find a flight with this airline when possible!

Picture this…I had to travel for work last month and when I arrived at the Delta gate I found it clean and fresh looking with newer carpet, new chairs and electrical & USB ports in between every few seats.  “This is awesome”, I thought, “because I’m a little early to the gate and don’t want to drain my phone battery while I check my email and post to social media about my trip.” The plane was newer and the flight attendants seemed especially friendly and helpful! Offering to help passengers with their bags etc.. The flight was non eventful and I arrived at my destination on time.

My trip was only for one night, so the next afternoon, I made my way back to the airport, but this time with a oversize piece of luggage that I had to bring back with me for work.  My extra luggage looked like a hard case of golf clubs, but was much, much heavier!  I tried to check it at the curbside Delta counter because it was so heavy I didn’t want to have to handle any longer than necessary.  For some reason their computer wouldn’t let them do it.  The curbside agent could see me struggling when she informed me that I had to take the case inside to the main counter and she stopped everything and escorted me in to the exact location I needed to go.  I was very impressed, she did not have to do that…did not have to leave her post and walk me all the way in there.  Then, when I hoisted the case onto the scale, it was more overweight that what I had already paid for online and the agent asked me if I could take something out of it.  I had no room in my carry on and there was no way I could remove enough weight from the case to make a difference.  She was very openly concerned about the added expense of $100.  I told her my company would pay the extra as long as I had a receipt and her reaction was of total relief!  I thought, “how sweet that she was genuinely concerned that I would have to pay the extra.”  I mean, it’s her job and there was no way she could discount it…but the fact that she showed such kindness and concern had a positive impact on me.  I made my way through security to the assigned gate and found it to be just as nice at the gate I had departed from the prior day.  “Huh, I thought it was just that airport, but it must be a Delta thing to update the gate this way with the new carpet, new chairs and the numerous electrical and USB outlets between every few seats. Nice!”  We boarded the plane and just like the day before, the flight attendants were friendly and and noticeably helpful…offering assistance with bags, talking to passengers about their travel plans, making jokes etc..I noticed that everything on the plane looked new too, like it was either recently refurbished or was a brand new plane, new carpet, new seats, clean and fresh!   Once everyone was seated, the pilot came on the intercom and informed us that there was a mechanical problem with the plane and that the maintenance crew as checking into it.  After about 10 minutes, the Flight Attendants began walking down the aisle offering water to the passengers.  Soon after, the Captain came back on with an update…the issue was still being investigated.  Passengers began to get restless…the Flight Attendants continued offering water and answering questions.  The Captain came on again with more updates and he continued to do so about every 10 minutes or so as the information became available to him.  I was impressed with this because it put me at ease, not just sitting there with no idea what was going on.  I thought to myself, “information is good,”  “communication is so important.”  After about 30 minutes, some of the passengers wanted to get off the plane.  The crew explained that if they choose to get off the plane they should take their belongings with them because if for some reason we would have to change planes it would be impossible for them to re-board to retrieve their belongings.  Many passengers still chose to deplane.  The internet went out at the airport and many passengers began to complain to the Flight Attendants about it.  The Captain came on the intercom and let us all know that the airline did not turn off the internet and that it was reported that there was an internet outage at the airport. Several passengers were using their mobile devices to try and find other flights and understandably became frustrated when the internet went down. I found it a nice gesture to at least let everyone know that it wasn’t something that could be helped.  Again, communication is so incredibly important.  Over the course of about an hour, the Captain continued to announce the progress of the repairs down to small details, like “the mechanics are removing the compartment door from the wing, they have to drill out the screws, they are inside the compartment now looking at the issue and so on…” Finally, it was decided that we would be able to use the same plane, but they wanted us to deplane while they finished the repairs.  This time, we were able to leave all of our belonging on the plane but were reminded to bring our boarding passes with us.  We deplaned and went back into the gate area where I was again happy to see the electrical and USB outlets! About 5 minutes after we deplaned, I saw a Delta employee bringing a cart full of soda’s and snacks and an announcement was made by the Delta Gate Agent that there were complimentary snacks for the passengers to enjoy!  “WHAT?!?!?”…I thought, “are you kidding me???”  “This is unbelievable!”  The gate agents continued to field questions and comments from angry passengers and I took note of their calm demeanor…they remained professional and polite the entire time. The Gate Agents also initiated help to those passengers whose didn’t have paper boarding passes. Since the internet was out, those passengers with digital boarding passes were in a pickle.  It finally time to re-board the plane and they did so very quickly.  When I got settled back in my seat, I noticed a USB charger in between the seats right next to the tray table and information pouch, again…very impressed and pleased to have access to apps on my phone for the duration of the flight! Once everyone was seated, we took off and ultimately arrived at our destination only slightly later than anticipated.

