Apartment Marketing: The Impact of Physical Environments on the Customer Experience


Picture of a Leasing Office for an Apartment Community
Leasing Office of Camden Farmers Market Apartments in Dallas, Texas

The influence of the physical environment in business doesn’t get as much attention as it should. What we experience through our physical senses generates our strongest memories—good and bad. The more a business can involve our physical senses, the more powerful and memorable customer experience they’ll create.

Some businesses are more affected than others. Those where customers spend very little time on the premises (like a convenience store) are less affected than services where long customer-provider interactions are typical (like a leasing office, restaurant, or doctor’s office).

As such, the physical environment at your apartment community can have a positive or a negative impact on a customer’s purchasing behavior:

  1. It can attract or detract their attention
  2. It can convey subtle, or not so subtle, signals about your community, product, or the services you offer
  3. It can act as an affective medium, where color, smell, and sound evoke instinctive reactions that will influence the probability of a purchase

I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding the power of the physical environment in business and how it can impact the customer experience. Her personal story conveyed this message so well that I wanted to share it with you.

The Power of the Physical Environment: A Personal Story

A few weeks ago I threw my neck out of whack—again. I have been seeing a Chiropractor for this injury but wasn’t getting any relief. I decided it was time to get a second opinion. I asked my friends for recommendations via Facebook, posted on a Yahoo group, and visited a few customer review sites. As the recommendations began to flow in I noticed that the same doctor’s name popped up over and over again. So, I made contact and I set up an appointment. The best word that I can use to describe my experience is “amazing!” The best way I can describe my experience is to draw a comparison between Bone Doctor #1 (previous) and Bone Doctor #2 (present).

Bone Doctor Number 1

His office is located in the middle of town in a great location. As you approach the building, the office signage speaks to the fact that this is a long standing practice. It looks tired. When you walk through the front door there is no doubt you are in the presence of a doctor—from the smell, to the pictures on the wall, to the office design—it is clear. The equipment and the decor are the same as they were the day they opened the doors. Does any of this impact my experience as a patient? At the time I didn’t realize the impact, but now I do.

The Patient’s View of Bone Doctor Number 1:

  1. Sign in at the receptionist desk. If you are a new patient you will need to complete at least five pages of medical forms. Have a seat and wait your turn.
  2. When your name is called follow the receptionist to a small patient room with a number on it. Your medical file will be placed in a box next to the door to alert the doctor that you are in the room.
  3. Now it’s time to remove your top portion of clothing and put on that very fashionable green hospital gown. The paint on the walls matches the gown, too. Have a seat and wait your turn.
  4. The doctor enters with your chart, asks you about your injury, and begins to manipulate your bones.
  5. When you are done it’s time to stop by the payment window to discuss your insurance coverage and how much you will need to pay for today’s service.
  6. Communication: Office phone only. No website exists.

Bone Doctor Number 2

His office is located several miles outside of town. In fact, it resembles a small house rather than an office. The signage is crisp and is surrounded by beautiful flowering shrubs. As you approach the front door you walk through a pathway that is planted with fresh herbs, fruit trees, and vegetables—all planted around a small outside seating area for patient overflow. The facility is very small, quaint, and presents a non-medical feeling environment. In fact, when you enter the doors it feels more like a spa—soft music, soft wall colors, an open room, aromatic smell in the air, etc. It is not uncommon to walk in and hear the doctor singing a tune while adjusting a patient.

The Patient’s View of Bone Doctor 2

  1. There is one form that needs to be completed and you can download it off of his website. There is no front desk or receptionist—you simply sign the welcome sheet located on a small coffee table, sit in a chair, and wait your turn. He is a one man show.
  2. When it is your turn, the doctor will come to you, shake your hand, welcome you, and proceed to ask you how you have improved since your last visit. He does not refer to his medical file—he knows his patients well.
  3. You don’t have to remove your clothes, put on a hospital gown, or go to a separate room with a number on it.
  4. The adjustment area is only separated by the waiting area with a half-wall. Conversations flow back and forth between the doctor and other patients.
  5. When you are done you simply slip your payment in an antique wood box located on a small table. If you forgot your check book don’t worry—he will catch you on the next visit.
  6. Communication: His cell phone, Facebook page, and an iPhone app for office information.

Make Them Feel like They’re in Another World

As you can tell from my friend’s experience, the physical environment of a business can have a powerful impact on the customer’s experience—in a good or a bad way. Walt Disney once said:

“I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the park. I want them to feel like they’re in another world.”

That pretty much sums it up!

When your potential residents enter your doors, what do they see? Have you ever considered how you stack up to your competition when it comes to physical environment? Are you just another apartment community to the resident or are you providing an entirely different experience? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, it might be time conduct a resident survey or even visit an apartment ratings and review site to hear what they are saying about you and your community.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


Additional Resources:



President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

author photo two

Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

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