Gone are the days of simple living. Providing housing today has evolved beyond a structure to a 360-degree experience. Residents expect to be connected in all aspects of their lives, and not only do they want to be connected, they want to feel connected.

How are you providing that experience? Michelle Burtchell, vice president of marketing at Buildium, writes in an article on Propmodo that it’s not about managing the property, it’s all about the experience that you deliver to the resident.

Burtchell suggests that by focusing on the resident’s experience and investing in your relationships with renters first, property managers will have access to a new, transparent way of doing business that will help them evolve more quickly, while also building a strong online reputation, which has quickly become a key metric for property managers.

J. Turner Research, the leading online multifamily reputation management company, created the ORA statistical model that aggregates and analyzes online ratings and reviews from more than 120,000 properties across 21 review sites and internet listing sites to generate a single score on a 0-100 scale, which is easy to monitor, rank, and improve.

Those 120,000 properties have a wide variety of managers, but one has risen to the top for five years in a row. The Bozzuto Group has certainly been leading the pack, the organization has received the top ORA score five years in a row.

Stephanie Williams, president, Bozzuto Management Co.
Stephanie Williams, president, Bozzuto Management Co.

Stephanie Williams, president of Bozzuto Management Co., says that all-star performance comes from how the company operates within.

“We treat our employees the way that we hope that they are treating our customer,” Williams says. “We spend a lot of time thinking about how we hire, who we hire, when we hire. They have to have the DNA for the type of services that we’re providing on the management side. It’s a very thoughtful approach—we spend a lot of time on onboarding them and making sure we’re supporting them.”

The way that they feel about Bozzuto is then emanated in the way that they treat customers. After the right people are hired and the right experience is created for them, they can deliver strong customer experience regardless of the community or the geography.

The Bozzuto property that ranked No. 1 out of more than 120,000 properties is over 23 years old. The property has an occupancy rate of 97%, and some residents have been living there for more than 15 years. Williams says it has great ratings because of the empathetic staff who knows how to provide the service and put themselves in the shoes of the residents.

Kimberly McDougal, property manager for The Courts of Devon, states, “The key to success is not going to be what we have when people walk through the door, it will be how we make them feel.”

How does that end up as online rankings? It’s a give and take. The Bozzuto team is trained to give and serve in a meaningful and valuable way, but also to ask for feedback.

“We keep hearing from residents because we keep asking for it,” Williams says. “Whether it’s negative or positive reinforcement, it helps us learn. We also take the time to write back to everyone because [chairman and co-founder] Tom Bozzuto said that if they take the time to write, we should respond.”

What’s the Payoff?
“Online reputation has a huge impact on why and where residents decide to lease,” says Joseph Batdorf, president at J Turner Research. “Our research shows that 71% of prospects choose to visit a property with a better online reputation. Properties with high ORA scores produce 15% more leases than properties with lower ORA scores.”

Williams notes that more than 80% of residents find a Bozzuto property first online, and if that property doesn’t show up with at least four stars, then shoppers won’t consider it for a physical visit. Burtchell supports that, saying:

In property management, reputation is everything. And residents, with the entire internet in their pockets, are now the ones who have the ability to build your reputation for you, beyond your control. In seconds, their opinion becomes truth. That information is then available to anyone, and will become a factor in the decision-making process of future residents—especially if it’s an extremely positive or negative review.

Plus, the better you treat residents, the longer they stay and the better retention rates your property has, which also has a positive benefit for the staff. Property management likes to see their name in a review, it’s a good recognition or could be seen as a reward that boosts morale.

What’s in the Future?
Williams predicts that more people will be giving reviews and expecting to have more immediate response to those.

“In the future, all of the living experience will be in one touch, and we are ultimately the facilitators of that,” Williams says. “Our residents today are consumers of many different products, that’s what they are expecting. We haven’t been as well capitalized on the technology side in multifamily, but that would be the aspiration. Serve the role of bringing service and opportunity through the front door, so residents don’t have to spend time to look for and find those solutions.”

In order to address that resident expectation, Bozzuto just invested in a CRM that has a profile per resident that communicates in a custom way, as a concierge with personalized messages. The software allows Bozzuto to bring a consistent, unified experience to residents despite a variety of owners for its 265 properties.

Batdorf is also tracking this trend. As online shopping continues to dominate customers’ buying patterns, residents will be interacting with more and more review platforms, making it more complicated for a property to understand its online reputation. In response, J Turner has introduced the ORA app, which properties can use to access ORA scores easily from a mobile device. The app will also have future capabilities for prospective renters.

Bozzuto's Williams will be presenting with Sharon Hatfield, chief operating officer at CFRES, at the Multifamily Executive Conference in October on 20 NOI Opportunity Areas That Can Improve Performance Immediately. Register now to learn from her insights.