Who is our customer? What is the key to our success? How can we improve leasing performance? Training directors are asking themselves these questions and many more as they focus on improving leasing performance because they understand that overall success primarily depends on how many customers are closed and how many of those are retained. While some are completely revamping their training programs, others are simply tweaking existing programs to improve the customer’s overall experience. With all the focus on Customer Experience (CX), it is easy to push the sales process aside, but we cannot forget that creating and managing the customer experience has to be by design – not by accident.
Customer Experience alone is not enough because with the absence of a sales process, each experience is completely different. It is nearly impossible to measure and maximize results in the absence of a consistent sales process. Beneath every great customer experience is a set of processes that can be managed and measured to assure that goals are being achieved.
In the book, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary , the author presents 5 principles from Starbucks that companies can use to enhance their sales process and experience. One of those principles is “Everything Matters”. It means that every tiny detail about the customer experience is equally as important as the individual sales process. Your strategy indicates your goals. Goals set the stage for the way people think and what they do. If a leasing professional fails to present solutions to the customer’s problem, they have compromised the customer experience. If a leasing professional fails to close or confirm the sale, they have compromised the customer experience. If they fail to follow up with the customer after their visit, they have compromised the customer experience. The sales process is the cornerstone to consistently creating and managing great customer experiences at the leasing desk. It can’t be left to chance.
“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” -Walt Disney
No matter how you define the steps of the sales process or what you call them, the process can naturally be broken down into five parts. Each piece is equally important to the overall success of the customer relationship puzzle. Here are 5 steps to giving customers the whole kit & kaboodle.
1. Building Trust – Being Nice is Not Enough
Nothing happens without trust no matter how nice your employees are. Certainly, there are a lot of nice leasing professionals sitting at leasing desks because we strive to hire nice people, but do you really want to get into a battle of “niceness”? I am not saying that being nice is not important. What I am saying is that in a heated market, nice alone just isn’t enough to win over the customer. The goal is to build trust, be loved AND win the sale! In the book, The Relationship Edge: The Key to Strategic Influence and Selling Success, the author, Jerry Acuff offers tips on building trust with customers. Here are a few great ones:
- Be curious about people. People are drawn to those who show true interest in them. Curiosity gives leasing professionals the opportunity to learn new things and make new connections.
- Be consistent. A customer’s ability to trust is dependent upon showing the customer behavior that is consistent and persistent over time. When a customer can predict behavior, that customer is more likely to trust.
- Seek the truth. Trust emerges when selling is a way of helping the customer. Never be afraid to point out that your product or company may not be the right fit.
- Keep an open mind. Be open to the idea that the customer might be better served elsewhere. In turn, customers will sense that you’ve got their best interests at heart.
Trust is built when every interaction is an insightful conversation, not a sales pitch.
2. Understand Customer Needs
If the goal is to provide a solution to the customer’s problems or to help them make an informed buying decision, how can you accomplish that if you don’t first attempt to understand their problem or uncover their needs and wants? You can’t. This missed opportunity often stems from an anxious leasing professional who is so focused on telling the customer all about what they offer that they spend very little time, if any, understanding customer needs. They need to put their ears to work before exercising their mouths and remember the purpose of understanding needs is to not only qualify but also to gain trust and establish credibility
- Be less of a salesperson and more of a resource person
- Ask the right meaningful questions.
- Encourage and maintain the conversation.
- Listen. What need or want does my product fulfill? Why should they choose my product?
- Help customers understand what they need even when they can’t express it.
3. Address Customer Needs
The only way to effectively address the customer’s needs is to take the information that has been revealed during the conversation and match it up to your product offering. The key to this step is product and market knowledge. It is not enough to simply know what you can offer, you also must be aware of what the competition can offer. How well do your employees really know their competition? When was the last time they evaluated outside experiences? Going back to the trust stage, the customer’s best interest should always be at the forefront of a leasing professional’s mind. Sometimes they can address the needs of their customer with their product, and sometimes they can’t. Here are a few points that go beyond the product to customer matchup.
- Deliver positive outcomes. This doesn’t always mean that they will lease your apartment. What it does mean is that when they walk out the door, they have either made a commitment or they have a new path to follow. From start to finish, they should feel like you have been of value to them. You are there to solve their problem.
- Provide simple explanations. Customers shouldn’t be overwhelmed with information and shouldn’t feel like they’re lost. Encourage leasing professionals to slow down and express themselves clearly and confidently. They must be full of product knowledge.
- Think in moments. Jeffrey Sears, founder and CEO of luxury appliance store PIRCH, tells his sales employees that they don’t sell bathtubs: They give a working mom 45 minutes of sanity. Sears remarks, “The design of our stores informs the customer journey and ultimately the experience for our guests. It allows them to dream, discover and be inspired in an environment that promotes human connections, community, and genuine care.” What are your employees selling?
Knowledge about what your customer needs from your company is only as good as the way you use it.
4. Confirm the Sale
This is one of the easiest steps in the entire leasing process because the majority of the work takes place in the prior steps. If a leasing professional has not successfully built trust, revealed needs, or addressed needs, it is very unlikely that a customer will choose to accept their offer. If they have accomplished these steps, they are obligated to present the offer to the customer. Would you like to lease this apartment today? It really is that simple. The customer does not have to say yes, but the leasing professional must always ask, even if they don’t think the customer will say yes. If your leasing professionals are struggling with this step, dust off our very popular Stop the Stinkin’ Thinkin’ blog post, and share it with your leasing teams!
5. Follow up
When a leasing professional builds trust with a customer, a relationship has been established. When they follow up with that customer, a relationship is being nurtured. Staying on the customer’s mind is not intrusive or bothersome. While the pace might slow down, follow up should never end. This is one of the biggest obstacles our industry faces, yet it is an easy one to overcome. Follow up is a great opportunity to differentiate. Here are some eye-opening 2017 EPMS follow-up results from 48,935 shopping reports:
- 29.5% followed-up via telephone
- 37.2% followed up via email
- 4.6% followed up via snail mail
- 50.2% received NO follow up!!!
Few sales are made on the first contact and snail mail is the most emotionally impactful form of follow up. According to a statistic from Scripted, 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up call. Do you have a follow up plan in place? Is it being followed?
It has been over 13 years since Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, in their seminal book, Return on Customer, declared the customer experience the single most important factor for business success. Years later, many companies are realizing that a great customer experience must be purposeful. It doesn’t happen by chance, and a consistent and refined sales process is the most important building block to creating the ultimate customer experience.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions