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Know and Grow Your Millennial Employees (What a Wonderful Workplace it Would Be…)

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In the memorable words of James Cooke, “What a wonderful world it would be….” As I listen to these lyrics, I feel an instant re-connection to a subject that has always been near and dear to my heart. Why can’t all property managers have a training mindset? What a wonderful workplace it would be!  Some of the best managers I have ever worked for or known had a mindset focused on growth, connecting, leading, training and inspiring.  It looked right. It sounded right. It felt right. When it all comes together, it plays like a well-written song sung in full harmony, not to mention being music to the ears of the millennial.

You are a trainer, so you understand my point. You always seem to have your finger on the heartbeat of the onsite employees. Because you were the first person they encountered in their new hire training class, your relationship is one of trust, understanding, and encouragement. You tend to network with other trainers and seek outside advice. You are always looking for new ways to advance your training program and understand your internal customer. You strive to know and grow employees. You tend to have your hands in all areas – training, marketing, employee benefits, recruiting, retention, and more. This is especially true when it comes to your millennial employees. You are a good match for millennials because surveys reveal that millennials want to see individualized focus and attention on their personal career path. The biggest challenge you face is passing your same knowledge, hopes, and goals down to the one who will lead the millennial employee daily – the property manager.

Many trainers have walked in your shoes and understand the disconnect that often takes place when the employee leaves training and goes to work. Millennial employees are working for a manager who doesn’t always have a “trainer” mindset. While it is unlikely that you hire new managers, you probably train them. So embrace those few face-to-face classroom opportunities to encourage your managers to know and grow their employees, especially the millennials.

1.  KNOW. To be in the know means to be widely informed. Managers focus so much on knowing their external customer, yet spend very little time on their internal customer. The first customer in the leasing office is the internal one and many of those fall into the millennial category. Katie Locke, Director of Training and Possibilities at Red Carpet Learning shared these thoughts in an article focused on improving internal customer service, “If you have to focus on just one area this year in order to improve your business, focus on your internal customers. Your biggest assets are your employees. Truly engage them in your business and culture. and provide a company they are proud to work for and you will see business growth and a rise in productivity.” Do your managers know that by 2025, millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce? Knowing is directly related to training because it is about being informed, knowing your customer.  If your managers are not informed about their audience, how can they train, lead, or retain them?  What motivates a millennial? Why do they care so much about this, or that? Why don’t they stay longer? Why do they appear to be entitled?  Here are a few points to share in your next face-to-face manager meeting.

 

Do you KNOW that the majority of your millennial employees don’t intend to retire with your company?

The average millennial stays with their employer two years. In comparison, the average tenure for Baby Boomers is seven years and five years for Gen X employees. One of the primary reasons millennials are more likely to job hop is because they are not willing to stick around if they do not believe they are receiving any personal benefit or growth. Interestingly, many of the challenges managers face with millennials stem from their lack of truly understanding their goals, meaning they don’t know this generation. While each person is unique, they do have certain generational tendencies.

According to a study conducted by Bentley University, 67% of millennials have a goal of starting their own business and only 13% have an interest in climbing the corporate ladder to become CEO/President of the company. This represents a sharp contrast from what has been common in our industry for so many years. In many cases the position you offer is viewed as a stepping stone for them. What caused the flip? Is it really about their loyalty, or is it about ours? Fred Tuffile, Director of Bentley’s Entrepreneurial Studies program, remarked, “Millennials are eager to make their own pathways because they suspect the traditional ones may lead nowhere. Millennials see chaos, distrust of management, breaking of contracts and bad news associated with business. They’ve watched their relatives get fired and their peers sit in cubicles and they think, ‘There has to be a better way’.”

At their core, millennials want to grow in their skills and knowledge, and they want freedom to change career paths within their own company. They see change as a growth opportunity. If managers can create this type of environment, these employees will stay longer. Consider all the career paths that exist within the leasing office, regionally, and in your corporate leadership. They don’t only want to be limited to opportunities within a leasing office in a particular region and in a particular state. Are your managers always pushing them down the promotion road or just hoping they will stay put?

 

Do you KNOW that millennials desire feedback more frequently, but they won’t ask for it?

You most likely do know this, but is it being acted on in the leasing office? While my generation and the previous ones were content to wait for the six month or annual review, millennials want instant feedback. Capturing this enthusiasm is vital, yet it can be challenging for the hands-off manager. The good news is that millennials’ idea of ongoing feedback isn’t necessarily a formal one. It doesn’t have to be listed in a policy and procedures manual to take place. A daily habit of passing along lightweight signals of positive and negative sentiment will go a long way with them.

In an interview with the New York Times, Jeff Lawson, chief executive of Twilio had this to say about millennials and feedback, “They enjoy constant feedback because they always want to be learning and growing. They’re not looking for constant praise, but rather they want to ‘keep score’ on how they’re doing in all aspects of their career. They never want to have a surprise.” It all makes sense when you consider that millennials grew up with the Internet, which offers instant gratification and quick feedback, and by extension they expect the same at work. Do your managers know this? Are they responding or complaining?

 

Do you KNOW that the #1 preferred employee benefit for college-educated millennials is student loan repayment?

While this isn’t directly related to training, it is a golden nugget that can be shared with your upper management if it hasn’t already been considered. What millennials value most is their independence and freedom. Student debt stifles their freedom. Adopting such a program in your company sends a message to them that you know they have taken on a real burden to obtain their education and that you don’t want them to hold onto it until deep into their 40s. According to a 2016 Millennial Benefits Preferences study conducted by FC Consulting, millennials will stay at a job 36% longer when offered a student loan repayment program, and when two equal jobs are presented, 85% will choose the one offering such a program. This same study revealed that college-educated millennials prefer student loan repayment programs 2-12X more than other perks including 401 (K) and health insurance. Wow! This benefit affords companies a powerful advantage for recruiting college-educated talent over their competitors. They care about the NOW, so pass on the KNOW!

 

2. GROW. To grow means to develop. As a trainer, you understand this concept well. At work, it is essential to challenge and stretch yourself often. Growth has the potential of making you better at your job, and it can make you feel more fulfilled both in and out of the workplace.  An impressive 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job, far more than the 69% of non-millennials who said the same in a 2016 Gallup report. How well are your managers growing their teams?

 

Do your managers help millennials GROW and do something big?

In the 2018 Deloitte Millennial survey, only 28 percent of surveyed millennials reported feeling that their current place of work was fully utilizing their skills. It is important for managers to be aware of millennial employees’ ambitions and talents from the get-go. Are they artistic? Are they creative? What skills do they bring from their previous work experiences? What leadership roles did they hold in college? Managers should be eager to learn about and demonstrate ways they can utilize these skills to help millennials realize their full potential and ‘do something big’ at work! I remember years ago recruiting an internal group of marketing-minded employees to work on some company projects. To my surprise, one of the ladies in the group had been instrumental in the development of the 1980s “We’ll Leave the Light On For You,” campaign for Motel 6. What a gem she was to have on the team! She helped us accomplish some big goals. Do your managers truly know the talent that exists on their teams? Encourage them to explore their employee inventory, which reaches far beyond the resume.

 

Do you encourage your managers to GROW the soft skills in their millennial workforce rather than complain they are lacking?

By virtue of having been raised on technology, millennials are the most tech-savvy generation the world has ever seen in the workplace. As a result, this growing portion of the workforce is drawn to STEM careers. While they can boast about their hard technical skills, when it comes to soft skills, millennials fall short. We learned timeliness, professionalism, networking, leadership, communication, and basic business etiquette early on in our lives. We displayed them at work and expected them from others. To millennials, soft skills might seem somewhat antiquated. What’s the big deal if they are five minutes late to work? Why do they have to dress professionally instead of however they are comfortable? No matter how much technology exists, soft skills continue to be in high demand.

Below are a few of the most important soft skills to have in the workplace according to Mike Steinerd, Indeed’s Director of Recruiting:

  • Acting as a team player and displaying strong leadership skills when necessary.
  • Being flexible., as those who can adapt to any situation are dependable no matter what’s thrown at them.
  • Effectively communicating, including articulating oneself well, being a good listener, and using appropriate body language.
  • Problem-solving and resourcefulness, which are critical when unexpected issues inevitably arise.
  • Accepting feedback gracefully and applying that feedback to foster professional growth.

Mentoring this generation and growing these skills might be more important that it was for any previous generation. If you want to grow your millennial employees, you must inspire the “trainer” in your managers to get the job done. They should be seeking daily opportunities to grow soft skills.

While they have certain generational tendencies, millennials are all different and should be treated as unique individuals. Consider what Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps, says of millennials, “The same basic principles apply to the millennial generation as to any other age group. Some people are inspired, excited, hardworking, humble and curious. Some are entitled, unfocused and political. Not everyone is great!” There are so many opportunities to know and grow your millennial employees. You understand this very well. Consider yourself the messenger of information to those who recruit, lead, train, and manage this talented generation. What a wonderful workplace it would be if our leasing offices were filled with training-minded managers just like you – a team of leaders who are always seeking to know and grow.

 

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

Influence: The Key to Overcoming “Responsibility Without Authority”

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For a property manager the recipe to achieving results is having the necessary authority and resources to perform the job in harmony with the job description, to accomplish the objectives set by the management and/or owner. Too often, I interact with managers who operate like they are no more than an entry level employee with a fancy title. While a title with the look of authority might be appealing to some people because it often means less risk and work, it can cause great strain on the expectations of their customers – internal and external. Being given responsibility without authority can often breed a sense of helplessness and frustration for the manager and those around them but rarely a sense of empowerment.  The outcomes are easy to predict.

  1. They will assume the authority without approval.
  2. They will shrug the responsibility.
  3. They will be at the mercy of the customer by doing whatever they can to appease them.

Unfortunately, this design is very common in our industry and in many retail businesses. A property manager is expected to help customers, solve issues, and make them “happy”. But if the situation veers from the common, they must move the problem and the decision up the chain of command – district manager, regional manager, etc. This is frustrating for employees and can be infuriating for customers. The customer experience often takes a quick nosedive.

A recent experience with our family inspired this blog post. While on our fall break, we planned a fun day to a local entertainment venue which bills itself as “THE destination for FUN”. When we arrived, the special that was posted on their website was not what I had been led to believe it was, so I began inquiring about our options. Since this was a weekday, the nearly 75,000 sq. ft. building was practically empty.  I asked the employee at the front desk what type of packages they offered in addition to the one we had seen. Her response was, “None—it’s not summer!” I continued to drive the conversation by asking her how much it would cost to play the 2-3 activities that were most appealing to our boys. Her response was, “We don’t have a combined option.” It was all a la carte. The result would have been $30 for 30 minutes of entertainment. During our conversation, an individual with a nametag that read “Manager” kept walking by without making any comments. Clearly frustrated, I respectfully proceeded to share my disappointment with the employee, who stood unapologetically behind the counter. Her best response was that the corporate office made all decisions and that she had no authority. Sadly, she never brought her manager into the conversation, so I can only assume the manager, who continued to pass by us, was only a manager in title. He had no authority either. I couldn’t help but think of the missed opportunities:

A small discount could have gone a long way. The Ritz Carleton $2,000 gold standard, which I have referenced in many of my training classes, was on my mind. They empower employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager. While this $2,000 is reflective of a customer spending $250,000 with the Ritz over their lifetime, the concept can still apply to any business. A five-dollar discount or extended play time would have gone a long way in our situation.

The lack of any employee initiative was most glaring overall. We left their facility and found another option where the manager offered us a discount package, attentive service, fantastic food, and a full day of fun!

It is likely that your customers are having similar experiences with your employees as they move from one community and from one problem to another. It is also unlikely that “I need to contact my district/regional manager for approval” or “You need to call the corporate office” will leave the conversation anytime soon. Without a complete organizational or procedural change, the best way to overcome this challenge is to teach managers to use influence to overcome responsibility without authority.  Here are two essential and easy ways to increase influence.

1.  Build Trust

There is nothing more important than trust. Trust is not an action. It is a belief that you have the customer’s best interest at heart and the confidence that you have the ability to help them. The more trust people have in you the higher your influence.  As a result, you are in a better position to lead them in the direction that is best for them.

In The Trusted Executive the author tells us, “the world is ready for a different breed of executive; a leader with transformational trust-building skills. If you want to anticipate and take the lead, if you want to be a pioneer in the 21st-century boardroom and deliver outstanding results, inspiring relationships, and build a cast-iron reputation for trustworthiness then you need to develop trust building habits.”

