Of all the property types in the commercial real estate world, multifamily is unique in its intimacy. Unlike most other commercial property types that have to keep people happy where they work, multifamily buildings have to provide for people’s home lives. This makes it personal. If your office isn’t up to snuff, you can still leave at the end of the day. If your apartment is poorly managed, it’s your home on the line. This means that multifamily tenants are much more likely to take action on their displeasure. Consequently, resident feedback collection shouldn’t be relegated to periodic, discrete survey projects. Instead, it should be continuous and persistent, helping managers gain a nuanced understanding of their residents across the entire renter lifecycle.
There are good reasons for why apartment managers should pay such close attention to their resident feedback. Multifamily leases are much shorter than commercial leases. While a retail or office lease might last five or ten years, most apartments are rented for 12 months, give or take a little extra in exchange for a concession. Multifamily renters are not locked into the same type of long-term agreement so they have lots of opportunities to vote with their wallets.
Furthermore, there is a continuity of interaction in apartment settings versus offices. While managing an office is far from a piece of cake, the number of things that can go wrong in places where dozens or more people live, from noisy neighbors to malfunctioning kitchen appliances to dirty amenity spaces, are much greater than in office settings. This means that apartment owners need to be ever vigilant to ensure that they are delivering a good service, every day, or they will begin to suffer the impacts of high turnover and poor reviews. Vicious cycles like that can be hard to escape without radical changes or rebranding the entire community.
To understand tenant satisfaction, apartment owner’s feedback collection apparatus should be given as much thought and concern as their maintenance or management team, since being able to collect quality resident information can directly benefit every part of the real estate organization. But here’s where it gets interesting. As we discussed in our newest report, Listening to Residents: Getting the Most From a Multifamily Customer Feedback Program, the opportunities that apartment owners have to collect resident impressions are much broader than simply running a survey. While surveying is no doubt a critical component of any good feedback plan, it takes more than mass-email survey campaigns to collect valid, up-to-date information on what residents like or don’t like. Instead, every interaction between staff and resident, and indeed every single moment that each resident feels good or bad about their apartment complex, should be measured and analyzed.
Think about how big market research companies collect information. They use surveys but also pair them with insights learned from more personal interactions like panels and one-on-one interviews. While these can be time-consuming and costly to manage, they allow for deeper information collection than any survey with a reasonable length. They can also be flexible to deploy. A property manager could hold an impromptu interview every time a resident walks through his or her office door. A manager may think they know what the most liked or disliked parts of the apartment complex are, but directly asking a handful of people could provide insight into completely new areas of improvement entirely.
Other parts of the lifecycle feedback gathering process take even less effort. Every resident interaction is an opportunity to collect useful data. Things like tours, maintenance calls and events are perfect examples of this. Afterwards, each of these interactions should be recorded and followed up with a simple “rate your satisfaction” survey. This could be as little as one or two questions asking them to share their opinion of their recent experience. Whether you just repaired their kitchen sink or put together a wine mixer, this type of information is extremely easy to collect and helps provide insight into trends over time, from the day your renters first step through your buildings’ doors to the day they eventually decide not to renew their leas. It also allows direct responses to be made where they are really necessary. Did someone rate a service call “highly unsatisfactory?” Collecting this information allows a personalized response to be delivered immediately afterward.
Technology also plays a role here in making resident lifecycle data easier to collect. New tools like the Smiley Terminal, which has a number of smiley face-coded buttons ranging from very happy to very unhappy, allow residents to easily and quickly express satisfaction with specific experiences or spaces within the complex, like the lobby or the co-working space. This data may not be as granular as traditional survey data. However, it can be useful for directing additional research efforts or for quantifying resident perceptions of individual elements of your building or management efforts.
Apartments are homes, not workplaces, and the amount of feedback needed to improve on their operation and efficiency morning, noon, or night stretches well beyond the traditional “snapshot in time” surveying style many managers may be comfortable with. Between traditional surveys, in-depth resident interviews and panel discussions, point-of-service surveying, and disruptive methods like push button feedback collection, managers have an opportunity to learn more about who their renters are and what they want. This integrated, comprehensive approach to understanding customer satisfaction provides more useful insights to property teams than any one-off survey, or even annual survey plan could ever achieve.