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Is customer service a critical component to your management strategy? Do you consider resident service as customer service?

Jered Lerum from Edison47 joins us to discuss how they view resident communication as a critical piece of customer service and how this approach has positively impacted portfolio performance.

Apartment living communication & evolution for the 21st century with Jered Lerum

Apartment living expectations have dramatically evolved over the last decade. Is customer service a critical component to your management strategy? Do you even consider resident service as customer service - and why is this important? Jered Lerum from Edison47 joins us to discuss how they view resident communication as a critical piece of customer service and how this approach has positively impacted portfolio performance.

What’s Edison47’s view of Resident Experience? [04:02]

  • Starts at the beginning of the leasing funnel.
  • Marketing platform → first point of contact → contact follow up → first time in building → through the life cycle

What about the resident experience for existing residents? [05:30]

  • They’re the toughest critic - rightfully so.
  • Careful to implement the right technology so you don’t build apprehensiveness where your using one solution that’s “right” but switch the following week.

What challenges or opportunities have you seen in terms of engaging with residents? [07:30]

  • Don’t just have one customer to satisfy - from operators to site teams to residents. Each person has their own concerns and needs.
  • The challenge is finding something that touches all of those areas of concern and all of the individual stakeholders that are all looking for something different.

What challenges do you face, specifically around communication? [09:11]

  • Edison has always been an early adopter in technology, but they put in the time to vet technology before rolling it to a larger group of the portfolio.
  • Communication is key - evaluation includes conversations with all stakeholders. From talking to site teams to resident surveys.
  • The key is to find pain points and areas of improvement.

A large property operations challenge is getting the right information in a preferred way to the resident when needed. What have you found that helps solve this? [11:27]

  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
  • Residents are drastically different across demographics, across regions, across asset types and so need an understanding of the specific property.
  • The flexibility of a solution to tailor the communication practices per property is key
  • Also, one that is quick to roll out policies and information and keep residents informed in a concise and direct way that’s constantly changing.
  • Edison47 is a Zego Mobile Doorman customer

What about the tools for multifamily and concept of resident experience but in the single family context [Edison’s new SF property]? [22:18]

  • Taking the systems and practices that are in place that have been successful at their multi-family projects and bringing that to the new [SF] development.
  • Great opportunity for Edison and the community where people want to live in SF units but are unable to come up with the down payment.
  • Key point is applying resident screening to the SF process

GUEST

Jered Lerum

Jered brings more than 15 years of company and division building to his role as the Director of Business Development. He is responsible for providing strategic direction and oversight for Edison47’s tech initiatives, asset development, and resident solutions.

Jered’s experience expands across the Pacific Northwest and includes multiple lease-ups and repositioning projects in addition to a stabilized portfolio of two-thousand apartment homes. Today, Jered is an active member of the Washington Multifamily Housing Association and has been involved with Great Strides-Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for more than 20 years.

Prior to joining Edison47, Jered served various roles within the multifamily industry including Community Manager, Portfolio Manager and Director of Multifamily Systems.

Transcript

Nick Latz: Welcome home multifamily pros to the Resident Experience Podcast, episode six. We're talking with Jered Lerum, Director of Business Development for Edison47 on how effective resident communication is a critical component to the resident experience and modern apartment living. Do you have resident communication challenges? Does your staff get bogged down answering the same resident questions? Can managers communicate with residents via their preferred communication channels? Well, today we answer those questions and more.

I'm Nick Latz, your host, and I'm talking with Jered Lerum, Director of Business Development for Edison47. Edison47 is a property management services group that creates and manages communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Edison's focus on innovative technology compliments over 40 years of staff experience in all aspects of multifamily, mixed use, and new construction. And today we're talking about resident to staff communications, and how communication approaches have evolved in modern communities.

Jered, welcome to the show.

Jered Lerum: Thanks, Nick. Yeah, I'm happy to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.

Nick Latz: Great. So let's kick this off in a familiar way. Can you tell us here a little bit about yourself, your role at Edison47? And maybe to make things a little bit interesting, part two is, what's your favorite part of your job?

Jered Lerum: Yeah, absolutely. So the official title is Director of Business Development, and that is a bit ambiguous in the fact that my focus is not just on new projects that we have coming online, but it's on creating those opportunities to further existing assets and ensure that not only do they stay competitive in the market, but that we're also continuing to elevate the resident experience at those properties. And then also, as kind of a backend to that, I oversee all of the tech initiatives for Edison47 business directives as far as where we take some of our operational strategies and planning.

Some of the fun stuff on our new developments. I work really closely with our developers, whether they're with our sister company or some of our third party projects, on everything from amenity design, infrastructure support so that we're, as much as we can, future-proofing the buildings as those technology needs evolve and increase in demand. As well as the basics on whether or not these projects are going to pencil out. Unit mixes, some of the unit designs, basics like we're not opening a door into a wall. Just kind of those critical components.

Nick Latz: Awesome. Sounds like you wear a lot of hats over there.

Jered Lerum: I do, I do. I had a full head of hair when I started. And now I'm...