How can your managers build trust and turn around a situation similar to the one we recently had?

  • Ask questions and listen. Don’t repeat what you can’t do. Every customer interaction should be a conversation, not a sales pitch. You should spend at least half of every customer interaction listening. The questions should effectively lead them to answers and not back to the problem. Listen.
  • Be genuine. My recent unpleasant experience is not an uncommon one. At some point you have probably had an unpleasant experience with a manager or salesperson. Maybe you walked in feeling sold and walked away feeling unappreciated or even worse manipulated. Being genuine just means caring and being yourself. It means focusing less on others’ perceptions of you and more about getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Teach your managers to keep it real because their customers are more likely to trust them as a person than the company as a business.
  • Be empathetic. If you want people around you to value having a relationship with you, you must truly believe that relationship building is important. This means being empathetic rather than policy driven. The goal is to find and present the value that you are able offer to the customer versus what you cannot do for them.
  • Build a bridge (not a corporate wall). People are drawn to those who show true interest in them. Curiosity about people is a crucial element of relationship building. Caring about others’ wants and needs gives you the opportunity to learn new things, make new connections, and build bridges. Sometimes these bridges lead them to your product and sometimes they don’t. In the end, they will remember that you cared and they will trust you.

An unknown author once said, “Trust is a HUGE word. It either makes something or destroys it.” Teach your managers how to build trust and they will increase their influence with their customers regardless of their level of decision making authority.

 2.  Take Action

Too often, managers get a good idea or see how something can be done better, but they don’t act on it. They miss out on an opportunity to set ideas into motion and to increase their influence with customers. I really would have appreciated a few good ideas from the employees at our fall outing venue. It wouldn’t have mattered if they were ideas about options within their facility or even recommending me somewhere else. Instead, we received a ‘see you later’ message. Taking action is where all momentum comes from. Even in the absence of true authority, a manager can take action on good ideas. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, believed, “New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!”

How can a manager overcome the notion of responsibility without authority by taking action? How do we avoid the “It can’t be done” mentality?

  • Never Accept the Status Quo. People who do things the way they have always been done will in the best case get the same results. Managers should be constantly searching for new solutions and more effective approaches to solving customer problems. Encourage them to make a “new idea” contribution weekly. No idea is too small.
  • Consider Every Opportunity. Opportunities are hidden everywhere, and people who see them are the ones who prosper. Teach them to make a habit of constantly asking themselves, “What opportunities for growth can I carve out of this situation?”, “How can we avoid this situation next time?”, or “What changes could I recommend to my supervisor?” Teach them to seek out new opportunities for change.
  • Speak Up and Act. Consider the millions of amazing ideas that went nowhere because no one knew about them. Encourage managers to identify problem areas, research solutions, and push their recommendations up the corporate ladder. Taking this approach now will reduce the need to push problems up the corporate ladder later when they are standing knee deep in the trench and face-to-face with the customer.

Think about your own daily experiences with brands, sales people, and managers. The frustration level you feel when they lack the decision-making authority to help you solve a seemingly simple problem can be off the charts. It is all too familiar. You address the situation with the sales person. They send you to the manager. The manager can’t approve the change, so they defer it to someone further up the corporate food chain.  In a study by customer service platform Zendesk, the single biggest driver of negative customer experiences was having to explain a problem to multiple people in the hope that one of them had the power to help.

This problem is not going away anytime soon, so place your focus on influence: the key to overcoming responsibility without authority.

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Phrases Leasing Professionals Should Remove from Customer Conversations

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The language we use in customer conversations impacts our ability to engage them and build trust in the relationship. Did you know that nearly 70% of customers stopped doing business with a company because they felt they were treated rudely or with indifference? According to a 2017 American Express Customer Service Barometer survey, Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they will tell about a good experience. What we do, as well as what we say and how we say it all matter.  Every word we choose can trigger a feeling or emotion, and it is our job to carefully select our words to maximize the impact of our message.

Here are 3 phrases Leasing Professionals should remove from customer conversations.

1. I’m Sorry

I cringe when I hear a Leasing Professional combine the two words “I’m sorry” with a smug facial expression.  “I’m sorry” is commonly referred to as an empty apology. I call it a non-apology. Apologizing to customers is important, but the two-word phrase “I’m sorry” can come across as insincere when there is no context, helpful words, or action that comes with it. I know it’s hard to appear genuine when you don’t always truly feel sorry. Think about it. In most instances, you are apologizing for something you had no control over in the first place. In our industry, the “I’m sorry” phrase tends to rear its head when markets are strong and availability is tight. “Do you have any two-bedroom apartments available?” “No, I’m sorry. We’re full!” Quite often, this is said in a prideful tone (who wouldn’t be proud of 100% occupancy!) which unknowingly makes matters even worse. Good for me… sorry for you.

Recently, I had an unfavorable experience while booking a hotel room for a weekend girls’ retreat. The rate showed $149 per night online, and two hours later it wouldn’t let me book my room. When I refreshed my screen, it had increased to $300. I called the hotel directly and explained the situation. Every time I would share my frustration, all I would hear was “I am sorry.” There were no options offered. No referrals were made. I felt certain it was accompanied with a smug face on the other side of the phone and it made me feel like my call was unappreciated. While I understand that rates fluctuate, I wanted to hear more from her. I needed her to go beyond the non-apology. Unfortunately, as fantastic as the accommodations are at this hotel, I would never consider staying there based on this one experience with one person. And I am not alone. According to a survey by Right Now and Harris Interactive, 82% of respondents admitted that they stopped doing business with an organization due to one poor customer experience.

Try some alternatives like this to the non-apology “I’m sorry”.

  • I am sorry this happened because I am not able to control the rates. If I were you, I would be very frustrated as well. You could check back after 4pm when the system updates again, or I could recommend another option for you in the area that could work.
  • I am sorry because this has happened to other customers in the past, and I understand how you feel. Based on my experience there is a 50/50 chance the rates will go back down. Do you want to give it some time? If not, have you looked at any other hotels in our area? I would recommend XX which is very similar to our facility and has great ratings.
  • I am sorry because I cannot undo that negative experience with the online booking site for you. I can make a couple of suggestions. If your date is flexible, you could revisit the calendar and prices. If not, I could recommend another option in our area in your price range with similar accommodations.

