Lead-to-leasing grows up

  • By Wendy Broffman
  • Published December 2016

Operating a multifamily business means making daily decisions about where to allocate resources that will generate the maximum amount of ROI (return on investment).

Lead-to-leasing grows up

As the customer relationship management (CRM) revolution gathers velocity, apartment operators take a closer look at cloud-based solutions designed to manage the entire lifecycle of the renter.

Opportunities to enhance revenue by providing a better renter experience are ubiquitous at every online customer touch point, beginning with the property search. Why is this important? According to a survey by CEI, 86 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

With online access to ILSs (Internet Listing Services), individual property websites and reviews, apartment hunters have the ability to make decisions about an apartment community before ever stepping on the property.

Yesterday's lead-to-leasing tools-both integrated and standalone models-are growing up into full customer-centric CRM solutions. The integrated versions offered by acquisitive-natured market giants like Yardi, RealPage and MRI Software are connected to a suite of property management software that handle functions like accounting, billing and revenue management, and all data flows are stored in one place.

Standalone CRMs may offer some features not standard in the integrated models. Because of Multifamily Information and Transactions Standards (MITS), which allowed for tighter integration between back office property management systems, those versions are now able to integrate and play nice with most of the accounting-based and revenue management systems in the industry, giving apartment managers a choice of solutions to fit every size portfolio, preferred sales methodology and budget.

Adopting CRM solutions for multifamily is a logical next step for apartment operators in their day-to-day goals of marketing and managing their properties. But no matter how sophisticated the technology, it must work within a company-wide strategy that guides implementation and proper training to ensure staff are aware and taking advantage of the many benefits the solutions have to offer, which means combatting entrenched behaviors and ideas. And that is the greatest challenge for the companies that offer these dynamic tools.

LeaseHawk, technology innovators in Scottsdale, Ariz., gives management companies a communications platform loaded with cutting edge tools focused on creating the best possible leasing experience.

The mobile-first platform was built from the latest technology, not from a legacy system created a decade ago, said LeaseHawk Founder Mike Mueller, adding that the application features the industry's first Siri-like conversational assistant and the only CRM that enables texting and outbound calling from within the system.

LeaseHawk not only tracks millions of calls a month, they were first to track each and every communication, including texts, calls and emails in one interface, he said.

The integrated system creates a customer-focused experience by enabling the leasing team to personally respond to and engage with customers, on their terms, from any mobile device or desktop.

The CRM allows staff to easily manage every relationship by automatically logging each communication sent and received then creating and storing in the cloud a comprehensive timeline of these communications to maximize service and personalization. Centralizing all communications eliminates the need for manual entry by leveraging voice transcription and also provides a structure to facilitate moving prospects through the leasing process.

Ease of use and improved follow-up result from LeaseHawk's instant notifications, while mobile capabilities improve service levels, renter satisfaction and create a positive image of the management company, said Mueller.

Leasehawk also tracks the effectiveness of ad sources to help management budget marketing dollars. Meanwhile, live analysts score every lead and assign them a grade that helps the leasing team determine which leads are actually true prospects.

Equally important to understanding the quality of leads is the tracking and evaluation of the leasing staff's performance.

LeaseHawk's call scoring does double duty-filtering out callers who are not looking to lease or who do not meet qualifying criteria and measuring how the leasing agents perform on actual calls.

Leasing professionals are automatically evaluated throughout the entire leasing lifecycle on call performance and how quickly they respond to leads and convert those leads to residents.

This visibility into the state of the leasing team, helps on- and off-site management identify training opportunities and skill gaps that need to be addressed.

LeaseHawk integrates with all the industry's property management systems, but Mueller points out that those programs are basically accounting packages developed to manage numbers, not relationships. He believes apartment managers are better served managing and storing communications in a proprietary platform such as LeaseHawk's.

What sets LeaseHawk apart from the competition is its Siri-like conversational assistant ACE (Answer Calls Every time) that is designed for those periods of time when the leasing office is closed or staff is unavailable, which happens about 40 to 60 percent of the time during office hours and 100 percent after hours. While large companies have the capital to spend on call centers, many small to mid-size companies do not.

Not only does ACE ensure no call is missed, it has the ability to answer commonly asked leasing questions, like pricing and availability, set appointments and collect guest card information. According to Mueller, ACE has been setting an average of three appointments per property per month. ACE is fully integrated into the CRM, so all data, including appointments, is automatically populated for the leasing staff.

The LeaseHawk CRM then ensures follow-up through instant notifications, with mobile capability for access when the agent is away from their desk and by identifying and prioritizing each contact where action is required-ensuring no leasing opportunity is ever missed.

While intelligent automation technology is more common in other industries, it is still in its early stages. LeaseHawk has already been innovating in this space for the multifamily industry with its Siri-like automated assistant that now has real-world results and offers a more affordable and effective alternative to call centers, said Mueller.

The greatest hurdle for innovators in the multifamily space is getting the industry to accept new technology, but Mueller says that LeaseHawk is making headway and adoption continues to increase.

"Today's renters are tech savvy and want to communicate on their own terms. It is important that management companies embrace the newest solutions that allow them to communicate with their customers quickly and efficiently to offer the best experience," he said.

Meanwhile, the LeaseHawk team continues to enhance and stay abreast of technology that can improve workflow automation and prospect scoring.

RealPage believes its clients are strongest when they manage their entire sales funnel through a single platform. The Carrollton, Texas-based company offers a full suite of CRM solutions, from ILS syndication and SEM (search engine marketing) to mobile-first websites, contact centers and lead management that extends through quoting, lead conversion, marketing, leasing, resident management and renewals.

"Each of these components are important individually, but become exponentially more valuable when deployed together as part of a single comprehensive customer relationship strategy," said Karen McDonald, RealPage director of marketing.

She stresses that one of the biggest factors in determining if a resident will renew their lease is the quality of service they receive. Each of RealPage's resident services solutions-ActiveBuilding, resident portal, payments and concierge-are tailored to drive customer engagement and boost resident satisfaction that is crucial to sustaining high renewal rates and reducing turnover costs.

ActiveBuilding ensures every inbound and outbound contact from every prospect and resident is answered via the prospect's preferred form of communication. NPS (net promoter score) surveys sent out by email also help properties identify renter satisfaction, address concerns or solicit referrals early and throughout the lease term.

The social network features of ActiveBuilding include Interest Groups Marketplace and Community Wall to help residents connect and stay plugged in at their community.

Lead tracking, lead scoring and cost analysis work seamlessly together within ActiveBuilding to help marketing teams make more intelligent decisions about their ad spend.

"The first step in measuring the effectiveness of a client's advertising dollars is being able to tie specific leads to specific ad sources and then track them to lease conversion," said McDonald, noting that lease outcomes provide the measuring stick for evaluating lead quality, while scoring provides a predictive forward-looking measure of lead quality independently of the effectiveness of the sales staff at a property.

Meanwhile, "cost-per" reporting that allows marketing managers to input ad spend to evaluate the efficiency of marketing spend, provides actionable results that enable smarter business decisions that can lead to greater ROI, she said.

"Assessing lead quality is most important for prioritizing outbound follow-up, but not so much for inbound lead management, because sites should always respond to inbound queries as soon as possible. Leasing agents don't have time to follow-up with