How to lease during a pandemic

How to lease during a pandemic

Join Ken as he speaks with Kelly Johnson, Vice President of marketing at MC Companies as she discusses what her and her team have done to confront that challenges of leasing apartment units during the restrictions caused by the recent health crisis.

Transcript:

(00:00):
Hey everybody. It’s Ken McElroy with MC companies and the real estate strategies and our podcasts. And I’m really excited to have today. Kelly Johnson, let’s pivot a little bit and talk about leasing. So one of the things that did not happen, or people did not move out for, you know, like 60 days some did, but you know, think about what’s happening, we’re on lockdown. So a lot of people just hunkered down in their places. Every state was a little bit different and we have properties in multiple States, but, you know, I was just blown away by the way, guys, I get these emails, I get emails from my onsite folks, you know, that you know, and there’s all these little internal contests that are going on and, and wins that we’re celebrating as individual properties of ours around the country are doing remarkable things. And so how did you pivot? Basically saying, okay, you know, I, how do we rent? How do we rent apartments?

(01:01):
Yeah.

(01:02):
People to do it. And now we don’t. So, you know, let’s talk through that.

(01:07):
Yeah. There were, there were a couple of different fronts that we wanted to address. And the first one was how do we rent virtually? So how can I take a customer’s phone call and rent an apartment to them without ever being face to face. And that was initial, that was in the first 72 hours. And so I did a training call. I got on the phone with all of our leasing teams and we worked through that together because it is a different process. And I did want them to understand everything that we’ve been telling you, not everything, but a lot of what we’ve been telling you to do in the past has to be shifted. So let’s, let’s, let’s just kinda throw that playbook away and figure out together what is going to be a good solution. I’m I like to craft really pretty things.

(01:56):
I want our websites to look good. I want any video that we produced to look good, and all of a sudden I had to open my mind and remember that it’s a time, it’s a time for solutions. It’s not a time for control. It’s not a time for trying to you know, clip anybody’s wings. We had to let people do what they needed to do, which means everybody in the field had to create videos on their own with their phones. They had to do video tours and do that for every single floor plan and do it immediately so that they could start to send those links out to our customer. Then the next thing we did was introduce a virtual tour using an iPad. So we got iPads for every single team and we had to research solutions. So FaceTime is great.

(02:47):
If two people have eye products, eye phones, and an iPad, if you don’t, we need a product that is going to work with everybody. It has to be agnostic. So I found this app Google duo and, you know, going to all these conferences online and you’re trying to absorb as much information as you can. And somebody says, Google duo, it’s agnostic. Boom, we’re going to use that. So they’re gonna have another meeting guys. This is horrible. And and figure out how to take that customer now with my iPad and take them through the apartment so that I’m still communicating with them virtually. And I can show them the view. I can show them where they would park. I can show them their closet space, their kitchen. I can, I can do a tour that way. So that was our very first solution.

(03:29):
And one of the great, I there’s so many great outcomes. I mean, this was a terrible experience. I know for a lot of people, but if we don’t look for those silver linings, we don’t look for those things that are really great. I think we missed opportunities. And so for me one, one of many would be the talent that we have out there. You know, some of our team members put these videos together and they sent them to me and I just, I was at all and I was so proud and, and thought, you know, this is really cool that these people who worked so hard for us and maybe are thousands of miles away, but yet now I’m fully connected because I got to see a skillset that I didn’t even know they had. And so that was our first, that was our first step out of hell. Basically was how do we create these videos? How do we teach people how to rent in that way? And so that was probably the first until things started to open up. That was our first step.

(04:24):
Yeah. That was just incredible. To me. Let’s talk a little bit about the the chat bots, because that was another big piece that you pioneered for our company. And it’s interesting. I got a, I got a tax from the company that, you know, I need you guys to wrap your head around this. We went from in person phone calls, you know, and, and recording them all, which of course we’re still doing, but they share with me in one month, Kelly, that we handled 4,000, 406 communications of which we converted 1,115 prospects to 450 appointments. So we had 450 appointments in one month through AI. And then, you know, I saw your numbers because we have meetings every Tuesday. You, you rented 93 apartments. Like I just, it just, I mean, I floored me when I saw that. I’m like, how did we rent 93 apartments in one week? You know, without people you know, it’s, it’s happening right now. And I think that’s what people want to know is like, how, how are we pulling this off?

(05:42):
I think that first of all, the software that we’re using or are using it’s called lease talks and they have, I’ve been partnering with Lee sock for about three years. So I, I use them in the, the position that I was in prior to coming to MC. And so I already knew that they were really solid company and we use them to grade our phone calls into root chord, all of our phone calls. And then in 2019, in the late part of 19, we rolled out their CRM customer relation management program. And what that does is it captures every single lead. So every phone call, every text, every email that we get from our website goes into that lead system. And I can’t tell you how many times. So, you know, we rolled this out to our organization and anytime you put new software out into, you know, the, the, your, your circle, there’s going to be some bumps and bruises.