Instead of dishing out seemingly insincere apologies, Leasing Professionals should identify the reason they are sorry. The customer is much more likely to accept your apology if they believe you truly understand their struggle and are willing to help you find a solution. We often apologize for problems we didn’t directly cause, but when we are the person acting as the face of the company we are where the blame falls. Teach your employees to apologize on behalf of your team and company. When they acknowledge where things went wrong on their end, even if it’s something that seems insignificant, they have the potential of turning the experience around.

2. I Am Going to Be Honest with You

Did you know that criminal investigators listen for the word “honestly” as a tip-off that their subjects are lying? Leasing Professionals use this phrase with good intentions because they either think it is an effective sales technique or it has just become habit. Unfortunately, in most cases, it has the opposite effect from the one they intended. If you say you are going to be honest, does that mean you haven’t been honest up until this point?  I used to work with a person who would use this phrase with practically every customer. “I am going to be honest with you; this is the last one available.” “I am going to be honest with you; we don’t usually offer this kind of deal.” “I am going to be honest with you; someone else is also interested in this apartment.” This phrase will quickly plant doubt in the customer’s mind about whether what you are saying is true or not.

Leasing Professionals should drop this phrase from their sales conversation and speak with brevity and clarity. To build trust early on, you should be transparent and present the customer with the facts, all the facts and only the facts. The goal is to add value to the conversation and the phrase “I am going to be honest with you” adds no value.

3. I Don’t Know

When Leasing Professionals find themselves in a situation where they don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, they often respond with “I don’t know…” and then you can hear crickets chirping in the lingering silence. We’ve all been there! Don’t get me wrong. There are many situations in sales and business when the words “I don’t know” can be used in a positive and powerful way, but when a customer stumps your Leasing Professional with a question while touring the apartment and their only response is “I don’t know” it works against them. Rather than always turning to “I don’t know” as a default, Leasing Professionals should prepare themselves with some more detailed and powerful responses.

  • Customer: What are the dimensions of this bedroom?” Leasing Professional: “I am not sure, but I have a tape measure, so let’s measure it.” (Tip: Take a measuring tape on your property tours!)
  • Customer: “Will you be offering any specials next month?” Leasing Professional: “Great question. While I can’t forecast that far out, I can make a note to call you, if that happens.”
  • Customer: “Do you know what stores will be opening in the new shopping center across the street?” Leasing Professional: “That is a timely question because I am currently gathering that market information. Would you like me to call you tomorrow with those answers?”

Nothing can fluster even the most imperturbable Leasing Professional like being asked a question to which they don’t know the answer. By replacing “I don’t know” with something substantive, a Leasing Professional will build trust in the relationship and increase their value in the eyes of the customer. It is easy to say “I don’t know” because it requires no thought, action, or effort. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”  Filling in the “I don’t know” will take some work. When you practice this as part of role-playing with your team, it becomes a fantastic opportunity to apply knowledge and practice sales skills.

The daily interactions between a Leasing Professional and their customers are fragile. If they use the right words, the relationship will blossom. If they use the wrong words, the relationship could quickly wilt. Even when they don’t intend to be rude or uncaring, some phrases or tones come across that way. It is often the little things we do that make the biggest differences, such as choosing the right word or phrase.

 

 

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

5 Did You Knows to Inspire Your Team to Follow Up

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It’s amazing how few leasing professionals make the time to follow up with their potential customers. So, let me get right to the point. Customer follow-up is a massive problem across the property management industry. Out of 48,935 shopping reports conducted by Ellis Partners in Management Solutions in 2017, 50.2% of potential customers never received any follow up contact after their initial visit with a leasing professional. Why is this happening? We know there are companies that teach follow-up in their training classes. In fact, some have written follow-up policies and step-by-step systems in place. Yet, it is still not taking place. The response I usually receive from leasing professionals is that they simply don’t have time. Yet, when we break it down, it usually works out to be 2-3 minutes to write a quick thank you card, place a phone call or draft an email.

There is a common saying in sales that goes, “The fortune is in the follow up.” If your average rent is $700 and your average resident stay is 18 months, the total value of that resident is $12,600. Divide that by 3 minutes and that works out to be $4,200 for every minute spent on follow-up. Who wouldn’t like to make $4,200 per minute? That is certainly not small change! Leasing professionals are quick to say that they don’t have time to follow up. But more likely the failure to follow up is not really about time at all but rather one of these reasons: 1) they feel it is pushy or intrusive; 2) they make false assumptions about the prospect’s leasing decision; 3) it is not a priority or on their daily radar; or 4) there is no accountability system in place.

So, how do you overcome these obstacles? When the training and policies aren’t working, you inspire them to be memorable in a big way by opening their eyes to the facts and by presenting them with some really good reasons to follow up with EVERY customer. Use these 5 Did You Know’s to inspire your team to follow up.

1. Did you know that only 2% of sales occur on the first visit?

Studies reveal that only 2% of sales occur when a salesperson and customer meet for the first time. Those who do open their checkbook quickly tend to have already done most of their homework and walk in with leasing on their mind. If a leasing professional comes across as knowledgeable and trustworthy, then they may choose to lease. The remaining 98% of qualified customers can be closed by engaging in ongoing dialog and building up trust in the relationship. This takes time. It takes effort. It begins with follow up!

2. Did you know that 8% of salespeople close 80% of sales?

I can’t tell you how many times I have personally shopped for a product, provided my information, and never heard back from the salesperson ever again. It happens all of the time! There is research that suggests only 20 percent of all sales leads are followed up on. That means that 80 percent never receive a follow-up call, email or thank you card.  The research also tells us that those 8% of salespeople follow-up at least 5 times with the customer before they agree to purchase.  Even if we bring that number down to 2 or 3 follow up contacts for our industry, few make it happen. If they make that first attempt, too many quit too early. The bottom line is approximately 92% of our leasing professionals give up too early on the customer and only 8% are truly achieving consistent success at the leasing desk.

