The Ellis Shopping Report Performance Comparison: A Multifamily Industry Benchmark Executive Summary Fourth Quarter 2012
Creating WOW Customer Experiences
Happy New Year! Welcome to Ellis’ Fourth Quarter 2012 Quarterly Shopping Report Performance Comparison. Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions is your source for an integrated solution to your sales, marketing, resident retention and business process improvement needs. For 29 years, we have been helping apartment management companies and owners evaluate sales and marketing effectiveness, and we remain committed to the growing needs of our customers. In this letter, we discuss Creating “Wow” Customer Experiences, as well as provide our traditional market climate update and the results of our quarterly performance comparison.
♦ MARKET CLIMATE UPDATE
- For 2013, economists widely agree the outlook for jobs will continue improving but not by much. The economy is expected to create 2.36 million jobs, slightly more than the 1.9 million estimated for 2012, according to IHS Global Insight.
- The U.S. economy added a further 155,000 jobs in December, while the unemployment rate held steady at 7.8%. The jobs came mainly in the healthcare, manufacturing, construction and food services sectors, according to the Labor Department.
- Gallup’s U.S. underemployment as measured without seasonal adjustment was 17.1% in December. Gallup’s U.S. underemployment rate combines the percentage of adults in the workforce who are unemployed with the percentage of those working part time but looking for full-time work.
- The average nationwide monthly apartment rent was $1,048 in the fourth quarter of 2012, and the apartment vacancy rate fell to 4.5%, according to real-estate research firm Reis, Inc.
♦ ELLIS QUARTERLY SHOPPING REPORT PERFORMANCE COMPARISON: A MULTIFAMILY INDUSTRY “BENCHMARK”
For many years, our shopping customers asked, “How do my on-site leasing professionals compare to those in similar companies?” In the First Quarter 2000, we created the EPMS Shopping Report Performance Comparison to answer that question. Known as the “Benchmark”, our quarterly report allows you to compare your company’s leasing performance to other national and regional operators. By measuring the affirmative answers to ten leading and universal performance questions common to all telephone/on-site mystery shopping reports, we rank participating companies on a weighted and equal basis. These 10 questions are included in the comparison chart attached to this letter.
♦ ELLIS BENCHMARK QUARTERLY PERFORMANCE TRENDING
The overall average in the Fourth Quarter 2012 was 91% based on 3,874 shops. This is the third consecutive quarter where the participating companies achieved this praiseworthy overall average score. The top five finishers this quarter had an astounding average score of 97.8%, which brings new meaning to the word excellence! Given the challenges that many companies face during the fourth quarter with sometimes reduced traffic trends and holiday staffing schedules, the overall performance of the entire group is certainly noteworthy.
Fourth quarter 2012 is almost a carbon copy of the fourth quarter 2011. The overall company average remained the same, the high company average increased by 1%, and the low company average remained the same. Leasing performance remained strong and consistent throughout 2012.
♦ TOP-RANKED PARTICIPATING COMPANIES
1st Place – Western National Property Management. 99% (3.41 standard deviation)
“One of Western’s Credo points and a value by which we all work and live states, ‘People are our most important asset.’ What better way to demonstrate that quality than to be ranking, once again, in the Top 5 of Ellis’ Benchmarking Survey. Not only are our associates our most important asset, but our residents and outside customers are too! Congratulations, Team Western! I am so very proud of you!”
–Laura Khouri, President
2nd Place – AMLI Residential. 98% (5.76% standard deviation)
“We are excited to be ranked in the Top 5 on the Ellis Benchmark Report. Our goal is to provide our prospects with an exceptional experience when they visit an AMLI community. Our sales team continually focuses on improving their sales skills, and it has paid off with this placement on the Benchmark. Congratulations to all of our hard-working team members who made this happen!”
-Carol Gardner, Senior Vice President, Education
3rd Place – Venterra Realty. 98% (6.11% standard deviation)
“Congratulations to the entire Venterra team for their outstanding performance in the fourth quarter Ellis Benchmark! Your commitment to making a difference in the lives of our customers and providing them with an exceptional customer experience is evident by these tremendous results! I believe truly great things are ahead of us, and I look forward to an even better 2013!”
–Richard Roos, Chief Operating Officer
4th Place – Post Properties. 97% (7.26 standard deviation)
“We are excited to see Post regain a top spot in the Ellis Benchmarking program for the fourth quarter. This outstanding result is a testament to our team’s hard work, dedication, and focus. Their commitment to excellent service on the prospect and resident side is incredible. Thanks to our team members for a wonderful ending to the year. Here’s hoping for continued consistent success in 2013!”
-Jamie Teabo, Executive Vice President
5th Place – Gables Residential Services. 97% (7.97% standard deviation)
“At Gables, we want all of our customers to have a ‘WOW’ experience when shopping for a new home, and our consistent ranking in the Top 5 validates this. Congratulations to all on this recognition.”
-Jennifer Antos, Vice President, Learning and Development
♦ PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT TOPIC: CREATING “WOW” CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES
Thoughtful, memorable, fun, unique and unexpected experiences influence the way customers perceive and feel about a company and the people they employ. These little details are easy to overlook and tempting to brush off as unimportant but when you add a number of what appear to be little details together, you end up with something of far more value than you would without them. You end up with the “WOW” experience. While a stand-alone experience might be rather easy to create, it can be a challenge to make it into an integral part of the customer experience. Companies that consistently deliver great experiences often end up with customers that become advocates for their product or service. Unforgettable experiences connected to a business may not be life changing but they are rare, and that is what makes them so powerful!
