At a time when the name of the game in marketing to today’s renters is more, more, more, the next big thing may be doing less. Many apartment executives are experimenting with do-it-yourself (DIY) services and amenities where the apartment firm provides the tools and the systems for prospects and residents to interact and transact on their own. During a session on the topic of DIY apartments at the 2015 NMHC OPTECH Conference & Exposition, a panel of industry experts debated the merits of seven technologies. The panel included Elaine Williams of Elaine Williams Consulting Services, Stephanie Fuhrman of Greystar Real Estate Partners, Lucas Haldeman of Colony American Homes and Dean Holmes of Madison Apartment group. Here’s what they had to say.
Technology 1: Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
What is it? Using IVR, customers can interact with a company through a telephone keypad or by speech recognition, servicing their own inquiries by following an IVR dialogue (either prerecorded or dynamically generated audio)
What they thought about it: Executives are interested in the technology as a cheaper, more efficient alternative to call centers. However, the technology still has a ways to go. Some are experimenting with natural language IVR systems (kind of like Siri) and are seeing the conversions from call to showing double compared with traditional IVR. There’s also a bit of an art when it comes to the kinds of questions the technology best answers. To try to minimize system response delays that typically result in the customer hanging up, one executive said that the system texts the customer the requested information.
Technology 2: Self-guided Tours
What is it? A security and smart lock system that allows customers to request a tour, sends them an entry code good for a specific window of time and then relocks the unit following the close of the tour.
What they thought about it: Single-family rental firms are seeing a lot of success with self-guided tours. Not only is it cost saving and more efficient, but traffic converts at roughly the same rate as a personal tour. However, other executives said they believed that the leasing process still required a high degree of personal touch, although another mentioned that when a prospect comes back to tour a second time to measure for furniture and discuss layout, they mostly prefer a self-guided tour.
Technology 3: Smart Locks
What is it? A wifi-enabled door lock designed to lock/unlock when it receives instructions from an authorized device (like a cell phone); it also monitors access and can send alerts.
What they thought about it: This technology is a top pick, as it can apartment firms manage turns more efficiently. However, executives have been surprised by how slowly the adoption has been in the industry and have some concerns about breach.
Technology 4: Wearables:
What is it? Mini electronic devices (like Fitbit or Apple Watch) worn on the body or clothing.
What they thought about it: Executives loved the idea of this technology, but believed its market penetration was still too small to merit much investment at this point. However, they felt that similar technology would soon make its way into phones and that’s where the real relevancy would emerge.
Technology 5: Package Lockers
What is it? Package carriers deliver package directly to the locker and the residents get a code that they can use to pick up the parcel whenever they want.
What they thought about it: Executives most love this solution, as it frees up hours of front desk staff time. However, executives question residents’ willingness to pay for the service, the capacity of the locker systems to handle high-volume delivery periods and the growing incidence of bulk and perishable items being delivered.
Technology 6: Oculus Rift
What is it? A head-mounted virtual reality display headset (kind of like goggles)
What they thought about it: Some had tried out the technology and could, at least theoretically, see the value in giving prospects tours, particularly in preleasing situation. However, they were mostly a bit weirded out by the concept even if they agreed that it’s a technology to watch.
Technology 7: DIY Maintenance
What is it? A learning management system (often video based) that teaches residents how to complete simple maintenance tasks
What they thought about it? Single-family rental companies are most aggressively pursuing this type of system, as it can increase help them more efficiently manage scattered-lot properties. Traditional apartment executives seems skeptical as to whether it would work-or even if they wanted it to-in a multifamily setting. However, they acknowledged that the most popular maintenance requests were for changing batteries and light bulbs, so perhaps a YouTube-style video could work.