Nick Latz: Well, great. So you mentioned existing assets and focusing on the resident experience. And I circled that, because that's what we talk about on this podcast, [inaudible] resident experience. What we've found is different customers have different views of the resident experience and what it means to them. And we always think that's interesting. And so, for Edison47, how do you guys think about the resident experience? What does that include in your mind?

Jered Lerum: Really for us it encompasses multiple facets. Our resident experience does not, in our view, start at the move-in process. It starts at the very beginning of, to use an industry term, the leasing funnel. It's from your marketing platforms, to your first point of contact, to how that contact is followed up, to the first time that they come into the building. And then through the life cycle, renewal processes and [crosstalk] move-out, and so on.

And I think that there's definitely been an evolution in how we've had to view that due to, just like everybody else, due to the COVID pandemic. We've had to be very nimble in how we approach in-person tours and operating within governmental guidelines, and even regional guidelines to make sure that we continue to meet those needs.

Nick Latz: Yep. That makes sense. And in terms of business benefit, I think the leasing funnel everybody understands, right? The benefit of focusing on the leasing funnel, getting more people in, heads in beds, driving occupancy. What about focusing on resident experience for existing residents? What do you guys see as the benefit of that? Why do you focus on it?

Jered Lerum: Well, for us there's a huge benefit, and they also can be your toughest critic. And rightfully so, especially when it comes to technology and systems, and especially if you have an established asset that residents have been living at for some time. Especially for us as we really tried to find that best solution in how we operate and the technology to support that, there's a phrase, you kiss a lot of frogs. And residents absolutely kind of bear the brunt of that. And that's something that you have to be careful of, is that you're not well last week you were using this solution and this week you're using that solution. Well, but next week I'm telling you we got the right one. And you have to be careful that that doesn't come across as instilling some kind of apprehensiveness into the platforms that you put out for their use.

Nick Latz: Sure, sure. Absolutely. And one thing we talk about along those lines a lot with our customers is this idea that the resident experience, and the tools that the residents use, and the experience that they have at the property, and property operations, they really go hand in hand. They're two sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other. And so, as it relates to property operations at Edison47, what challenges or what opportunities have you guys seen over the years in terms of interacting and engaging with residents?

Jered Lerum: Absolutely. Well, I think that one of the challenges that we all face as operators is we don't have just one customer to satisfy. I have owners that are looking at the bottom line. They really don't necessarily care what technology, as long as the results are there and you're not financially encumbered. Then I have my site teams, which are the other core customer that I have, at my level, the most interaction with. And then I have our residents that are at our communities.

So the challenge is finding something that touches all of those areas of concern and all of those individual customers that are all looking for something different. We would struggle with... We'd have a solution that, it cleaned up the steps for our accounting department. Great accounting department's happy, but that put the onus on the site teams and additional workload on the site teams. Site team's not happy. Or you'd find something that made the site teams happy, but it didn't give your residents the opportunities to make their lives easier. There was no benefit really to them. It wasn't streamlining their communication process, it wasn't bringing these other benefits to bear. So that's the core challenge, I think, that a lot of us struggle with.

Nick Latz: Satisfying these different stakeholder groups, that that makes sense.

Jered Lerum: It's true. For sure.

Nick Latz: And you mentioned communication. If you take maybe two or those three groups, your site teams, and your residents, how is the communication process working and what challenges have you guys had over the years as it relates to communication?

Jered Lerum: Absolutely. Edison has always been an early adopter in technology, but we definitely put in the time to vet technology before we roll it to a larger group of the portfolio, or obviously even company-wide. It's about, for us, having conversations with those stakeholders. It's taking an evaluation of our current systems and current structure, and asking our site teams and then subsequently also putting out ad hoc surveys to our resident base and finding out where those pain points are and where those areas of improvement can be made. Specifically, the amount of times our site teams are answering the same questions, right?

Nick Latz: Yeah.

Jered Lerum: Just, "What time is the gym open?" "What time is the gym open?" "How do I submit a work order?" Things like that. And it burns folks out. And it distracts the site teams from making the communities a better environment for our residents. And they can encumber, you can encumber them.

Nick Latz: Yeah, it's a tough job. We hear that all the time from talking to property managers, talking to site teams. This idea that, hey, I've got this never ending to do list. And I'm asked to do all these different jobs. I'm asking to do leasing tours, I'm asked to collect rent, I have to update everybody on the maintenance requests, and the work orders, and where those are going. Sometimes it's part therapist. You've got to do all this stuff. And it never ends.

And so that one that you mentioned seems like a good one to drill into, because it's like, all right, a lot of these questions are the same. Maybe it's like 80% of the questions are the same questions that they answer time and time again. So have you guys found anything that helps with that? Is there anything you can do from a process perspective, from a technology perspective, to help take some of those common questions off the site staff's plate?

Jered Lerum: Over the years we've tried a number of different solutions. We tried links on the website, we tried an FAQ. And that'll grab a small portion of it. And then we ,of course, do move-in packets and things like that with kind of your common pieces of information that they get asked. And then, of course, you've got your standards, your resident posting, "Hey, fire alarm testing in the B building on Thursday," or whatever it is.