1. DO NOT SETTLE FOR AVERAGE
Today’s consumers are often bombarded with information and options, and many are looking to filter through the noise and locate a standout, customer centric company who will take care of them. Zappos, the billion dollar e-tailer, is one of these companies. Their breathless pursuit of the ultimate customer experience is legendary! If you visit their website, you can read their list of core values that include being humble, generous, weird, passionate, honest, and determined. What is their #1 core value?
#1 “Deliver WOW through Service”
“WOW is such a short, simple word, but it really encompasses a lot of things. To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver.” ZAPPOS
Their values are deeply rooted in their hiring, training, and business practices. ZAPPOS is not your average company, their service is not average, and they do not have average employees serving their customers.
- When ZAPPOS hires new employees, it puts them through an intensive four week training program, immersing them in the company’s culture, strategy, and processes. Apparently, about one week in, they tell the new hire that if they “quit” they will receive a $2,000 bonus and pay for the amount of time worked. It is one thing to emphasize to employees that your corporate culture is your brand; it is another thing to offer an “out” to those who do not reflect the culture.
- ZAPPOS encourages customers to order as many products as they want in order to “try them on”, then offers free return shipping for a full 365 days. While we cannot allow a resident to “try on” the apartment, there are times and circumstances that warrant moving a resident to another part of the community to avoid a move out and unhappy customer.
- The ZAPPOS call center takes 5,000 calls per day, and employees work independent of scripts, quotas, or call time limits. The longest call to date has been eight hours. Maybe that leasing professional who spends extra time with the customer on the telephone and on-site has the right idea.
What about your company? How can you become the Zappos of the Property Management industry?
2. THE LITTLE THINGS MATTER
Anyone can do the big things right; it is the little things that differentiate and influence customers to choose one apartment community over another. Attentiveness, personalization, and consideration cost nothing.
- Greeting residents by name. This is a very meaningful and treasured detail that adds greatly to the customer experience. There is nothing more flattering, nothing that makes someone feel more special than receiving a warm, friendly greeting by name when walking into a place of business. With good planning and preparation, this can be achieved with new customers who have made prior contact, too.
- Walking customers to the door. Walking a customer (new and existing) to the door and thanking them for their business is a great way to leave a good impression on them. While for some it might seem a bit awkward, it is amazing how quickly it can become a way of doing business. It is simply another way of giving customers a better experience. Saying “hello” as they walk in or taking them to the door as they leave says that you care about them and are working hard to be the best apartment community out there!
- Comfort. While many leasing offices are beautifully decorated, few consider the “comfort” of the customer. Something as simple as a comfortable chair at the leasing desk can add to the experience. Sound silly? I think most leasing office furniture is chosen for design rather than comfort (just ask your leasing staff). While this might seem like a petty detail, whisking the customer over to a plush, high-back chair, instead of a short, hard chair with no arm rests could result in a better experience.
- Offering a beverage. If you offer beverages to your new customers and residents, consider making this a team approach. What if the manager or another team member (without being asked) offered the customer a beverage instead of the leasing professional having to step away from their desk? What kind of message would this send to the customer? Think about the message – more than one person in the room was paying attention to them and cared enough to acknowledge the customer.
These little things do matter. They can add value and also instill an enormous amount of customer loyalty.
3. PEOPLE SERVING PEOPLE
A “WOW” experience is very often the result of an unexpected act of courtesy and kindness from one person to another. Focusing on the internal customer is absolutely pivotal to delivering a “WOW” experience to the external customer. A commitment from the executive level down is fundamental. It is not about a policy or procedure; it is about creating a culture of people who are 100% focused on serving the customer.
- While an apartment may be decked out with the latest and greatest of everything, these are simply things. People – not apartments – create memorable moments. Do you have the right people? What kind of moments are they creating for your customers?
- It can be difficult for an internally- and product-focused company to create consistent “WOW” experiences. Are you a customer centric company? Does your culture reflect it? What are your customers saying about you?
- Employees who deliver “WOW” experiences often do so just because they care. Sometimes these experiences are planned but more often than not they are spontaneous. Do your employees operate in a culture that allows for some spontaneity when it comes to serving the customer or are they simply following a script?
This quote from J. Willard Marriott sums it up nicely:
“A businessman once said, ‘A business succeeds not because it is long established or because it is big, but because there are men and women in it who live it, sleep it, dream it, and build great future plans for it.”
Thoughtful, memorable, fun, unique and unexpected experiences keep a customer coming back over and over. Sometimes it is the little details that cause a customer to rationalize paying more because they feel they are getting more. It is the little details that keep people talking about you and recommending everyone they know to you. The little things really do matter; they can result in a “WOW” experience for customers, and regardless of the state of the economy or the cliff we may or may not fall off of, a “WOW” customer experience will create leases today and leases tomorrow.
We thank you for your participation and feedback, which help make this report informative and a reliable resource. We hope you will find Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions to be not only the finest source for mystery shopping but also a training resource for your organization. Additional support and information can be found in the Resource Center on our website.
Joanna Ellis, CAPS
Chief Executive Officer