I got off the plane and just kept thinking about the entire experience, from the time I began my journey until the moment I landed and replayed it over in my head several times.  Delta took every opportunity available to impress me and every one of their passengers. From the initial check in to the cleanliness and extras at the gate(s) to the friendliness and professionalism of their associates to the constant communication by the Captain and more.  It wasn’t a perfect flight, there were mechanical issues…things happen, but it’s how they reacted that made all the difference in the world.  A few days after my flight, I received an email from Delta with with a survey request…it was already clear to me that Delta had made a huge effort to put their customers first and this was just the icing on the cake.  I now realize that I do have a choice when I fly and Delta will be my first choice and I’ll hope that every time they have a flight that meets the criteria for my trip!

Our residents have a choice too and I hope that sharing my travel experience will be inspiration to think about what we can do better and how we can impress our prospects and residents with that little extra.  And to remember…things go wrong, stuff happens, but if we effectively communicate with our residents in a timely manner, follow through and show we care, it can make all the difference in the world to them and their opinion of us as their housing provider!

Cheers,
Becky

Is this considered an emergency?

emergency service.png

Almost all apartment communities provide this service and in fact, consider it to be a part of their customer service/amenity package. We tour prospective residents and proudly boast this service.  We are here for you 24/7.  We compile a list of what is considered and emergency and then put in place our process to take these calls and manage them from start to finish.  With my organization, we we take it a step further and offer extra features to both resident and management office.  Things like documenting the maintenance tech response time, sending a photograph of the responding technician to the resident via text message AND recording the call between the maintenance technician the resident.   These tools are helping our clients provide an even higher level of service to their residents.   One of the most useful features, in my opinion, is the call recording.  As part of my preparation for sales presentations, I listen to these calls.  I seek to find calls that will demonstrate the incredible value of being able to hear the conversations.  Almost every time I listen to these calls, I hear resident requests for one thing in particular that is not typically considered an emergency.  The common “non emergency” call I hear goes something like this.

Tech: Hello, this is Joe with after hours maintenance, how can I help you”
Resident: “Yes, I’m not sure this is considered an emergency, but my smoke detector is making a chirping sound and I don’t know how to get it to stop.”
Tech: “Yeah, it probably just needs a battery, we can come out and put a new battery in tomorrow morning.”
Resident: well, how am I going to be able to sleep with this chirping going on constantly, I have a big day at work tomorrow and I need my sleep.”
Tech: “you can just take it down and remove the battery, that will make it stop chirping for now and we’ll come out tomorrow and put in a new battery.”

Sound familiar?  Just this past weekend, I heard a news story about two small children who perished in a house fire because there were no working smoked detectors in the house.  When I heard the story, it really struck a chord.  Having worked onsite for most of my career, I remember these calls, I remember going into apartments for inspections etc. and seeing smoke alarms taken down and just collecting dust on a counter or a table.  I often wondered how long has it been like that.  And now, still hearing the calls where the resident is instructed to take it down and wait for the repair during business hours.  What if that is the night a fire starts?

It compelled me to write this brief blog to shed light on this since I hear so many tech’s tell residents that this is not considered an emergency.  It also makes sense to add this (if it’s not already) to our semi annual unit inspection.   Most communities enter the apartments twice a year to replace the furnace filters, are the smoke detector batteries also being replaced (not just checked) at the same time?  It also offers us the opportunity to catch the ones where the resident took it upon themselves to take the detector down and neglected to call us for repair or new batteries.