3. Did you know that customers are more likely to lease from someone they trust?

All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like, and trust. All your marketing and time is wasted if your customers don’t trust you to do what you say you’re going to do. Did you tell them that you have their best interest in mind? Did you tell them that your goal was to help them find the perfect home? Did you tell them that your service was heads above the competition?  Following up with customers is a great way to prove your intentions. If you tell your customer all of these things and they never hear from you after they walk out the leasing door, they won’t believe you and they won’t trust you. Ultimately you are saying, “You are only important to me when you are conveniently standing in front of me.” This makes it really easy for them to consider your competitors.

Building trust takes time and a lot of hard work, but it is well worth it. According to a Concerto Marketing Group and Research Now survey, when customers trust a brand, 83 percent will recommend you to others and 82 percent will remain loyal.

4. Did you know that following up is a sign of gratitude?

Whether your customer does or doesn’t lease on the first visit, following up becomes the most important step in the leasing process. Did they take time out of their busy schedule to visit you? Did you learning something new about your product that you didn’t know? Did they mention a friend they might refer? Think about the last time someone expressed gratitude or appreciation towards you.  Was it in person, on the phone, via email, or maybe you received an unexpected thank you card?

When was the last time you received an authentic hand written thank you card or letter? According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. Where do you think that number is now? Think about the impact of this small act of gratitude. If you want to be memorable in a big way, send a hand-written thank you card! Showing gratitude through follow-up creates a stronger relationship, and by nurturing that relationship you are increasing the odds the customer will lease or refer a friend or family member.

5. Did you know numbers don’t lie?

  • 35-50% of sales go to the business that responds first. [Source: InsideSales.com]
  • 63% of people requesting information on your company today will not purchase for at least three months – and 20% will take more than 12 months to buy. [Source: Marketing Donut]
  • 50% of customers are qualified but not yet ready to buy when they make the first contact. [Source: Gleanster Research]

As you can see, following up with customers is a necessary part of the sales process. There is absolutely no way around it. Contrary to popular belief, the leasing process doesn’t end at the close and thank you for visiting!

Creating and using a follow-up system is a guaranteed way to lease more apartments.  In fact, with only 49.8% of all leasing professionals making contact after the first visit, you will not only lease more but you will stand out amongst your competitors.  In a market with heavy competition, a leasing professional can be memorable in a BIG way by simply following up with every customer.

 

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Ways to Boost Sales Confidence at the Leasing Desk

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Confidence plays a significant role in the leasing process. It is nearly impossible to persuade a customer to purchase your product and service unless your leasing professional believes in them, too—including his or her own abilities. The assumption is often made that if someone has chosen sales for their profession, they are “naturally” confident. Not true. I have met many leasing professionals who do not display confidence in their leasing presentation, and it is clearly reflected in their results. Interestingly, the ones who are often the least confident are the employees who didn’t actively choose sales as their career, but rather fell into it by default. Confidence is one of the most important sales skills worth developing. But let’s face it, it can be challenging to stay confident when customers tell you “no” over and over again. It is no secret that the role of leasing professional requires mental toughness to withstand the good and the not so good weeks. Leasing professionals who lack confidence will always struggle to close sales, build rapport with customers, and demonstrate the value of their product and services.

Here are 3 ways to boost sales confidence at the leasing desk and achieve success:  

1. Prepare them for rejection

Rejection on the leasing floor can be tough, but it is going to happen sooner than later. It can immobilize leasing professionals and affect their motivation and performance.  One of the best ways to prepare leasing professionals for rejection is to teach them to expect it and how to process it. Not every customer is going to want or need the product they offer. Many customers will say no. Many will say yes. The balance won’t always work in their favor. While you want them to focus on those who will say yes, they need to know how to react to those who have said no.  When the rejection comes, teach them to prepare and practice a few good responses.

“I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view.” -Michael York, Actor

Every leasing professional should be given the tools to construct words, phrases, and responses to “no” to redirect or reframe the conversation with their customer. Exploring the difference between a rejection and an objection and role-playing multiple scenarios in a classroom is a great way to build confidence in your leasing professionals. Remind them that the customer who says no today can quickly become a valuable customer tomorrow simply because conditions have changed in the person’s life. Prepare them for rejection and encourage them to enjoy the view.

 

2. Teach them to resist the comfort zone—take risks

When leasing professionals feel stress or experience failure, they have a tendency to return to their comfort zone which is quite often a lower level of performance. Encourage employees to spend time in the awkward and uncomfortable zone until it becomes their new level of comfort.  This is where new confidence is born! In his best-selling autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut, Jack Welch writes, “Self-confidence is what I’ve looked for and tried to build in every executive who has ever worked with me. Confidence gives you courage and extends your reach.” I love the concept of teaching leasing professionals to extend their reach! This begins by asking questions. How can they adjust their presentation to improve customer engagement? How can they vary the tour in the apartment? How can they quietly close the sale at least 5X during the tour? How can they follow up with customers in a unique way? What can they do differently next time? This would make for another great activity for a formal leasing training or workshop.

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”  -Brian Tracy

Remind your employees that leasing apartments is similar to playing a game – sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The loss should reveal their competitive spirit to get back out and try again rather than fall back to their comfort zone of playing it safe. This idea of extending their reach excites me as a trainer. In the article “The 15 Laws of Growth Part XI: The Law of The Rubber Band”, the author writes, “Take a few seconds and think of all the possible ways you can use a rubber band. Now try thinking of all the possible ways to use a rubber band without stretching it.” Growth stops when you lose the tension between the comfort zone and risk. Are your trainer wheels turning? How will you teach employees to resist their comfort zone?

3. Encourage them to set early weekly goals and win early

Timing is everything and success breeds success.  Teach your employees to set two realistic and achievable goals early in the week. It could be as simple as placing a follow up call to every customer who visited their community before they leave for the evening. It is highly likely that once they complete this for day one and two that they will continue on day three through five, too. When they receive their first positive response from a customer for their follow up efforts, it will boost their confidence and inspire them to do it again!

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” -Pablo Picasso

Over the years, one common denominator I have observed in leasing super stars is their willingness to invest in the continued improvement of their skills by repetition. They set their own goals, seek out learning opportunities, and love to win. In the article The DNA of Top Salespeople,  professional trainer and coach Colleen Stanley pens, “Top salespeople are “buggers.” They bug people for wisdom, help, and guidance.” We need to fill our leasing desks with confident buggers!  Coaching leasing professionals on how to plan their weekly progress is just another way to boost sales confidence at the leasing desk.

