The technological evolution of multifamily: Are you in it or overdoing it?

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“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” ~ R. Buckminster FullerPunchcard

Our payroll person often tells the story about how, back in the day, she used to enter employees’ time in the computer system using punch cards. 30 years later that story, of course, is hilarious. Punch cards? Oh wow.

Now? Properties enter their information into our intranet portal. Much fancier, less holes. Despite 30 years of progress there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Filling out a time sheet. For you to get paid, you have to tell your employer how many hours you’ve worked. Technology isn’t reinventing the time sheet, it’s just making it easier. Our payroll lady appreciates it but at the end of the day she is still tasked with making sure everyone gets paid.

The multifamily basics still remain.

The evolution of multifamily technology is astounding. We now have systems to record and playback phone calls, fancy analytics with cool graphs, Craigslist posting tools, social media, web apps, mobile apps, damnyouautocorrect, portal sites, online applications, leasing using your iPad, ILS’s, websites, check scanning, document management systems, smartphones, and angry birds. As new things come out, it’s easy to want to rush out and find where you can make it fit. It’s important though that you take a breather and think about how these new technologies influence the basics:

  • Drive and convert leads.
  • Give good customer and maintenance service.
  • Keep your residents renewing.

Technology is tools. It’s not really renting you more apartments, it’s just trying to make it easier for you to do so. My philosophy when it comes to trying new technology is simple:

How will a new technology improve the basics in a fairly measurable way?

We have iPad leasing!!!!Let’s be honest here. Do you think an iPad Leasing tool will rent you more apartments? Probably not. Are prospects demanding it? Pretty sure they aren’t. Do you think most residents care one iota whether or not your Facebook page was updated this week? I’m sure they aren’t losing sleep. Why is it so easy to get caught up in this smoke and mirrors marketing and technology game? Are iPad’s cool? Sure. But cool is irrelevant. Cool is expensive. Cool wears off and then the bills come. If the cool factor shouldn’t be driving the bus, what should cause multifamily companies to shift?

Prospects and residents should cause your technology shift, not you.

You can’t talk about marketing and technology in separate sentences anymore. As technology shifts customer habits, your marketing needs to adapt to stay relevant. Here are some changes that new tech has brought to our customers:

  • Prospects find you in multiple and varying ways than ever before.
  • Prospects are no longer showing up on your doorstep with no clue about your offerings.
  • Residents demand better service and will complain loudly through channels that didn’t exist 5 years ago.

Not only do you have to figure out how your organization should use technology, you also need to understand how your customers are using it too. As customer’s expectations of the experience rise, you need to shift your culture to meet it. Think about portal sites for a moment. They aren’t a cheap or NOI increasing expense. Monthly costs can be in the hundreds per property. If your residents didn’t expect to be able to pay online, how many companies would have one at all?

We’re in an age where the flow of technology adoption has reversed.

Technology is flowing the other direction now.It used to be that corporations drove technology adoption. Now it’s the consumers who are adopting technology at a faster rate. iPhones, iPads, Android devices – the pressure is on to evolve based on the habits of consumers and their expectations. This is a time like no other.

Don’t do tech for tech’s sake. Use it to improve the basics.

It’s too easy to think I’m just telling you to stay conservative in your technology approach. New features, new services, new smartphones, new iPads, new social media sites, new tools – after a while it’s a cluttered landscape. Don’t turn your back on what made your business so successful in the first place. Meet your customer’s technology expectations but don’t do it because you think it’s cool. Don’t forget the important things. Crush your residents with over the top customer service, service their maintenance needs promptly, and give them a great well maintained product. At its basic level, there’s not much that’s high tech in that.

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