We all know how devastating a fire is any where it happens and it’s the one thing we, as property managers, pray we’ll never have to experience.  But if it happens at your property, this one thing could make the difference between a resident losing their belongings or losing their life.

All that glitters is not gold…or Platinum!

Have you ever heard this saying?  It strikes a real chord with me after a recent vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.  All inclusive has some real and clear benefits, but what happens when all-inclusive removes the incentive for great customer service?  As you would expect, the photos of our resort online were amazing!  I perused through them picturing myself and my family in each of the settings.  On the private “Platinum Beach”, relaxing on the luxurious chaise lounges, while sipping a tropical adult beverage, gazing upon the clear blue waters of the Caribbean, reading a book I have been waiting to have the time to read…not a care in the world, not a bother from the outside world, just pure bliss!  Floating in one of 12 sparkling pools, wading up to the swim up bar for another one of those tropical umbrella drinks.  Dining in style at one of the many restaurants situated throughout the resort.  The pictures on the Website took me right to this oasis!  The rooms pictured were pristine, shiny and clean with the perfect appointments to make the accommodations beyond my expectations.  Pictured was a private outdoor hot tub on the balconies of only those who paid the extra to be upgraded to the “Platinum Suites.”  Along with this “Platinum” privilege came our very own swimming pool, lobby with private concierge, private beach, and that all important “Ocean View” that my travel agent promised.  As I did my homework and researched the perfect resort for me and my family, I read through countless reviews.  There were some fantastic reviews, but also some not so good reviews.  I considered every review I read and decided that if my stay were somewhere in between the outstanding and the horrendous, then I would be adequately pleased.  Having spent all of my career in the housing industry, I realize that it’s not easy to please everyone and also that mistakes happen and things don’t go exactly as planned…so I try to be realistic when I am on the other side of the desk so to speak.

resort

We arrived very early in the morning due to the charter package, we pulled into the resort and happily noticed the lush tropical landscaping, clean marble floors, walls and columns.  We entered the lobby and made our way to the check in.  We looked around…we realized that we were not greeted as per advertised for “Platinum Suite” Guests…”Private Check-in with cold towel on arrival and Welcome Drink.”  We thought..oh, well, we are on vacation, let’s just relax and have fun!   We stepped up to the counter to check in and were reminded that our rooms would not be ready until 3:00PM (we knew that our rooms would not be ready and in preparation for that, we packed our swimming suits and flip-flops on top of our suitcases for easy access.) We confirmed that we had two rooms in the “Platinum Suites” with at least one of them having an Ocean View.  The clerk handed us our “Towel Cards” which explained that we had to check out a towel in exchange for the card, when we brought the towel back we’d get our card back.  If we lose the card, it will cost us $20.00.  This was kind of “un Platinum” feeling but oh, well…I guess people steal towels?  No big deal.   We changed into our beach gear and made a stop at the buffet for a quick meal since our flight was so early we hadn’t had breakfast yet.  The buffet was average at best.  Many of the trays were empty or near empty with the food looking a bit tired and in need of replenishment.  The items I chose to eat were just okay…nothing special.  I didn’t let it bother me though, after all, we were on vacation and it satisfied our hunger…plus, It’s a buffet and you kind of expect some of that.  We began our walk through the massive complex heading toward the beach.  The grounds were impeccable.  We saw rooms that had swim up access right to the pool!  We passed a couple of pools that were winding through the resort with bridges taking us directly over the water.  Once we made it to the beach, we noticed the water looked less than pristine (as pictured in the website).  It was full of seaweed and sea plants.  It looked pretty rocky too.  Again…who cares, we are on vacation right?!  We continued on in pursuit of our private “Platinum Lobby”.  We finally stumbled across it and went inside.  We still were not greeted with a cold towel or Welcome Drink, but we did find a bar and ordered up our own drinks.  We were tired from the early flight, so we decided to relax in the “Platinum Lounge.”  Before long we noticed that we were being eaten alive by mosquitos, INSIDE the lounge forcing us outside to the private “Platinum” pool.  We relaxed and enjoyed the family time together.  At 3:00PM (the time we were told our rooms would be ready) I visited with the “Platinum Lounge Concierge” who told me that we would have to go BACK to the main lobby to retrieve our keys and luggage!  She did go over the restaurants and suggested I make reservations for the entire week as they book up very quickly.  I spent the next 20 minutes getting this sorted out and then we made the long trek back to the main lobby which is at the exact farthest point from where the “Platinum Lobby” is located.

