Combining On-Site and Online Apartment Leasing Services to Better Serve Residents
Having an online presence is nothing new for apartment communities. But the latest trend toward online leasing for prospects and online renewals, service requests and rental payments for existing residents continues to push toward a true 24/7 leasing office.
As Amy Roos, director of revenue management for CWS Apartment Homes, has discovered, residents are finding an appealing balance with the combination of in-person customer service at the leasing offices and the convenience of online self service. In this interview, Amy shares some of CWS’ experiences and her thoughts on the leasing office of the future.
Why did CWS purchase online leasing and online renewal products initially?
We wanted an integrated process so we could offer our residents and prospects 24-hour service. We wanted them to be able to select their residence, their pricing and complete the leasing transaction all in one simple process. In addition, going paperless was a big objective for our company and our partners.
What role did resident demand play in your purchase decision?
Online leasing/online renewals really came from customers asking for these kinds of services. We wanted to respond to that and be on the forefront of having those services available for them. And we use these services as part of our sales process when we’re leasing apartments—letting prospects know what they’ll be able to do online and that we’re available 24 hours a day.
So, what services do you offer online, 24/7?
We run the full gamut—making service requests and reservations such as renting clubhouses, providing our calendar of events, communicating with staff, accessing documents—really anything that residents could have done by contacting the office.
In fact, we’ve transitioned our preferred method of payment to online as well. The ability to pay rent any time—that was something residents asked for as well. We’ve had electronic payments since March 2011, and have about 50 percent of our payments being made online so far. We have an objective to get that to 85 percent of all transactions.
We have approximately 80 percent of our prospects leasing online, and the last time I checked, our online renewals are at 95-96percent. A lot of our original prospects who leased online when we rolled this out about a year ago wanted the ability to renew online as well.
How did you achieve such high adoption rates?
We had a big marketing initiative called Sustainable Living with CWS. When we rolled out OneSite Online Leasing, RealPage Payments, and service requests, we wanted to integrate the rollout with a green message that clients were looking for as well.
So, we created a logo on our web site and developed some incentives to encourage use of our online services, including a reduced application fee and a giveaway drawing for setting up online payments. All of this promotion was under the umbrella of our green Sustainable Living campaign.
What other measures of success have you experienced?
We have eliminated almost every file in our offices. Even though we have a self-service product for our prospects and residents to use—which met our objective of providing this service—it has also alleviated the administrative work of processing 10+-page leases, signing leases, and so forth. It’s helped us transition toward eliminating all of those files and those documents from our offices and have our employees focus on the primary objective of our business—customer service.
Also, with online renewals, we can see immediately when someone renews, so we can know that we have a renewal and [can] countersign right away. We can extend a renewal offer quickly in an email and residents are able to see their renewal rates instantly. We continue to see our retention rates going up as a result.
What affect do you think online leasing and renewals will have on the leasing office?
I believe online leasing and online renewals will continue to be a part of property management going forward. The changes in the leasing office are going to be demanded by clients, residents and prospects. In order to stay current with what clients and residents are looking for, you have to respond to those requests for online service.
It’s been a huge change in terms of business processes in the leasing office. Instead of spending time processing a lot of paperwork or payments or trying to send out renewal letters, staff is able to respond quickly to phone calls and the in-person exchange with residents. Many residents still want that interpersonal touch in the office, which can be challenging if you are caught up in administrative tasks. So, online services have helped to balance that and focus our staff on the business of customer service.
Online leasing also reduces the number of prospects who shop other properties. They realize that apartments are in demand and can be leased immediately at any time. So, it’s probably not the best use of their time to continue to shop if they have found what they’re looking for at our communities.
Any last comments or thoughts?
Leasing offices tend to be open when people are at work, so having an online channel means residents can still communicate with us and have their needs met. We consider it an extension of the leasing office.
What do you think about offering a balance of in-person customer service with online self service options? Does it work for you? Are you planning to implement something like this? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.