8 Insights on How Technology Reshapes and Improves the Leasing Experience

RMR Residential’s SVP of Marketing & Customer Experience Discusses the Intersection of Technology and Leasing at RETCON 2022

Earlier this summer, Noah Echols, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Customer Experience, discussed leveraging technology to drive more leases and leads during a panel at RETCON 2022.

In addition to the 8 insights below, watch the recording for additional thoughts from Noah and his fellow panelists:

1) Technology and leasing are now fully engrained. Agree or disagree?

The easy answer is that yes, there is technology in leasing, but that’s always been the case. The industry relied on the fax machine 30 years ago in leasing. I think what is changing is that we are starting to advance technology to a point that allows us to rethink the role of the human in leasing rather than thinking about the role of technology in leasing.

2) While technology is becoming more ingrained with our business strategy, operations can often be a different conversation. What strategies are you taking to train your teams on new technologies?

The biggest hurdle here is not technology adoption. It is cultural. The way leasing is done today, in most cases, is similar to what it looked like 30 years ago, so those who grew up in the industry believe in it because it has always worked – why change what isn’t broken? Well, the “why” is because renters’ expectations changed and that is forcing what we’re seeing in terms of the rapid innovation in leasing technology.

3) Are you or are you seeing companies begin to restructure their teams because of technology?

Yes, “centralization” is the new buzz word. Teams can reduce headcount, saving tons of money, by expanding the scope of a leasing team that is enabled by automating routine tasks.

However, most companies are approaching centralization through the lens of NOI and not CX. Those who focus on the latter will be more successful because the things that are automated will be more thoughtful and the tasks of the humans will be more vital.

4) Technology enables us to automate many tasks. What tasks are you choosing to automate, and which are you choosing not to?

I truly believe that leasing is still a high touch process, especially in this market. We ask people to spend 30-50% of their income on their rent, so they want to have a meaningful experience. They want to smell it and touch it.

While there is a significant number of people who are willing to do self-guided tours, there is still the art of closing that is a human task. Technology can scale and automate a lot of the top part of the funnel (dynamic ads, lead qualification, booking tours, providing information, etc.) to free up sales to focus on creating differentiated in-person experiences.

In sales, the human element is vital. Renters are more informed now than ever. They have access to information about our properties, often before we even do. But that doesn’t tell them what it’s like to live there. It only allows them to qualify apartment – it narrows the 1,000 apartments in a market down to 3. It gives them the what. Sales’ role is to give them the why.

5) What role is AI playing in your leasing strategies?  Do you think the industry is making the most of the technology at its fingertips?

Multifamily is just starting to dabble in AI. This will explode over the next 24 month because it’s the single most important technology to enable customer experience at scale. Want to hire better people who provide better service? AI can do that. Want to meet customers’ expectations of answers 24/7? AI. Want to focus on retention in a coming down market? AI. Want to collect more rent? AI.

6) What communication channels are you finding most effective?  What role are videos and texts playing?  

Phone is the biggest shocker. It used to be the highest intent prospects, but now it is the lowest. Phone call volume has more than doubled for the industry YoY and one reason is because you have unqualified renters trying to figure out how to get into an apartment they may have been priced out of. Digital sources are not only more qualified, but much easier to scale.

SMS is interesting because the laws around it are so antiquated. It is the industry’s biggest opportunity in terms of comms channels, but we are being held back by the laws on the books.

7) How are you making decisions on when and how to engage prospective residents?

We let them tell us. We rely heavily on data – qualitative and quantitative – and those expectations are very fluid. What is a priority this year might not be next year, so building nimble processes and a tech stack that allows you to move is absolutely vital.

8) What do owners and operators want to hear from vendors? What is missing in the tech space or what is the best way to grab the attention of owners and operators? 

Instead of pitches that are all about new features, owners and operators want vendors to delve into how their technology will provide the best experience for renters. For example, to grab the attention of someone like me, I want to know how a technology, either directly or indirectly, enhances the experiences of all stakeholders involved.