platinum suite

The Rooms!  I couldn’t wait to see our rooms!  I just knew they were going to be spectacular and make up for the lackluster impression we had so far.  We picked up our keys and made our way to the rooms, having been told the bell boy would bring the luggage later.  We approached the rooms immediately realizing that they were on the 1st floor, so our “Ocean View” wouldn’t be as good.  We were pleased to see that our rooms were right next to each other, but when we entered, not only were the rooms not “Ocean View” but they were facing the STREET!  The road that people and the shuttle cars pass along all day and night!  So much for relaxing in our very own jacuzzi on the balcony!  Being on display for all of the other guests and staff to see, no thanks!  Before we settled in I thought I better call the front desk, these were not the rooms we were supposed to have.  I was told by the desk clerk that “Ocean View” was only something you could request and no guarantee until you arrived at the resort and get your room assignment.  He further explained that only Travel Agents from Canada were allowed to even request an “Ocean View.”  What?!?!?!  So only people from Canada can have the chance at an “Ocean View.”  And the room price is all the same in the “Platinum Suites?”  He said he would put us on a list to change rooms, but the next opportunity for a change wouldn’t be until Tuesday…and today was Sunday.  I already knew that when Tuesday came around we wouldn’t feel like packing up and moving to new rooms, so again…Oh, well, we are on vacation, let’s relax and have fun!   Later that night, my son wanted to take a bath in the jacuzzi bathtub…hold on, it was dirty!  My husband went over and cleaned their bathtub.  We checked our own tub and both it and the outside jacuzzi were dirty.  We cleaned those as well.  That night when we fell into bed, exhausted from the long day, I noticed blood drop stains on the sheets!  Sheesh, this is far from what I would call Platinum!  The next morning, I took a shower and the caulking around the shower must have been worn out because it flooded the toilet and bathroom area!  I had to use all remaining towels to mop up the water so we wouldn’t slip and fall.  At that point, the Apple Vacation Representatives called to see how our check in went!  Boy did he get more than he bargained for with that call!  I told him all of our complaints and when we returned to our room later, it had been cleaned and the bed had new sheets.   That night, we noticed…no turn down service as advertised on the website, in fact, no turn-down service the entire week.  We did have a lady who came around each evening offering extra bath towels.  I assumed this was because the shower leaked so bad!  Our mini bar was never restocked unless we called and told them how many new soda’s we needed and then it would take at least an hour before someone would come.  One day, we came back from a long day at the pool and found our rooms had not been cleaned.  It took 4 calls to get someone to come clean it.  Another day, our room was cleaned, but no towels were left (good thing I took towels from the lady in the evening and hid them in the closet, just in case!)

When it came time to check out, we followed the instructions and made our way via the resort shuttle to the lobby to wait for the bus to take us to the airport.  The resort shuttle drove us past parts of the resort we didn’t even know existed.  I thought to myself…it would have been nice to know that was there, I would have like to visit that area (oh well).  When we arrived at the lobby, we went to the front desk to check out.  No one asked us how our stay was.  I asked the clerk what time the airport bus would leave and he said he had no idea that the Apple Vacation representative was the only one who could give me that information and of course, the Apple counter isn’t open at 5:00AM!  On a positive note, there was a nice spread of danishes and coffee set up which we greatly appreciated since we were leaving while it was still dark outside.

In summary, in spite of these experiences, we had a fantastic vacation because we decided not to let these things ruin our time there.  We spent priceless time together as a family, we toured the ruins of Chichen Itza, we shopped, we played in the ocean, lounged in the pool and shared wonderful dinners’ together each evening.  On the night of our Daughter’s 18th birthday we had requested a cake at dinner and the waiters went above our expectations with a cake and singing happy birthday!

