DID YOU GET MY TEXT?
Text messaging's explosion in popularity has many apartment operators reconsidering how they should best connect with their residents and prospective residents, as well as with co-workers.
"Residents are very vocal and specific about which type of information they want to receive and through which communication channel," says Kortney Balas, Vice President of Technology and Business Process, JVM Realty. "You really have to listen to the customer and customize the experience, accordingly. The last thing you want them to do is to start tuning out your communications--no matter what type of information is sent."
Kristen Mete Kingi, Marketing Director for the West at LMC, says about 50 percent of her residents indicated that texting was their preferred communications channel.
"Texting is a main source of communication for us and we find most residents and prospects to be very text-friendly," Mete Kingi says.
Ian Mattingly, President, LumaCorp, says, "Text-messaging is one of many methods we use to communicate with prospects and residents. We believe that it's important to put the other party in control of how they prefer to receive both marketing and informational messaging, both to ensure satisfaction, and to avoid legal risk."
Mattingly says at most of his communities the vast majority of residents are between 19 and 35 years, a group for whom text messaging "is far-and-away the most preferred method of communication."
The increase in texting as a communication tool has both helped and hurt operations, industry professionals say.
"Once residents have the ability to text the community associates, they expect immediate responses after-hours and/or during non-business hours," Balas says. "On the plus side, in regard to efficiency, residents are generally more likely to respond via text compared to other channels."
Management companies should have policies in place about texting use.
"It's no secret that there are rare times when it might make sense for an onsite staff person to give out their cellphone number when communicating with residents, but it's not recommended," says Amy Groff, Senior Vice President of Industry Operations, NAA. "It's important that companies using a texting service use one that masks the caller ID. Management companies should consider adding language in their policy manual about such practices."
Balas says her teams had been asking for the ability to text residents for several years, so it's been a "win" for JVM Realty.
"The nice thing is that because we use our resident portal to text through, we did not have to delve into device management and data, which could create a whole other potential headache," Balas says. "The only complaint I tend to get from staff is that the more channels that you have open, the more information that flies at you. So, team members have to be on their toes to keep up with an increase in messaging."
The apartment industry is developing tools that are able to effortlessly deliver messages via the residents' preferred medium so that the staff doesn't have to direct its attention to determine that channel, saving the associates time and effort.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricts what type of communication can be sent via text and requires the recipient to "opt-in." See "Are Your Texting Programs FCC Compliant?" on pg. 39. Per FCC regulations, onsite staff must differentiate marketing and information messaging.
Paul Yount, Industry Principal, Yardi, says the first text sent to a resident must be an opt-in message, which secures the required expressed written consent.
With the open and read rates of text messages far exceeding emails, and messaging being the preferred method of contact for key renter age groups, Yount says he's seen spikes in prospect-to-resident conversions.
"We've seen clients have a lot of success with getting opt-ins by making sure their leasing teams are trained on the process and actually walking their residents and prospective residents through it while they're on the phone with them or while they're in the office," Yount says. "Additionally, having proper call to actions such as 'Call or Text 855-867-5309' on marketing campaigns and placing a 'Text Us' widget on your website increases the awareness and usage of texting by your customers."
"LumaCorp has used text-messaging to communicate with residents for a number of years," Mattingly says. "We do require them to opt-in at move-in, but more importantly, we feel that as long as we're providing only useful information (such as package notification, water shut-offs, etc.) and not bombarding them monthly, we have minimal risk from a legal standpoint."
Balas says JVM Realty avoids sending texts related to social-event reminders such as pool parties or wine tasting.
She says her company "normally reserves those for posts to our resident portal's activity wall or email," Balas says. "It also depends on the demographic at the site--if you have a highly electronically savvy resident base, you might see more social alerts ('friendly reminder that today is the wine tasting').
Mete Kingi says, "During the leasing period, the texts we send typically are quotes, pictures and answers to questions. Once they become residents, the messages more often become maintenance-related requests."
Rivergate KW Residential based in Charlotte texts residents and prospects upon receiving permission to do so.
"Our platform creates efficiencies because it allows for automation--we can schedule messages such as Happy Birthday, based on trigger events," Joya Pavesi, Vice President, Marketing, Rivergate KW Residential says. "As a best practice, we do not text residents more than once per week."
Employee-to-employee texting is creating efficiencies in operations for many management companies.
Requirements and concerns about text communication are not applicable solely between residents or prospects and the onsite teams, Terry Danner, CEO, SightPlan adds. The rules are equally applicable when employees communicate with one another both during and after normal business hours.
Danner says with the introduction of mobile tools at the site level to improve efficiency and performance, companies need to ensure that they're establishing proper protocol on how to use those tools.
Helpful guidelines can be found in the Solving Your Company's BYOD Office Policy article that was published in the March 2018 article of units magazine.
"During business hours, team-member communication via text is difficult to monitor and is generally not archived in company records," Danner says. "Texting about business-related activities outside of documentable systems or apps should not be permitted between employees and certainly not permitted between employees and residents or prospects.
"After-hours communication via texting is fraught with potentially high costs since employees then have documentation for which they can claim, and are legally entitled to, overtime compensation.
"Communication with and between employees after hours should be limited to emergency situations where it is vital employees be contacted and where ownership or management is effectively authorizing overtime pay for work deemed necessary. When considering text-like communication alternatives, ensure that the systems put in use have the ability to shut down or go in do not disturb mode for all non-emergency communication."
Greater Nashville Apartment Association (GNAA) member, Senior Policy Advisor/Attorney, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP, Catie Lane Bailey, says email is highly preferable if electronic communication is necessary.
Here are points she makes when advising association members:
* Most people can receive their email from their phone--so you're not significantly eliminating any delay in receiving information by texting.
* Communicating by text can result in truncating thoughts that usually should be more fully explained.
* Parties to a text conversation may be too informal and lull an employee into not giving proper thought to what is being said.
* An owner will undoubtedly be bound by promises made or implied in a text message.
* Texting can become more unwieldy than email. How many different employees up and down a management company might have text conversations with a debtor that are not as easy to track down and save as would be emails.
BY PAUL R. BERGERON III
Paul R. Bergeron II is Editor In Chief of units magazine and can be reached at email@example.com.
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|Author:||Bergeron, Paul R., III|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2018|
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