Resident retention is an effort made by an apartment community or company that not only is aimed at reducing resident turnover, but also, when done effectively, brings your community full circle to generating low- to no-cost qualified traffic to your leasing center.
Keep in mind that in order to succeed in anything, you must try to identify the fewest number of actions that produce the best results. In our industry, this means capitalizing on your greatest asset — your existing residents. Keeping your residents happy is the least expensive way to ensure your community’s success — in fact, it’s almost free; and word-of-mouth referrals from happy residents are every apartment professional’s most satisfying credentials. In spite of this, too few communities capitalize as well as they could on all of the hard work they do in the area of resident retention to obtain renewals.
Residents are most inspired to tell others when your resident retention efforts, especially involving service, exceed their expectations in at least one of these ways: You provided service in ways that were faster, more convenient and possibly fun or with some added-value benefit your competition doesn’t offer.
You’re certain to stand out from any competition when you are the first community to provide some of these points of difference. Competitors who institute your “extras” will be copycats, playing catch-up to you. Once you have accomplished this, you can inspire residents to refer their friends and colleagues to your community because they can gain “bragging rights” for showing others what a wonderful community they live in — yours.
Who’s the very best new resident you can get? Who is most likely to lease from you and continue being a good resident in the future? Isn’t it a prospective resident who was referred to you by another resident who is an advocate of your community?
Why do referrals represent the best prospective residents? They have already developed some degree of trust in you and your community. Their defenses are down, and their minds and hearts are open.
The most expensive prospects to obtain are those in the “cold market,” who typically find out about you through advertising or other promotional activities. Not only will you have to buy expensive advertising in order to reach them, but also you’ll have to expend extra effort in establishing a “connection” to them that will convince them that your community is their best choice.
Even though these prospects cost the most money to reach, that’s still where many of us focus the majority of our marketing efforts and resources. You can market much more effectively by devoting more of your time and resources to developing referrals. Not only is the advertising source nearly free, but that practically priceless connection is already there.
Are you using happy residents to your very best advantage by encouraging them to refer their friends and associates to your community?
Residents need to be motivated to refer. Research has found that one of the ways to motivate them is through promotional products. These products include ad specialties, useful or decorative merchandise imprinted with your community name and message, given free to the residents you wish to enlist for support. This type of referral program is a must for communities that cannot pay referral fees. Why?
- People who receive promotional gifts are likely to give sales professionals more referrals. In studies by the Ad Specialty Association, the combined increase in referrals was 21.7 percent by people who received a promotional item. These items can represent something as simple as a bag or jar of candy or flowers sent to the resident’s place of work, etc.
- Of people who receive promotional products, some 13.3 percent are more were willing to give referrals than before they received the gift.
How can you encourage your residents to send more referrals your way? Here are a few thoughts:
- You and your community’s team must deserve referrals. You have to deliver awesome service that people can’t help talking about.
- You must ask for referrals. Don’t simply assume that residents will tell their friends about you. Come right out and ask them to do it.
- Show appreciation. This is the real key to continuing receiving referrals from a resident. Thank the resident for making the referral. Write a thank you note. Call the resident with a report of the results. Make a big, appreciative fuss about the wonderful thing your resident has done. Give thank-you gifts in appreciation: Send flowers, buy a gift certificate for lunch or give tickets to a show or athletic event. If you find yourself asking if the added expense of a thank-you gift is necessary, stop to consider the lifetime value of a happy resident, not to mention one who continues to refer.
- Offer training to your service team on how to get referrals from residents. Make certain they understand, in no uncertain terms, how important what they do is to the marketing of your community.
- Start accepting community referrals online (the do-it-yourself method). You’ll need a Web page with a form and a warm referral request that asks residents for their referrals, perhaps thanking them for their business and asking for their further support. Use the form to gather the information you’ll need to send a gift of appreciation (coupon, special added service, electronic postcard) to your resident. Ask the right questions (beyond basic contact information) so your first communication to your prospect is as specific as possible about how your community can fulfill their housing needs. Be certain to explain how you intend to contact the referrals that you receive, so residents are comfortable enough to fill out the page. You might also offer a choice of how the referral contact should be conducted (by email, regular mail or a personal phone call). The Web form should be designed so that all referral information is delivered immediately to your email box or to an email box that’s designated for referrals. This process can be made even easier by using the services at Recommend-It.com. They will create and administer a recommendation Web page, which can be reached directly from your website.
- Use autoresponders and email signatures. Autoresponders are e-mail messages that are automatically generated and sent in response to messages that you receive. Email signatures are special messages that attach themselves automatically to the end of each email message that you send. Both are excellent opportunities to provide brief “commercials” about your community, and can help to promote word-of-mouth and “word-of-Web” referrals.
- Explain that your community prides itself on maintaining exceptional standards and that you depend on referrals. This is easily accomplished by leaving a referral card that delivers this message at the completion of every service request.
And here’s our very best recommendation: Focus on providing outrageous, quality-of-life-enhancing service so your residents will want to recommend you. Remember, happy residents refer, and referrals are your shortest path to success.
Tami Siewruk has held leasing, marketing, management and business development positions up to and including vice president of property management. As president of Siewruk Development, she has completed a 192-unit apartment community in Austin, Texas; and in partnership with Conine Residential Group & The Huizinga Group, developed 305 units in Dallas, Texas. She currently is working on a small resort in the Bahamas.