My takeaway though is that in our industry, we spend so much time, money and effort on our websites, our grounds, curb appeal, clubhouses, pools etc.. but if we forget what happens on the inside then we fail in the expectations we have set for service.  A good website won’t keep customers coming back.  A beautiful clubhouse won’t cause your residents to refer others to live at your community.  No amount of amenities will overcome poor service.  A great sales team falls short if the inside doesn’t meet expectations or if the maintenance service is slow or lacking. Don’t forget what keeps residents renewing their lease and sending you referrals.  While we made the most of our vacation, you can bet we won’t return to this resort nor will we tell any of our friends to go there.  We will also update our expedia review accordingly.  My suggestion is to take a look at what is beyond the facade, do you walk all of your apartments before the new resident moves in?  Does your model apartment compare to what the resident actually gets?  Do you know how quickly your maintenance team responds to work orders and after hour emergency requests?  Do you apologize when something goes wrong and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again?  It’s important to know how your sales team is doing, but it’s just as important if not more to know how everyone else on the team is doing!

Just like with people, it’s what’s on the inside that counts!

A Little Bit of Kindness Goes A Long Way

Many of my posts consist of ways to improve customer service.  They range from basic general concepts like accountability, documentation, awareness etc.. and include out of the box ideas that attempt to bring people together, build a sense of community and overall feeling that the customer really matters.  I’ve also touched on the internal customer service idea, that we are all customers to each other, when we do our job well, we make the job others have to do easier.  It takes all of us doing our best to achieve our goals.

The concept of “Paying It Forward” or “Random Acts of Kindness” is still around and people are always inventing new and creative ways to share the love.  In my networking efforts, I post all kinds of things on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook etc.. and recently posted about a cool Kindness Campaign for the entire state of Colorado.  My post caught the eye of someone who tweeted back to me about a new Free App called Ripil.  I checked it out and WOW!  The ideas came pouring in about how the use of this free app could impact people all over the world.  Naturally, my mindset leads me back to customer service and property management, so let’s stick to this as a platform for using the app in ways that will help you promote and build your social marketing interaction, encourage teamwork, improve resident connectivity and resident retention all while making the world a better place.  Take a few minutes to view the link and you’ll see where I’m going with this.  Ripil Video Link

I’m going to present two ideas for ways to use the app that will improve the world by starting with your little corner of it.

Company Campaign – So, if you watched the video, hopefully you get the idea of forming groups to challenge and promote kindness.  It also allows you to track the kind deeds, so if you want to collectively join other properties within your company you will be able to track the results and at the end offer rewards or just leave the kind deeds as reward enough…and just play for bragging rights.

Resident Campaign – This one is even more exciting for me because the possibilities are endless.   First, form a group for your property that the residents can join.  You can make the group public if you like so that the world will be able to see the kindness your community is spreading.  Your residents efforts will be seen and enjoyed by those close to them, their co-workers, family and friends.  From a social perspective, when asked how they heard about this, they’ll say…”My apartment community invited me and the members are people who live and work at our property.”  Since the members do good deeds for others and have the opportunity to pass the deeds to others thereby inviting them to join the kindness group, the visibility of your community and it’s efforts to make the world a better place will grow and grow.

There are so many clear benefits. The team environment and joy you’ll get partnering with your fellow associates using the Company Campaign will naturally bring you all closer and in a positive and rewarding way, It would be a great build up to company leadership conferences or cares programs too.  The advantages for the resident/property campaign have even more possibilities.  You’ll be connecting the residents to one another, thereby creating the sense of community that we all know encourages residents to stay longer and refer your community to others. The inspirational nature of this activity will connect you to your residents, you’ll get to know them more than just, unit 2B, or by their last name. They’ll feel more at home and more a part of something really special.  The best benefits are the acts of kindness themselves and you really can’t put a price on that.

The idea of paying it forward is not new, but the endless ways we can incorporate it into our social marketing plans and inter company connections will have a tremendous and positive impact on everyone involved, not to mention all of the recipients of these good deeds!