As a trainer, you can instill confidence in your leasing team by preparing them for rejection, teaching them to take risks, and encouraging them to set early goals and seek early wins. Knowing how to build confidence in your leasing team is crucial for any company of any size.

 

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Tools to Avoid Compassion Fatigue in the Leasing Office

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Are your on-site employees at risk of suffering from compassion fatigue? If you have hired the right people, the answer is yes.  One of the greatest strengths a leasing professional brings to their position is the capacity to engage customers and develop a compassionate connection with them. Yet it is also their greatest vulnerability. Compassion fatigue is a type of high stress burnout resulting from the constant demands of caring for and servicing others.

According to a 2017 Udemy Report, “Workplace Confidential: The Real Story Behind Stress, Skills, and Success in America,” all generations are admitting to having increased stress levels at work, and Millennials and Gen Z employees feel more stress at work than any other generation in the workplace. Property management revolves around servicing a customer who lives with us. Their geographical closeness can compound stress, as their personal lives often creep into our leasing offices. On a daily basis, our employees are engaging with customers and often get sucked into their emotional ups and downs.  As trainers, we are in the business of filling up those leasing professionals’ compassion tanks and hoping our employees have enough in reserve to make it to the next class. How can we help?

Here are 3 tools to avoid compassion fatigue in the leasing office:

1. Set Boundaries

The challenge for trainers is to teach employees to remain compassionate, empathetic, and supportive of others without becoming overly involved. They need to learn how to draw the line rather than build a wall between personal and professional. This is not a common topic taught in leasing classes, but it is an important one.

  • Keep it Professional. A leasing professional does not have to be friends with everyone to be successful, but they should have a friendly demeanor. Those who confuse the two may find themselves in the middle of sticky situations. While getting to know customers on a personal level can be beneficial in some cases, there are also times when it can prove to be a problem. Customers are not looking for a friend. They want someone to help them navigate through the maze of confusion that is in front of them. They need a consultant, not a pal.
  • Choose Empathy. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Knowing how to communicate empathy in sales will strengthen rapport and grow the connection between the leasing professional and the customer. When we sympathize with the customer we become part of the problem, but when we empathize we are still outside of the problem and can offer solutions. In other words, we can stay out of the emotional side of it. Leasing professionals must maintain a level of detachment to be able to objectively guide the customer and not get too caught up in their emotional baggage.

2. Manage Stress

Managing stress is an essential job skill for the successful leasing professional. High stress environments are not uncommon and can result in a less compassionate team who is responsible for servicing customers on a daily basis. This is a high-stress business, and those who learn how to minimize and manage stress are more likely to be survivors.

  • Realize it’s not personal. It is important to remind employees that the customer’s frustration has nothing to do with them. While a customer might explode while in an emotional state, they often do not realize the impact they are having on the leasing professional. We should never take it personally even if the outburst is personally directed at us.
  • Remember this, too, shall pass. Sometimes even the reasonable customer crosses over into unknown irrational territory. Something sets them off and they start screaming. Remind employees that there is a nice person in there someplace, and if they keep calm and work with them, they will uncover that nice customer again.
  • Do what you can do. When customers are frustrated, their behavior is often a reaction to unmet expectations. Uncovering their expectations will help defuse the emotion and keep the conversation focused on problem solving. Keep focusing on what you can do to close the gap between their unmet expectations and reality.
  • Walk it off. A simple change of environment can do wonders for a person’s mental state. Remind employees that whatever they leave behind will be waiting for them when they return.  They will be amazed how much happier and nicer they are when they return from even a short break.

Stress cannot be entirely eliminated, and a healthy amount of stress leads to productivity and creativity. The goal is to manage it so that compassion fatigue does not set in and go on display for your customers.

3. Recognize the Issue

Compassion fatigue does not appear overnight. It builds up over an extended period of time as the reserves of empathy and energy begin to drain from the employee. Unfortunately, without empathy and compassion toward customers, the customer experience is severely damaged. The good news is that according to the Udemy survey mentioned earlier, Americans are actively addressing the problem by learning new skills. Nearly 58% are turning to company-sponsored skills training to combat this stress epidemic. Expecting employees to recognize the issue on their own is unrealistic because self-reflection is not one of everyone’s strengths. Having systems in place such as the Ellis Mystery Shopping and Ellis Resident Surveys programs provide a snapshot of employee performance and their level of customer focus. Are they simply going through the motions or lacking lack excitement in their presentations? Are they impatient or rushed with customers?  If so, it is highly possible they are experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is not a common topic of discussion in our industry, but it lurks around in many leasing offices. Compassion fatigue takes a toll not only on the employee but also on the entire team, causing decreased productivity, more sick days, and higher turnover.  Among other stressors, leasing professionals must cope with terminal illness or deaths of residents, fallout from hurricanes, con artists, broken marriages, FBI surveillance, and death and bomb threats. When you work and often live at your place of employment, everything feels personal. As trainers, awareness and sensitivity to compassion fatigue is vital. By helping leasing professionals find ways to manage and overcome this problem, we help them attain and maintain the essential skill of compassionate connection with customers and help avoid compassion fatigue in the leasing office.

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Habits of a Highly Memorable Leasing Professional

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When your customer walks out of your leasing office, they will often remember the smallest of details. Was the leasing consultant nice to me? Was the bathroom clean? Did I see any trash outside? Was the staff as pleasant to the current resident as they were to me? These are just a few tiny factors that can cause a person to feel good or bad about their customer experience. According to a Walker study, by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Regardless of how small, all experiences are significant and evoke emotions and responses in your customers. Customers don’t necessarily buy a memorable product. They buy from a highly memorable leasing professional. While there are many unique habits of a highly memorable leasing professional, here are three to consider.

1. They Listen, Watch, and Learn

According to Roy Bartell, online business and sales thought leader, “Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.” Memorable leasing professionals go far beyond asking qualifying questions and simply checking off the boxes on their guest card. To create a memorable experience, they seek to know what their customers want and need. They effectively accomplish this by engaging with their customer through thoughtful and insightful conversations that reveal their true needs and desires. Then they listen, watch, and learn. They listen to the customer’s responses. They watch their body language and reactions. They store this new knowledge as they continue to learn more about the person they are trying to help. They ask insightful questions which produce candid feedback and reveal more about what the customer is thinking and feeling.

Here are a few insightful conversation question starters:

  • What other communities have you visited? What did you like or dislike about their community and the experience?
  • Tell me about your cat, Jackson. Have you considered where you would place Jackson’s bed and litter box in this apartment?
  • You mentioned that kitchen counter space is lacking in your current apartment. Can you tell me more?
  • How would you utilize this closet space?

2. They Relieve Pain Points

Mary Kay Ash shared, “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important’. Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” Successful leasing professionals ask their customers about their pain points. Pain points attributed to searching for a new home often include frustration, disappointment, confusion, anger, and fear. Highly memorable leasing professionals understand how to tap into these pain points and listen to their customer’s responses. Then they give them some actionable advice and options. They look for opportunities to share their own personal experience or the experience of another customer to help solve problems. An insightful thoughtful response strengthens the relationship.

Here are a few examples of pain relieving questions which quite often include “why”:

  • I realize moving is not always fun. Why are you moving from your current community?
  • Why do you prefer an upstairs to a downstairs apartment?
  • Why do you need a second bedroom? How will you utilize the space?
  • You mentioned that you wanted to move from your current apartment location. Why is our particular location appealing to you?

These questions along with similar ones allow a leasing professional to determine what the customer is going through and what they are struggling with. Only then can they deliver products and services to relieve the pain and struggle. Your customer’s pain points are the driving forces behind their need for your products and services. They are what spark the leasing process. When you solve problems for people, they walk away delighted.

3. They Personalize

Memorable experiences depend on relevancy and personalization. These are the pieces that add value and instill loyalty. One of the easiest and most overlooked ways to personalize a conversation with a customer is to use their name. A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some, including Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People, say “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  Carnegie was so keen on remembering a person’s name that he came up with his own system for remembering names.  According to a study published in Brain Research journal, when people hear their name, there is a unique reaction in the brain which triggers greater brain activation. Customers crave customized experiences.

Another easy and extremely overlooked way to personalize is to send customers a handwritten thank you note. As a whole, our industry is failing in this area, yet the highly memorable leasing professional is using this simple tool to differentiate, win over the customer, and beat out the competition. According to the 2017 Ellis Shopping Report Data, only 4.6% of 48,935 shopper customers received a handwritten thank you note. Strikingly, according to research, it is the most emotionally impactful method of follow up.  It’s time to get on board the personalization train! Here are a few additional ways to personalize the customer experience:

  • After setting an appointment, write the customer’s first name on a “welcome board” at the entrance to your leasing office.
  • Quickly customize a water bottle label with a paper sleeve which includes their name.
  • If they are bringing a pet, put a treat in a zip lock bag with a name label on it.
  • Offer children coloring books, hidden picture books, crossword puzzles, etc. Write their name on it, and sign it as a gift from your team.

It’s the little things that often differentiate. Customers notice and appreciate these “little things” that will either lead them to loyalty or out the door to the competition. Listening, watching, and learning, relieving customer pain points, and personalizing the experience are easy to overlook and very tempting to dismiss. Yet, when you add up a number of seemingly minor details, you end up with something of far more value than you would without them, a highly memorable experience.

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Simple Ideas For Delivering a Great Customer Experience

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The property management industry like many others is quickly becoming a highly commoditized industry. 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?  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 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 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 to deliver an exceptional experience and the product will almost sell itself.

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

Three Reasons to Role-Play in the Classroom

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Can you imagine taking a team of basketball players, drawing their plays on a whiteboard without practicing on the court, and then expecting them to perform on game day? Just like athletes, leasing professionals need to rehearse the actions of their jobs to perform at their highest potential, yet very little time is spent in the leasing class role-playing. Why? It seems that there are mixed emotions when it’s announced in the classroom, “We are going to role-play!” Some leasing professionals will embrace the opportunity to role-play, pulling off stellar performances, while others will perceive it as a form of legal torture. Whether your students love it or hate it, even some trainers will question its usefulness. Can taking employees out of their comfort zone and displaying their strengths and weaknesses in front of their peers improve performance and the customer’s experience? Yes!

Consider these three reasons to role-play in the classroom.

1. We All Have a Role to Play

Typically, a sales role-play activity is designed with one person playing the customer, the other playing the leasing professional, and the remaining group observing the process. It might seem that the only person benefiting from the role play is the individual playing the leasing professional, but there is a hidden benefit to the person assuming the role of the customer and the observers. When your leasing professional takes on the role of the customer, they often see a reflection of their own productive and unproductive behaviors. This provides an opportunity to acknowledge and self-correct when necessary. If done properly, the observers will also learn to provide constructive feedback to their peers, which in turn will transfer back to their own community. Quite often common struggles bubble up during the role-play, giving the trainer an opportunity to demonstrate ways to overcome obstacles. This is when real learning takes place! Role-playing has a way of increasing the alertness of everyone in the room. All parties involved will quickly realize that everyone has an active role to play in improving performance and the customer’s experience.  

2. Learning to Fly on the Leasing Floor Can Damage the Customer Experience

Would you feel safe in an airplane if you knew the pilot had only a few flight hours logged? Of course not! You expect that he or she is not still learning to fly when you step onto the airplane. The same is true for your new leasing professionals. Even if they are not new to the industry, they are new to your company’s “airplane” and they need to practice their new knowledge somewhere safe. “Learning on the fly” in the leasing world is a great way to lose the employee and damage the customer experience by treating them both as guinea pigs. It has been well documented that customers will switch brands because of a poor experience. Are you willing to put your customers at risk? According to a survey conducted by The Sales Executive Council in Washington, D.C., there are 5 things customers want from their salespeople: market perspective, ability to navigate alternatives, insightful advice, understanding their needs better than they do, and education on their issues and potential outcomes. Each one requires study and practice for effectiveness. Role-playing in the classroom is a safe place to test and strengthen each of these five areas and improve the customer’s experience.

3. The Better the Feedback, the Better the Practice, the Better the Learning

Feedback is the most powerful, yet most underused sales tool we have at our disposal in the training room. When a leasing professional participates in a role-play exercise they are bound to fail at some point. The impact of failure is where a learner truly gains self-awareness.

