In our virtual-leasing-centric world, giving prospects more control—like enabling self-scheduling on your website—is a path to greater conversion. That’s because self-scheduling is more than leasing support. It has emotional power. It helps make that first connection with a prospect who values flexibility and autonomy, which leads to positive feelings about your community. Combine that with excellent, live follow-up from your leasing staff and you’re on the way to building a relationship and sealing the deal.
All Going According to Schedule
Scheduling is taking center stage in leasing offices during the COVID-19 crisis. According to Shari Schaefer, Director of Marketing at Landmark Property Services, which operates in Virginia and North Carolina, this is nothing short of essential.
“Everything’s being scheduled today,” says Schaefer. “We’re scheduling move-ins, we’re scheduling vendor appointments and we’re scheduling resident appointments. When COVID-19 hit, we limited staff to one to two people in each office and set guidelines for social distancing. Before we could tell a resident or move in, ‘Hey, come in on this day, and then we can talk,’ now it needs to be scheduled to conserve our resources and maintain everyone’s safety. We are still touring in person however it is by appointment only. We're really living by our calendar—and not just our leasing calendar but our Outlook calendars too.”
Assisting Schaefer in this regard is the RealPage Self-Scheduling Calendar, a tool within RealPage’s OneSite leasing management solution, which she and her team have been using since 2015. In April 2020, the company approached her to help beta test a new leasing product, the RealPage Self-Scheduling Calendar.
The Self-Scheduling Calendar acts as an extension of a property’s leasing team and boosts the leasing potential of its website, the property’s main marketing tool. Appearing as a widget on the website, the Self-Scheduling Calendar allows prospects to schedule appointments at their convenience, 24/7. Prospects receive a confirmation communication that allows them to reschedule and cancel appointments in real-time, as well. The tool is customizable, allowing clients to meet a particular office’s needs.
Seeing advantages for both prospects and her team, Schaefer agreed to jump into the Self-Scheduling Calendar beta test. The first order of business was deciding which leasing teams would pilot the new tool. Her instant thought went to teams that had only one person in the office, and with people out on maternity leave. Her focus was on how to best utilize Landmark’s teams’ time when there were so many factors that they needed to put their attention to while also going into a busy leasing season. Streamlining the leasing process was a must.
There are, of course, plenty of tools today to simplify leasing. Schaefer saw self-scheduling as a way to give prospects a positive first connection to a Landmark community while streamlining the leasing process.
“I want us to be able to focus on really curating and fostering relationships with prospects,” says Schaefer. “I think that starts with the first impression. With the Self-Scheduling Calendar, we are able to let the prospect have the authority to decide when they'd like to tour, so their first impression is that they have control.”
“It’s like making a doctor's appointment,” she says, drawing an analogy. “The receptionist asks you when you’d like to come in. You say, Oh, Thursday morning would probably be good for me. Then the receptionist asks you if you want to come in at seven. No? Do you want to come in at eight? No? Well, maybe it's better for me to come at two on that day. So, there's a lot of conversation there. The Self-Scheduling Calendar gives the power to the prospect and it's not a time-consuming experience. They can choose the time and date that they would like to come in and then if it doesn't work out for them, that's fine. They can cancel it and reschedule. So, they're doing all of this on their own with the power to choose.”
Another benefit of self-scheduling: it’s a problem solver for prospects. Sometimes a prospect might not want to talk to somebody that day or doesn't have the opportunity to talk because they are working on deadlines. Or maybe one of the kids is having a meltdown, and that has been disrupting the day. They still want to schedule that tour. Now they simply can go to a property website and get it done while handling everything else they need to do.
Empowering the Leasing Team
What does a leasing team get out of the Self-Scheduling Calendar? A remarkable amount. Beta test results show that 22% of all tours have been scheduled through the widget, with 9% scheduled at night when the office is closed. Adds Schaefer anecdotally, “We've had the Self-Scheduling Calendar for three months and in the first two weeks we had a lease. One team had seven scheduled appointments in one week. Five of them came from self-scheduling, and out of those, one of them leased. Within two and a half weeks from launch, we went from having it at five communities to rolling it out to the rest of our portfolio because the results were so apparent, we did not want to miss any opportunities.”
While results like these helped prompt Landmark to move from pilot to portfolio-wide, leasing teams still have to experience a new product before any results make themselves known. Some will be hesitant initially to test a product that might change the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that some Landmark teams expressed their concerns about self-scheduling. For one thing, they are used to personally capturing basic information from prospects. Self-scheduling removes that human element. Schaefer saw an advantage: the teams can now focus more on relationship building and less on data capture.
As Schaefer puts it, “Now they can say, ‘Hi, I see that you're looking for a one-bedroom apartment in this price range. I’ve got that.’ Or they can ask, ‘What are you looking for? What are your needs? Where are you looking? They can really get into the heart of what prospects are looking for in their new home. Not just the basics, but the meat and potatoes of it. So, they are able to strengthen the relationship with the prospect before coming to tour the community.”
Leasing agents save time this way, of course. It can take two or three minutes for a live agent to capture a prospect’s name, email and phone number. If you have a hundred leads, that adds up to a couple of hours just to capture those details. Self-scheduling cuts that out of the process. That’s not just a time saver. For leasing teams, it’s a stress saver. And that was key to Schaefer’s decision to join the beta test. She was determined to make things easier.
Schaefer knew she would need to address several important questions surrounding implementation. Would self-scheduling create surprises for staff? What if they were not available at the time a prospect chose? What if that prospect came in for a tour and they weren’t prepared because they didn't know about it?
“The answer was in the results,” Schaefer said. “The Self-Scheduling Calendar gives the team an automatic email that someone wants to schedule an appointment along with the time and date. Plus, goes right to our leasing calendar. If the team is not available for a specific time or date, this can be noted on the backend and it will not show as available on the Self-Scheduling Calendar. When prospects get to the community, they see the team is ready, organized, and prepared to show them around. You can tell when someone in the office is stressed; it doesn't take much to see it. So, we are helping our teams put their best foot forward. It’s a great experience for prospects, which can create that amazing word of mouth that brings in more people to live in our communities.”
An additional issue: COVID-19 was stressing already busy teams who now had no more than two people in an office. And the situation varied. A leasing person could be brand new. They might know how to lease, but not be familiar with the community. Or a two-person team could have just the property manager and a temp. So, there would be one person who knew the property in and out but had a lot of things to attend to.
The solution: customization. Says Schaefer, “Everyone has it a little bit different. We need the flexibility to give them what works best for their office. With the Self-Scheduling Calendar, we get just that. For example, RealPage recommends conducting two tours per hour, but that’s a lot when limiting the number of people in our office. We were able to customize it to one tour per hour. We can reduce tour availability, too, so we could change hours from nine-to-five to, say, 10 am to 2:30 pm instead. And for our offices that only have one person, we've blocked out a time for lunch. It's just really nice how we can customize everything and give our teams the option to choose the best timeframe for them.”
“The process of adoption has really opened their eyes,” she continues. “They see that self-scheduling will help them, that they aren’t having to work harder to get appointments. They’re seeing how technology can be a useful tool to help them focus on our residents, too. At Landmark, we’re investigating the next generation of products, like AI chatbots, to see how we can make the future of leasing even better for them and for our prospects. At the end of the day, we want people to come to the door, right? If they're coming in the door, we're getting them into apartments. I think we're all seeing how the right technology can make that happen.”