I’d love to hear about your campaigns, please share your success stories here or send them to me in a private message.

Let the “Ripil” effect begin!

Response Times Matter

How long is too long to wait for a return call?  There is more than one answer to that question.  You might think it depends on what the call is about and in most cases you’d be correct.  But it’s also fair to consider another perspective.  How long does it take your competition to respond?  Let’s say your office has received a sales or leasing call from a prospective client/resident.  Most companies have a guideline for how quickly the call should be responded to, but if the competition is faster, then you have to insist that your response time must be better than that…regardless of what the company guidelines dictate.  If you respond after the competition does then your risk losing the sale/lease…plain and simple.  The longer you wait, the more likely the prospective resident has made their decision.  Even if the competition doesn’t respond fast, a slow response offers the prospect a perception of what it will be like after they move in.  It sets their expectations!

Now consider another scenario…how fast should your team respond to emergency maintenance calls? This in an entirely different position because in this case…you are not as concerned with the competition as much as you are concerned with providing the best service to your resident/client. The competition becomes with yourself…or between associates.   Another thing to keep in mind is that the time will seem much longer for the resident waiting at home for someone to call.  If their emergency is really a crisis…seconds will seem like minutes and minutes like hours.  I think we can all agree that any amount of time is too long.  But, if your maintenance technician can call the resident back within minutes, the resident will be reassured that much faster!

As with any goal or plan, we have to first ask the question… how are we doing now?  Do you have a way to gauge your current response times?  If so, I encourage your teams to begin focussing on this right away.  Find out what your response times are and work as a team to determine why they are not where you want them.  Once you understand what needs to be fixed, then you can begin making necessary changes to improve.  Some areas that improve response times include changing associates hours, staggering lunch hours, ensuring that your missed call notifications are set up, staggering maintenance tech hours so that a technician is on site for the higher volume call times.  It’s critical to monitor the response times on a regular basis too, associate recognition will also go a long way.  How about fun rewards and accolades for the best response times?

It’s well-known and understood that (outside of reasons that are beyond control of the property teams) the biggest reason residents move is because of a lack of good communication and slow or poor maintenance responses.

If you are already a CallMaX client,  then you already have the tools you need, check and monitor your response times, make sure your notifications are set up correctly and call the customer service team with any questions.  If you are not a CallMaX client…then CALL ME NOW!  You really can’t afford not to!

Spring Resident Activity – Photo Ops!

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It’s been a long winter and your residents are probably ready to get outside and soak up some sun!   Why not give them an opportunity to get out and enjoy the beautiful outdoor amenities you work so hard on all year long!   How about partnering with a local photographer…maybe one of your residents is a photographer, you get the idea!  And extend the invitation to take advantage of your amazing backdrop with some priceless family photos.  Residents can take their own shots or schedule a personal photo shoot with the photographer (and then purchase the photos if they like them.)  It’s a great opportunity for the photographer to earn some business and the residents don’t have to go far for something special!  And the price is right for your budget!  Serve light snacks, lemonade etc.  Provide props, like empty photo frames, couch from the clubhouse, table and chairs, blankets, picnic baskets etc. to make it fun for the DIY’ers! 

I’d love to see some of your how it turns out, please post on this blog or send me your ideas and results and I’ll share on my Pinterest Page, http://www.pinterest.com/thebeckycurrie/apartmentland.  

Happy Spring!

Cheers,                                                                                                                                                                                                   Becky          

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

14 (approx) cups of water
3 chicken breast w bones and skin
10 (approx.) Wyler’s bouillon cubes
a large bag of cut up carrots.
3 stalks celery.
Sweet onion cut in fours.
Handful of fresh parsley.
Teaspoon of marjoram.
Boil. Then simmer for hours. Separate bones out of chicken (I didn’t add the carrots and celery until the last two hours.). I also added more water and more bouillon cubes later because I cooked some of the broth off, so needed more flavor.
Add salt to taste.
Follow directions for matzo ball mix – I used “MANISCHEWITZ Matzo Ball Mix”.