Investing in Tenant Experiences by Student Housing Operators
The year is 2021. There are no more product companies or service companies – Every company is a ‘customer experience’ company. Whether in B2B or B2C, organisations that put the customer at the heart of every decision and rethink business processes around this will win big!
Student housing is no different. Student housing management companies need to rethink every aspect of their business and keep student or tenant expectations at the centre of the ecosystem and rebuild every process.
The big change is of course Covid-19 and its impact. Operators not only need to change processes but need to adopt a ‘digital first’ strategy as well.
Let’s take a stab at thinking through the entire student journey and see how we can give a better experience at every touch point.
Search for good housing options
Access the property and get to know the location
Discover the perfect property
Paying monthly rent
Book and move in
Raise complaints when facing difficulties
Get to know the neighbours – Socialize!
Events and engagement
In this article, we will look at how you can give a great experience to your customer ‘Pre-Tenancy’ i.e. before they check in!
Once a student knows they are going to attend a certain university, one of the first things they would do is to figure out housing. The search experience starts here. There are some common avenues to find student housing –
- Ask alumni
- Search on flat sharing groups on Facebook
- Specialized listing sites like Student.com and University Living
- Broad listing sites like Zillow and Airbnb
As you can see, students search for housing on various platforms. In most cases, no single platform would drive more than 30% of bookings. So here are some recommendations to operators on tenancy experience –
- Look at driving word of mouth marketing by giving a great experience to your existing tenants! All students ask their seniors and alumni for recommendations. Make sure they refer you!
- Be available on all student and university flat sharing groups and post your listings there. Ensure the listings are high quality and rich in information
- When listing on 3rd party platforms, do ensure that your have high quality photos, videos and 3-D renders along with true information about your property
Why are we focusing on this so much? It’s no secret that first impressions are lasting impressions. If your tenant sees that you have great pictures and rich listing information, and are omnipresent across the internet – They already are having a great experience with your brand! This will help in converting them into customers, as well as charging a premium.
Discover and Book
When search for student housing progresses, the tenant will eventually land up on your website or speak to a sales/service representative. It is very possible that some of them might want to visit your property before booking as well. Ensuring a great experience here is critical too.
In many cases, students who would likely never step into your property before booking. To make them feel comfortable, try to do the following –
- Have 3d visualizations of your property so tenants get a great feel for where they might live. Matterport type of platforms are great for this use case
- Allow them to speak to a sales/service rep to clarify their queries. Booking a property without physically stepping in is a daunting task, so it would be great if they can speak to someone to settle their nerves
- Let the booking process be fully online, and through your website. Whether it is uploading their background check documents or paying the deposit, it is much better to do it over your website with a booking platform, instead of through emails (or offline!)
- Post booking, but pre check in (Which in many cases is a few weeks or even months) is an important time. Be sure to keep giving them updates during this time. “Hey! We are waiting for you to walk in through our doors” or “We got your room ready – Take a look at it” type of emails to build a rapport with your tenants is a great idea!
If you do have students who visit your property before booking, be sure to leave them with branded goodies (Like a calendar or pens/notebooks) to remember your property. They are likely to be visiting many such properties, and it would be good for them to have some physical reminder of yours
It is super important to help your tenants feel at ease. College is a great time to meet new people and socialize, and be sure to help your tenants access that.
- Forming a group/forum with all tenants and allowing them to meet virtually before they step foot into the property is also a great idea
- Organize fun ‘Meet your future neighbours’ events on Zoom. You can do ‘Speed meeting’ type of sessions where you put 3-4 of them in a virtual room for 5-15 mins and allow them to introduce themselves
- Help them know about the city/location before they step in. Create knowledge docs on the local area and share it with them. Some great ideas include –
- Top 10 things to know about XXXXX city before getting off the plane
- How to get to our property from the airport
- Top 10 cheap restaurants near our property
- Fun things to do in XXXX city on your first weekend!
By taking these initiatives, you prove that you are not just a space provider but a community developer for students and their needs.
With vaccination drives in the US and Canada hitting big strides, there is reason to be hopeful that students will return to campuses this year! UK and Australia, 2 of the other large student housing markets, are ramping up efforts as well.
Tenancy experience doesn’t just start once your tenant physically moves into your property – You can give a great experience even before they step foot into your property! Keep that in mind and redesign your tenant experience process.
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