The leasing office is open and we can conduct in-person tours! But wear a mask, social distance, use sanitizer, and the list goes on. So, we are open but for the customer and employee it is now a much different experience. There are still many customers who will choose to do a virtual tour before deciding which communities to even visit. Which means virtual leasing is not going anywhere anytime soon and continued measurement of the effectiveness of virtual tours will be key to our success.
Ellis Partners has completed 3100+ Virtual Tour and Self-Guided Tour Mystery Shops through Second Quarter 2020 (6/30/2020). The valuable data collected from those shops allows us to better understand what today’s customer experience is like but also gives insight into trends as the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved.
Summary Virtual Leasing Findings to Date
From summary findings March 25, 2020 to June 30, 2020, we see (graph below) that the longer the prospect is engaged by phone, the higher the shop score. Sounds reasonable. However, April is when focus on how to communicate with residents and prospects was top of mind and there was an immediate need for change. In June we see shop scores decreasing. Is it because changing circumstances have made it so the onsite teams are no longer able to provide undivided attention to the caller? Overall, virtual leasing shop scores remain below 66%, motivating us to further review.
Note: Ellis Virtual Tour Shops conducted from March 25 through June 30th 2020. Approximately 3,100 shops were used in this study.
Connecting with the Apartment Community
When we look closely at the initial call to the community, we can better understand the process for the customer when they first try to make contact. Our results show it took an average of 2.4 times before a live person was reached. Remember that our shoppers will try numerous times to reach the community, but will a prospect?
The above numbers also speak to how the onsite team is handling voicemails. Only 35% of the time was a call returned within 48 hours (not even counting weekend hours!) when a message was left directly with the onsite team. It drops to 27% if the message was left with a Call Center which drives the question of what the process and accountability are for returning messages for customers – prospects and residents alike.
If 74% of associates showed up for the virtual tour appointment, what happened to the other 26% of prospects? Here’s what happened to me. I scheduled a FaceTime virtual tour for 2 pm on a Thursday and the Leasing Associate did not show. The weekend passed and finally on the following Wednesday the associate called me, apologizing profusely that she had a medical emergency and asking if I was still interested. While she seemed genuine and I did end up touring with her, nobody else at the community reached out to let me know that she wouldn’t be available for our original appointment. Or offered to take her place. Did those 26% of customers where nobody showed up for the scheduled tour ever get a tour at all, or did they end up leasing with your competitor? What is your process for situations like the one I encountered?
More alarming is that recent results further reflect the “no show rate” has been increasing since May (graph below).
• No tour provided represents shoppers that reach out to the property with the following result:
• Property does not answer the phone,
• Property does not return a phone call,
• Property does not keep appointment.
• Appointment No Show Rate represents appointments made for tours at later time by leasing agents who did not keep their appointment
Need for a Personalized Experience
There are multiple ways to provide a leasing experience without physically walking into a vacant apartment with the prospect. With in-person tours, the Leasing Professional’s engagement and sales presentation have always been the biggest reasons prospects will lease. That has not changed with virtual leasing. Only the manner and delivery method of the presentation have changed. Regardless of how many ‘bells and whistles’ your community has, it’s the knowledgeable and positive leasing professional who will close the deal. Of the top 3 most effective types of virtual tour, what each has in common is personalized connection.
Personalized connections can be established over a face to face virtual tour using FaceTime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other similar apps. Or through a GoToMeeting or other screen share application to walk through the property website together. Or via a recorded video of the vacant using the customer’s name and pointing out the things they said were most important. Leasing success still demands a personal interaction to connect with the customer.
Generic videos were provided more often than all three of these personalized options combined. While generic videos are an “easy” option they are less effective when used alone. Without conversation and personalization to help the customer really visualize what it would be like for them to live there, the presentation often falls flat. So how can you drive results if this is the only option available to you?
- Stay on the phone as the prospect watches the video
- Interject at points to ask them to pause so they can reflect and you can recap
- Mention benefits for features that they said were important (‘that closet will hold all your shoes!’)
So get creative and don’t let this be the obstacle.
Effectiveness of Closing
We have observed an interesting trend in Closing techniques. The most used close is creating a sense of urgency which was used 59% in April but had fallen to 51% by June. Paired with the decreased percentage of leasing professionals who are asking someone to leave a deposit and fill out the application, closing efforts are less than optimal. Today’s saving grace for occupancy rates may well be in current renewals, which will not hold forever and even in this pandemic people are choosing to move.
Follow Up After the Virtual Tour
Last but never least, there is noticeable decline in follow up conducted after the virtual tour. In April 2020, when email or phone were likely the only way to connect with a prospect, we saw 71% of leasing professionals conducting follow-up contacts after their virtual tour. The graph below demonstrates the decline in follow-up efforts as of June 2020, representing less engagement in the process for on-site teams. In our research, one thing that is clear is that reliance on templates to use for follow-up contacts has played a major role. Providing an email template for leasing professionals to use is a great way to help ensure a professional message but the real differentiation is how the message is ultimately personalized. Our results show the personalization is lacking, so the follow-up is conducted but is not specific to the individual’s needs nor does it tie back to the discussion between the leasing professional and prospect during the virtual tour. Autoresponder messages abound, not just for apartment leasing but for many other products and services. How do you make your message stand out? Don’t forget to personalize this connection.
Virtual Leasing Takeaways
- Virtual Leasing is here to stay and prospects demand a quality experience, which will in turn play a factor in which communities they decide to visit in person!
- Use all the virtual leasing tools in your toolbox to present your community as a great fit and don’t let lack of certain features or amenities become an obstacle.
- Time management should include greater focus on the virtual leasing prospect. Making the caller feel as if you value their time is key to your success. This includes the initial call through the follow up phone/email messages inviting them again to live at your community.
- Return voicemails and make sure you have a back-up plan for appointments to cover schedule changes, such as when someone is out sick.
- Measure your results, review them for opportunities to improve, then measure again.
Since 1984, Ellis Partners in Management Solutions has specialized exclusively in helping our multifamily clients measure and improve the customer experience by teaming with customers to develop professional skills and behaviors in each team member. We evaluate customer service and performance of onsite leasing professionals through comprehensive mystery shopping reports, our multiple touchpoint resident survey program, and training. Our turn-key integrated customer experience program, backed by outstanding customer service, sophisticated technology, and ethical business practices, has made Ellis one of the multifamily industry’s most respected and sought-after providers of training and consulting services.