Typically, a Free-For-All Friday means that we don’t come to the discussion with any particular topics in mind, but this past week, there was an interesting debate about call centers over on Lisa’s Apartment Expert Facebook page. Mark Juleen noted another call center discussion over at Multifamily Insiders, so we led off #AptChat by throwing the question to the group. Other topics discussed included concessions, human directionals and resident referral programs. It’s good to see that you don’t have strong opinions on any of these subjects.

Are call centers good? Do you like them?

  • Nessel Inc.: We love being able to market that you will get a person 24/7.
  • Doug Chasick: Call Cntr great for overflow and emerg – concerned about outsrcng ALL calls to off-site, esp. resident calls.
  • Heather Blume: When your residents call, they don’t want to call somewhere that isn’t the office.
  • Sara Graham: We’re evaluating call centers this spring – Level One seems to be the 800 lb gorilla.
  • Nessel Inc.: In our experience we’ve found the agents are quite successful at getting the caller to schedule an appointment. Which we love.
  • Kim Cory: Not a fan of call centers. As a true sales person myself I have to feel, touch & be part of my product to really sell it.
  • Lisa Trosien: I was, originally, anti-call center. Not anymore. Too many properties don’t answer the phone. This solves that problem.
  • Tami Siewruk: Call Centers are necessary. Fact: People R looking for APTs when the office is closed. Trend: INSTANT GRATIFICATION.
  • Eric Brown: Our original reason for using a Call Center, was folks weren’t answering the phone. We replaced them with ones who do.
  • Mark Juleen: If you want your community to be sold like it is a commodity then call centers are fine.
  • RealPage: Our research shows that our contact center answers 97% of all calls that you designate us to take.
  • Bob Gura: After a year with a call center we have concluded that we are much more effective than the call center.
  • Mark Juleen: Why are we outsourcing the face of our brands and our product? Why not outsource reports & accounting task garbage instead?
  • Elysa Rice: As a resident (and previous prospect) I wouldn’t expect to talk to a person at midnight … that’s just weird.
  • Realty Data Trust: Call centers aren’t just for calls either. Email leads can be handled by industry call centers.
  • David Kotowski: I think call centers probably benefit our customers, especially as so many companies are still having to cut staffing levels.
  • Mark Juleen: Real life example from a call center. Prospect – “Do you have a pool?” Center Rep – “Um, let me check.”
  • Mark Juleen: Real life example from a call center. Rep – “The One Bedroom is 695 sq. ft.” Prospect – “That’s kind of small.” Rep – “Yes, it is.”
  • Tami Siewruk: REALITY CHECK LP’s cnt answer every call we have them doing more than they cn handle, answer take away all the NON leasing items.

What about ‘culture’? Can a call center communicate the ‘culture’ of your sites?

  • Heather Blume: Culture = personality, and some can, depending on how they hire. But usually, the flat tone conveys 1 thing – Apathy.
  • Ryan VanDenabeele: You can’t train call center people to represent your brand. They just don’t care like you do. I worked in one when I was a kid.
  • RealPage: Well trained contact center reps can capture the brand and the culture of each property.
  • Mike Whaling: Is anyone providing their blog feed and social media info to their call center team?
  • Doug Chasick: Prob is we try 2make Call Cntr what they are not — culture — instead of using 4 what they are — cover phone when we can’t.
  • RealPage: We offer continuing education to help refresh information about particular properties and help represent the culture.
  • Michael Cunningham: We work with the communities from day one to find out their preferences, amenities, specials, etc.
  • Joe Youngblood: Maybe centers need to foster closer relationships? and property managers need to facilitate that with updated data?
  • Lisa Trosien: I know that one of my clients meets 2x a year with the LP’s at the call center to make sure they ‘get’ the culture.
  • Janet Rosseth: The best on-site agents know how to circle back with prospects handled by a call center to personalize the experience.
  • Nashville Web Design: Call centers are impersonal but they are good to get prospect information for LP to call back.

Even more comments on Call Centers:

  • Lisa Trosien: Typical LP’s on CCenters say they are in a ‘centralized leasing office’.
  • Lisa Trosien: I don’t think it’s the solution for every property.I think you need to weigh the pro’s and con’s seriously b4 u make your decision.
  • RealPage: According to Satisfacts, only 52% of calls will be answered during office hours.
  • Heather Blume: A leasing professional CANNOT get EVERY single call. It’s just not realistic.
  • Tami Siewruk: Part of the answer is staggered staffing hrs! Helps tremendously U know when U get the most calls & visits.
  • Janet Rosseth: I had an internal call center. Awesome front line and x-tra hands, but overhead was too costly to go 24/7 and handle emails.
  • Lisa Trosien: I’ve found a lot of the issues with call centers is getting the site people to call back on the leads from the call center.
  • Kim Cory: leasing does not want 2 respond b/c no connection. LIke calling a guy after a date, must have connection 2 call again.

There were a few questions about companies that have successfully implemented internal call centers, with Equity, AIMCO and Mid-America all used as positive examples.

The conversation then moved to live chat, and there were strong opinions on this subject, too:

  • Heather Blume: Live chat can be an excellent first contact point for a potential resident.
  • Eric Brown: We tried Live Chat, but could not effectively manage it, nor did prospects like it, they were creeped out.
  • Janet Rosseth: I think I heard a stat that L1 was converting 80% of live chats to appointments. If that’s correct, it’s staggering!

Who has kicked butt with resident referral programs? What’s made it successful? (Asked by Bob Gura)

  • Sara Graham: At some props, we offer a tiered res ref model: 1st referral gets $250, 2nd gets $500, 3rd gets $750 and 4th gets $1000.
  • Heather Blume: I had one woman in my session this week who was talking about how they have a resident who they almost PAY to live there.
  • Lisa Trosien: Try having the referral fee be higher right after move in when their enthusiasm is very high.

Other noteworthy comments from the chat:

  • David Kotowski: I worked for a company that had a policy of only hiring attractive people. I’m not kidding. Staffing meetings were odd.
  • Bob Gura: Great personalities lease. Make the visit memorable!
  • Bake Extra Cookies: We’re seeing our user’s online statistics DOUBLE. Might be indicating a slightly early leasing season…
  • Lisa Trosien: So to summarize: human directionals in curling pants can answer your phones.

As you can imagine, this edition of #AptChat was a lot of fun for everyone. (This week’s stats: 512 tweets from 63 different contributors.) I couldn’t get all the great comments in the recap, so make sure you check out the full transcript when you get a chance.

So what do you think? Are you for or against outside call centers? If you’re using one now, or have used a call center in the past, what has been your experience? What are some of your best resident referral ideas? It’s your turn to show off … tell us what you know in the comments!

Have a topic you’d like to discuss on a future #AptChat? Tell us about it!