“Feedback is the process in which part of the output of a system is returned to its input in order to regulate its further output. It should be an essential part of education, training and personal development.”  -Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland

Role-playing in a group setting can ignite insight from peers who the learner respects for their knowledge and experience. The danger is when you have leasing professionals who believe they have no areas in need of improvement. Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” The best trainers know when and how to correct and to encourage. Too often we find leasing professionals working at communities where they experience a feedback famine. Their only performance measurement is the number of apartments leased. Few are receiving regular informal feedback about their performance on a daily basis. The leasing journey can be very frustrating without a roadmap. While many leasing professionals have a clear sense of direction on the leasing floor, this is not always sufficient to keep them on track. Instead of solely relying on events (e.g. leasing numbers) to gauge performance, role-playing can be the best way to practice, give feedback, and improve learning.  Why is my role important? What am I supposed to achieve with the customer? How do I compare to others? How do I handle that objection? Feedback is the information we all need to be truly effective in the leasing office, and role-playing provides the perfect safe setting to fine tune and practice new skills.

Role-playing has been a common training method among military branches, healthcare agencies, the aviation industry, emergency response teams, and companies where quick decision-making is highly valued.

Are you ready to take your employees out of their comfort zone to improve leasing performance and the customer’s experience?

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

Cross-Training: Increase Strength, Agility, and Collective Success

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Cross-training is an exercise routine that uses several styles of physical training to develop a specific component of fitness. While varying workouts, a person can target different muscle groups, which helps them reach a higher level of fitness. While most leasing office teams do not participate in whole-body fitness workouts at work, by the time 6 PM comes around, it can sometimes feel like they did. In an industry notorious for operating with sparse office teams, the concept of cross-training job functions can improve on-site employees’ proficiency levels in roles outside their current responsibilities, increase team strength and agility, and ensure collective success.

Build Team Strength

The goal of cross-training in the leasing office is to help single-job-focused employees develop new skills for other types of tasks which are beyond the parameters of their role, consequently allowing them to become more valuable employees and increase overall team strength. A community manager’s responsibility is to ensure every employee performs their best at their job. The leasing professional leases the apartments. The service team prepares the apartments. The assistant manager collects the rent, and so on. Employees are often heroes on their own island. They are simply concerned about their own job and not how each position in the company fits together to create the total experience for the customer. A cross-training plan can change this.

While there are many starting point options, it can be as simple as asking employees to document a list of functions and daily tasks for their particular position. These functions and tasks can then be broken down into an achievable daily schedule. Then it’s time to create a plan. Which employees could benefit the most from learning from each other? When should employees meet to train and for how long? What specific tasks do you want each employee to teach/learn? As employees begin to perform tasks in new areas and take a hard look at the way they do things, problems and suggestions for improvement are often identified.  These discoveries open dialogue and create opportunities for employees to build new relationships and strengthen bonds with people in other departments they might not otherwise have daily contact with. According to a Workplace Dynamics study, strong bonds at work are fundamental for creating a workplace that is organizationally healthy, long-lasting and efficient. Connected teams are stronger teams.

 

Improve Agility

In his famous 1982 book, Out of Crisis, Dr. W. Edwards Deming offered 14 points for leaders to follow to significantly improve the effectiveness of a business or organization. It was his belief that only through deep immersion in the many areas of the business could an individual hope to competently manage the business. “Institute training on-the-job” is point 6 in Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points for Total Quality Management. If you break this point down a little further, you will find these additional supporting ideas can be attained through an effective cross-training program.

  • Train for consistency to help reduce variation
  • Build a foundation of common knowledge
  • Allow employees to understand their roles in the “big picture.”
  • Encourage transfer of knowledge

Cross-training through practical on-the-job training is one of the best ways to improve your team’s agility. Consider presenting a monthly individual case-study based on an actual business problem to all employees regardless of their position. These mental exercises will put some employees outside of their comfort zone – that is the goal. They will also stretch others and reveal qualities you have never seen before in some of your employees. Leasing professionals should have opportunities to evaluate maintenance process issues while service employees can tackle resident or customer process issues. Every individual should be given the opportunity to present his or her results to the manager in a quick face-to-face meeting. Be prepared to be blown away by the results of this exercise!

Another way to improve agility is to assign a new task to an employee and schedule a practice session. This allows the community manager to evaluate the progress and examine performance as the employee moves through the task.  If successful, the manager has the ability to expand that employee’s role or even offer an incentive. Improving team agility and flexibility can be a win-win for everyone in the case of employee turnover, illness, or vacation absence. Learning by doing helps employees internalize new information and appreciate the importance of their skills to the team’s overall needs and success.  Do your leasing professionals know how to change an air filter? When presented with a simple office task, is your service team capable of jumping in to help a resident? Agile teams are better equipped to quickly deliver seamless service to their customers in times of disruption, which can protect the customer’s experience.

 

Ensure Collective Success

When certain employees “own” certain tasks, your community is not positioned for sustainability. It is also a fact that when employees become too comfortable in their areas of expertise, they are more likely to reach a point where the job presents no new challenges. A recent study by Udemy uncovered that 46% of employees cite limited opportunities to learn new skills as the top reason why they are bored in their current roles and looking for a change. Your community will be able to move at a much faster pace when everyone is aligned in the same direction and follows the same goals. On the flips side, research shows that when employees are willing to go beyond their formal roles by helping out coworkers, introducing new ideas and work practices, attending non-mandatory meetings, working late to finalize important projects, and so forth, their companies are more efficient and effective.

Collective success can be felt when…

  • The skills gap is eliminated and the skill set is expanded.
  • You reveal what your employees are capable of beyond their job descriptions.
  • Managers are able to leverage their internal talent when opportunities for promotion present themselves.
  • Familiarity with key tasks allows all team members to easily cover an absence or vacancy.

Once your employees feel comfortable with their new skill sets, create a contingency plan.  Who will be taking on a specific task when a particular person is out of the office? Create a strategy for every scenario and every combination of absence. Communicate your plan with the team.

Cross-training can be the answer to introducing new challenges and revealing fresh perspective to old problems. Your employees will become teachers, and they will be forced to answer questions, explain their processes, and see the duties they perform daily through a renewed set of eyes. This progression will result in a stronger and more collective team spirit. Sometimes, the best motivators are non-monetary rewards.  Do you have a cross-training plan in place at your community?

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

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