The property management industry like many others is quickly becoming a highly commoditized industry, and this is reflected in leasing training. As the customer walks in and out of each leasing office, the apartments begin to blend, and the bells and whistles begin to sing the same tune. There is little to no differentiator from one conversation to another. Today’s customers are armed with information and savvier than ever. Many will enter the leasing office knowing as much about the product as the leasing professional does. Customers have power, thanks to social media, at their fingertips. They can share their opinion of your products and services with their entire social network in an instant. Most importantly, customers have a choice. At the end of the leasing presentation, what will be their determining factor? Why will they choose one community over another? The answer is customer experience.
According to Walker, a customer experience (CX) firm, “Customer Experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020.” Are your leasing professionals prepared well by your leasing training? At a time when the customer is placing more of an emphasis on a positive experience than on price or product, leasing professionals must be prepared to deliver an exceptional customer experience. While the road to failed customer experiences is paved with good intentions, few employees understand how to deliver a great experience rather than simply push what they consider a great product.
While there are many ways employees can differentiate and improve their customer’s experience, here are 3 simple ideas for delivering a great customer experience.
1. See Your Competitors Through Your Customer’s Eyes
It doesn’t matter what employees think about their competition; it is what the customer sees and thinks that makes all the difference. Customer perspective often comes from a different angle, and the only way a leasing professional can understand what that looks like is to ask the right, open-ended questions. If we take the time to audit the customer’s experience, it will help us improve the experience by differentiating the presentation and positioning our product to match the needs of the customer. This is how you build perceived value in the eyes of the customer! Here are a few example questions and responses:
- Have you visited any other communities today? Did they show you an apartment comparable to our two bedroom? What did you like best or least about their two bedroom? How does the size of their master closet compare to ours? Does it offer this much storage in the bathroom and bedroom?
- Did you meet with Jamie over at Sunshine Apartments? Did she show you the fitness center? What was your favorite thing about it? You mentioned a workout facility was really important to you. Let me show you how ours is similar and different.
- You told me that the kitchen is where you spend the most time in your home. What did you think of the kitchen at Deer Valley Apartments? If I recall correctly, that particular two bedroom kitchen offers a large amount of counter space, but the storage cabinets are limited. Did you find that to be true as well? How will you utilize the storage in this kitchen? As you can see, this apartment also has an abundance of counter space that you can take advantage of for preparing and presenting food.
2. Duplicate Fantastic Customer Experiences
Pablo Picasso had a saying, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” In 1996, Steve Jobs reflected on that famous quote and said, “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Many believe what Jobs meant by “steal” was that you learn from others and history. If we study what others have done and what they do best, and consider how we can incorporate that into our leasing training, as well as our product or presentation, we can take it a step further. Chick-fil-A is a master at customer experience. They have a practice of studying what other companies do best and adopting great ideas into their business. There is a reason they are consistently ranked as one of the top companies in Customer Experience by Temkin Research.
- Chick-fil-A employees ask and use your name in conversation. The manager visits your table to make sure your food is great, and you get to enjoy the scent of fresh flowers at your table. The employees respond to every request with “my pleasure” and call you by your first name rather than by a number. Small changes in vocabulary, employee behavior and scenery, allow their employees to deliver a completely different experience to their customers. They have learned how to turn their $6 chicken meal into a memorable fine dining experience. Where did they get all of their ideas? Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer at Chick-fil-A, says his father got the “my pleasure” idea from Ritz-Carlton because he wanted to offer service that you might expect at a more expensive establishment. Admittedly, many of his ideas were borrowed from other businesses.
Chick-fil-A’s average sales per restaurant in 2016 were $4.4 million, according to a new report from QSR magazine. Kentucky Fried Chicken sold $1.1 million per restaurant that same year. Apparently, the 11 herbs and spices just aren’t enough. This is a prime example of how customer experience overtakes product and price. So teach your leasing professionals as part of their leasing training to build their own repertoire of surprises for the customer, and encourage them to recall and borrow ideas from their own personal customer experiences.
3. Lead Customers to Their Ideal Product Rather than Leading with Your Product
There is nothing more frustrating to a customer than being the victim of a product and service dump by a leasing professional. If you don’t ask the customer what they need or care about, you are simply throwing everything you have at the customer. We call this leading with your product. The customer on the other hand is searching for someone who can become their trusted advisor. They need someone who will seek to understand their needs and fulfill those needs with their product while delivering a very personal and customized experience. Here are two examples of how a leasing professional might lead a customer to their product rather than simply leading with their product.
- Jamie, you mentioned the kitchen is very important to you. What do you like/dislike about your current kitchen? Do you bake, prepare family meals, entertain? How much storage space will you need for food? Do you typically need a lot of space for produce, drinks, meat, etc.? Let’s take a look at the refrigerator capacity.
- Francis, let’s take a look at the master bedroom and see if we can place your large furniture. You mentioned that it was a concern for you. This wall is 11ft and that wall is 8 ft. Your bed could easily fit on either wall. What additional items will you be bringing with you? A large television? I have seen residents use this wall for their television because it doesn’t face the window.
Apple doesn’t sell computers or cell phones; they sell experiences. Disney World doesn’t sell theme park tickets; they sell experiences. Amazon doesn’t sell products; they sell experiences. Teach your employees as part of leasing training to deliver an exceptional experience and the product will almost sell itself.
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions