May 25 2022

RKW Residential had been researching AI-driven industry products on the market when demand jumped.RKW Residential had been researching AI-driven industry products on the market when demand jumped.

Mystery shopping remains an important and effective way for multifamily operators to measure their leasing teams’ performance when initially addressing prospective residents.

Even more so, this process can help management to determine where training is needed most; and given the flood of new and inexperienced hires into the industry, it’s a crucial “tell” on how to improve lease conversion.

Earning a perfect score of 100 is the goal. Precision at that level is something RKW Residential recently accidentally discovered when reviewing “shop” scores for one of its properties that was using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology through a virtual leasing assistant (VLA).

VLAs can perform only as well as the property management team has trained them by inputting accurate and appropriate information about the community so they can respond to common questions such as availability, rent rates, amenities and tour scheduling.

Joya Pavesi, executive vice president of Marketing and Strategy at the Charlotte-based RKW Residential, was pleased to see that her teams’ virtual leasing assistant programming programmed the VLAs with flawless information to share with prospective residents.

“The outsized and unprecedented rental lifestyle demand we experienced in 2021 continues today and we are getting an enormous number of leads,” Pavesi said. “It’s a marketer’s dream, but it does put pressure on our onsite teams when it comes to meeting our expectations around lead nurturing.”

RKW Residential had been researching AI-driven industry products on the market when demand jumped. “Luckily, we were well into our vetting process and were able to roll out AI in late 2021,” she said.

Anecdotally, the company that third-party manages 30,000 apartment homes over about 60 communities, conducts monthly secret shops to ensure its leasing teams are following the requirements and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for lead nurturing.

Kit ‘Keeps In Touch’ with Potential Renters

Its chosen technology product, Funnel, is layered onto the company’s customer relation management (CRM) platform. RKW even nicknamed the VLA, Kit, which stands for Keep In Touch – what the VLA was designed to do.

Pavesi said RKW Residential’s VLA is more sophisticated and works across email and text (as well as on websites in the chat function) and as it’s having “conversations” with prospects, it also is building out a guest card in the CRM.

“When a property that was using Funnel was shopped, the VLA scored 100 percent, hitting every lead nurturing requirement we have, including immediacy, consistency, personalization and appointment setting.”

  • Immediacy measures how soon our team follows up after the lead comes in. Our standard is to do so in less than 2 hours.
  • Consistency addresses our expectation that our agents will follow-up multiple times with each prospect even if they don’t receive a response back after their first, or even second, attempt to connect.
  • Personalization means that our replies to prospects include tailored information, such as recognizing that they have pets or are moving in after taking a new job in the area.

RKW Residential initially deployed Kit at six communities, and after seeing how well it performed, added it to others along the way. It’s now used at 20 of its properties, and the company’s approach today is to incorporate it at any new community that joins the RKW Residential portfolio.

Because most communities RKW Residential has added lately are new construction lease-ups, Pavesi said it’s too soon to compare the VLA’s overall performance to those communities that have not yet added Funnel – mostly because these lease-ups are not yet at the “schedule a tour” phase and that’s a primary benefit of VLA and a factor in scoring mystery shops.

VLAs Provide 24-7 Renter Prospect Attention

Pavesi said Kit helps her onsite teams perform more efficiently and effectively.

“Monthly mystery shopping can be much more work for them without them having AI-powered virtual leasing assistants taking care of responding during busy office hours as well as after-hours – in fact, 24-7,” she said.

“With the VLA, our onsite teams can perform other tasks, and focus on enhancing the resident experience, knowing that incoming leads will be handled by Kit in their absence.”

RKW does incentivize its leasing teams with monthly bonuses for every “shop” that earns a perfect score. For those not achieving 100, it gives them a greater sense of where more training is needed.

Some VLAs focus more on just the lead nurturing, she said, “but once that inbound lead status changed – such as when it becomes a tour or even a lease –those other firms no longer addressed “the resident journey.”