“Should I stay or should I go now?”
The COVID-19 pandemic made a lasting impact on business operations worldwide. It forced businesses of all shapes and sizes to either temporarily close, develop remote work policies or minimize workforces to cut operating expenses
Businesses had to adapt to social distancing requirements and a contactless environment – at warp speed. Multifamily owner/operators had to expedite technology solutions in order to stay afloat. Some of the new trends that emerged during this expedited technology boom exhibited long-term promise, even as businesses slowly ease back toward normalcy. But some trends might not last post-pandemic.
The recent "Pandemic Tech Trends That are Here to Stay (and Those That Aren’t)” roundtable at AIM Reconnect dove into some of the shifts that could prove to be long-term solutions, and some that were just pandemic-fueled fads.
The leasing process is a focal point of multifamily and was confronted with one of the biggest transitions in the industry.
“We already know self-guided tours and virtual tour platforms are definitely here to stay,” said Marlo Simmons, director of unit map expansion at Engrain and moderator of the roundtable. “The industry was already just introducing self-guided and virtual tours before COVID, so it’s interesting how some processes have changed since the pandemic really accelerated those tour types.”
Some virtual tours include 2D photos and marketing videos, while others have advanced to interactive 3D displays of units and all amenities within a property. One of the session’s participants, Chris Kostoulas, co-founder and COO of Peek, noted the pandemic caused a “consumer earthquake.”
“Before COVID, ‘Can I see a virtual tour,’ as the first question a leasing manager or a leasing agent gets was probably 1-5%,” he said. “After COVID, we saw that jump to 80% with some of the partners that we work with. What that means and what we learned is there has been a huge shift in consumer expectations. Now consumers know that virtual tours are possible and almost expect them.”
Another key takeaway of the self-guided discussion is the need for smart technology, verification, checkpoint IDs and a method to navigate a community to protect current residents and prospective renters alike.
“The main thing with self-guided tours is you need smart technology for that prospective resident to be able to get in,” Simmons said. “Stats show 83% of people need a map, so interactive maps are crucial to provide prospects the capability of navigating the community and getting to the exact unit or the model unit.”
Chatbots & AI
With an influx of leads from so many different sources, AI-powered chatbots are helping leasing teams automate marketing processes and qualify leads at all hours of the day. Natural language processing chatbots can alleviate the onsite burden by giving prospective renters information quickly, scheduling tour appointments and shrinking the leasing cycle.
“Technology is wonderful, but it’s also created a bit of a problem here because it’s overwhelming leasing teams at the property, and they’re getting frustrated with the amount of inbound leads they’re getting,” said Robert Turnbull, president, COO and founder of BetterBot. “Let’s use technology, automation technology in this instance, to get rid of 80% of the repetitive, low-reward, menial tasks leasing teams focus on.”
Owner/operator participants from Blanton Turner and Gates Hudson discussed how they utilize both chatbots and human engagement cohesively. Using chatbots and leasing associates together provides different options for prospective residents to engage on the platform of their choice.
Resident and prospect engagement platforms have emerged during the pandemic, but might be temporary solutions. From laundry delivery service apps to providing cleaning services to residents, there are multiple concierge apps owner/operators have implemented in contactless times for resident and prospect engagement.
“We’re not using any apps for that,” said Molly Sleeper, marketing manager at Blanton Turner. “It’s definitely something we stress pretty heavily to our teams to make sure there is resident engagement. It’s been a struggle through the last year to make sure everyone is comfortable interacting and that we’re providing these safe spaces, so we’ve done a lot of tour takeaways, goodie bags or virtual cooking classes.”
Shane Gillman, vice president of marketing at Gates Hudson, uses a mix of engagement apps and social media engagement. But he added that not all communities are created equal, and residents at urban high-rise buildings have very different expectations than residents at garden-style suburban buildings.
“We try and fulfill that both with training our teams and ensuring that the resident experience is the best it could possibly be,” he said.
QR codes flopped a few years ago, but now they’re back. With multiple industries relying on QR codes to avoid high-touch surfaces, there’s a good chance they’re here to stay for sustainability reasons.
“They’re here to stay,” Gillman said. “We’re using them on notices for prospects and residents. Somebody who walks up to a window can scan and get a copy of the notice, or we put in instructions on how to self-tour.”
To view the complete session, click here.