(06:38):
Not everybody is all that excited about learning a new software and, and not everything works perfectly. So you’re always kind of working on this adoption. And it’s funny because when COVID hit overnight, everyone said, if it hadn’t been for that CRM, we’d be in a lot of trouble. Because what that CRM did was it captured, it made sure that we didn’t lose any leads, not a one, not a phone call that a text message, not an email, because they all got compiled into that CRM and what it made it, it made it possible for people to work remotely. So in certain cities where they were forced to have to split the teams, because we knew it was the safe thing to do. We were able to put somebody remotely working on that CRM. So we were still refuge to our customers, even if a leasing person was at home.

(07:29):
So they could still, you know, get all those leads. It also captures all of your residents. So any anybody touching the site is going to go into that CRM. So that was the first thing that really was like, illuminating, thank goodness we had it. And thank goodness people realize the value in that CRM. And then I got a call from lease Hawk when we were going through all of this. And I, you know, my hair is on fire. I don’t, I can’t even, you know, the, the list of things, but notepads everywhere. And my, you know, everybody was going through that and I got a call from them because they said, Hey, would you be willing to roll this H product? So it’s an AI product that answers all of your missed calls. So if, if the team isn’t able to get to a call, this AI product, ACE will answer the call and they can answer a lot of basically seeing questions.

(08:25):
It’s a product that they have been working on for awhile, but they they’ve kind of crossed over the bridge. And, and this product is really, really powerful now. And along with that AI answering service, they have a chat bot. So we were able to implement that chat bot right on our website. So now our customers are going to the website and right away, they have access to somebody who can answer questions 24 seven and book a virtual tour. So not only does the phone call have the ability and that’s their goal, they’re just like a salesperson funnel, funnel, funnel, funnel, funnel, let’s get a tour because that’s the ultimate outcome that you want from a sales call. So that was, you know, just like the stats you read off, you know, it was a lot of work to get that set up.

(09:13):
It’s not an easy thing to do. There are a lot of knits and gnats that go into getting that set up. But as soon as it goes live, you realize, okay, now we’re not going to miss anything. And I think that that led to us recovering so quickly, think of our doors, aren’t open yet. Our clubhouses aren’t open. We’re still you know, behaving the same way in terms of being in lockdown, kind of we’re open, but our doors aren’t. And for us to go back to pre COVID traffic numbers this quickly it just, it tells you something, you know, it tells you that the world is different. Our customer behavior is different. The resources that we’re using are different. And we need to pay close attention to that. We need to think about what part of this we’re going to take forward because it’s working. Yeah.

(10:02):
Congratulations. I know that you, you your entire team took a lot of stress and anxiety and fear out of our company because we were heading into this at the end of March, not knowing if we were going to click April rent, not know if we were going to collect may rent thinking that our occupancy and our leasing was done, you know, until the lockdown got lifted and all of those things were handled as, you know, a number of ways. And so for, for those of you you know, obviously one, you need a phenomenal team to, you need to embrace technology. And and, and you, and you, I think you’ve said this a bunch, you’ve got to keep an open mind because things are different, you know, maybe, maybe listen to your kids, you know, is there an easier way, is there a better way, right.

(10:58):
Yeah. Right. Absolutely. And, and don’t be afraid of it. I think that’s, you know, it was personally for me, because I have been doing this for a long time. And I have some pretty you know, certain thoughts about the way things should be, because I’ve just been doing it a long time and like problem, problem, cause solution problem, cost solution. And for me to be thrown into this environment you know, I’ve talked to a lot of my peers as I did. We all did through this entire experience. I called a lot of my marketing peers and fears that, that I’ve known all through my career. And I’m fascinated by how many of them are going to go right back to what they did before. I I’m, I, to me, that’s fascinating that you would take this opportunity, this gift to change and not embrace it. I, I know, I think it’s,

(11:54):
That’s interesting. That’s a, that’s an entire podcast. Do we move forward or do we go back to our old habits, right.

(12:06):
Yeah. I think that moving forward, if you think about it, and you think about the AI that we’ve leveraged and the other, the other applications that are out there, I’m just scratching. I’m doing a new demo every day. I’m talking to a new service provider every day, because I’m trying to figure out, you know, are they really a niche market? Do they have something that I can’t get somewhere else? Did they have something I can’t replicate for less money? Do they really solve as many problems as they think they solve and are these technologies overlapping each other? So you know, is there a one stop solution because I feel like we’re crazy not to, well crazy not to take this new customer behavior and let it be part of our future. You know, just from a purely from a staffing perspective, you know, do you really need four people in an office? If you can leverage some of this technology and maybe do, you know, central leasing centers, you know, as you know, we, we were early adopters in some of that. And I think we paused it because we didn’t have all of the right resources and, you know, we’ve, the industry has evolved. The technology has evolved, and now we’ve been given this opportunity to, to grab that Apple again and figure out, okay, what does 2021 look like? What does 2022 look like? And how can we get flicker in, in doing what we do.

(13:38):
Right, right. It’s well, all I can say is thank you and congratulations for a job. Well done. All right. We’ll see you soon.

(13:47):
Bye bye. Thank you. Bye.