And the problem is that there's inherent opportunities in each one of those for miscommunication. Even something as simple as the door posting, the wind blew it off the door and resident A never got it, but resident C. Why didn't you tell resident A? And all of that distracted from our core mission of taking care of our folks. At its core, this is a customer service business.

Nick Latz: Right.

Jered Lerum: No matter what customer it is. Whether it's ownership or it's the folks that choose to rent in our communities. You got to keep them both happy as much as you can.

Nick Latz: And what have you heard from your residents over the years? What's... Is there preferred communication methods across the residents, or do you see different residents want to be communicated with in different ways?

Jered Lerum: No, absolutely. It's kind of asking folks what social media are you on? "I don't do Facebook." "Well, I'm only on Instagram," or "I'm only on TikTok." I'm surprised that I remember all of them as they continue to pop up every week. But then Pinterest.

Nick Latz: Yeah.

Jered Lerum: It's a struggle to be all things to all people when they want it. That goes for any of us, not just, not just folks that reside in our communities. I want the information when I want it, but leave me alone the rest of the time. So some of those struggles that we're being made aware of, you'd get the... Some of the community's "Oh, I'm not good with computers."

Nick Latz: Right.

Jered Lerum: Okay. Okay. "Well, I lost that paper." "I didn't really read my lease agreement after I moved in," whatever it is. A million different reasons, but they all had that consistency in having that struggle.

Nick Latz: Right. And this seems like a big property operations challenge. We've heard it from you at Edison, we've definitely heard it from our other customers, and just folks in the market. And so what have you found, if anything, that helps? Do you have any recommendations from our listeners around how to go about this communication?

Jered Lerum: I do. I think that one thing that we struggle with as an industry, and especially as portfolios grow and responsibilities get greater, is that there's this struggle to find a one-size-fits-all. And the fact of the matter is that our residents are drastically different across demographics, across regions, across asset types. So to try and shove this solution onto a property without an understanding of what makes that property and those residents unique, and even the staff unique, I think, is a common mistake.

As we rolled Mobile Doorman out, that was probably one of the greatest strengths that we found early on, is the ability to tailor the experience to the residents of that particular asset.

Nick Latz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jered Lerum: And the flexibility that came along with that. Looking back, it seems because we've been so involved with the platform now, the basics like the content tiles in Mobile Doorman and being able to have those literally just custom to whatever benefits the site at that time. So much of it in the industry is very static, and you don't have the flexibility or the agility to make changes rapidly with a lot of solutions, and a lot of solutions that we piloted and even implemented in some cases. And that's definitely been one of the greatest strengths with that platform, is being able to be very flexible and very quick to roll out policies and information and keep our residents informed in a much more concise and direct way than just being one of the 500 emails that they'll receive today.

Nick Latz: Sure, sure. That makes sense. And you mentioned self-service communications earlier. And things like, we've focused on FAQ's, and we focused on move-in information. And there, I just heard you say, hey, we we've got tools like Mobile Doorman with content tiles, which allow us to post information on the mobile app so the residents can see it and hopefully self-serve. Have you seen any reduction from those efforts on one-to-one communications? Does the self-service work? Do residents use it?

Jered Lerum: Absolutely. I think most people don't want to have to go and ask for information. I don't want to call the cable company, you get a number to call the other part of the cable company. I don't want to call the leasing office to get the number for the cable company to then set up my
service.

Nick Latz: Yeah.

Jered Lerum: So access to information readily, ready to have that information in front of you is when you need it has been a game changer. I know that term gets thrown a lot a lot, but it absolutely, it changed the way both our residents and our staff interact, not only with each other, but with the asset as well.

Nick Latz: Yep. I agree. There's nothing more frustrating than calling customer support to get routed to a different area of customer support with the cable company.

Jered Lerum: Yeah, for sure.

Nick Latz: What about COVID? How has that changed your communication approach at the property level, if at all?

Jered Lerum: Oh, absolutely. I don't think that there's any facet of our operation, just like so many other industries, that haven't been impacted by COVID or the policies and protocols in place during the pandemic. The lack of... Early on, office hour reduction, staffing schedule changes, that puts a strain on our customer base. Unlike a lot of industries, our customers are with us 24/7, and COVID definitely had its own challenges. And the ability to inform our resident base of that ever evolving information stream, I can't think of a better way to have handled it then using Mobile Doorman.

Again, like I said earlier, it's access to that information in your pocket. They're not logging into this website, they're not checking for an email that may have gone to spam. The instant notifications. And even take that a step further is, one of the biggest amenities that a lot of our communities have that were impacted by COVID is the fitness centers.

Nick Latz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jered Lerum: Regionally and I know, obviously nationwide as well, there's this patchwork of restrictions. And with standard fitness facilities, conventional gyms being shut down, residents were just aching for that opportunity to use those amenities. And using the amenity scheduling tool and being able to block out individual time so those residents still had access to that core amenity was awesome. There's only so much reading of the tea leaves you can do in regards to policies that the government will put out there. So being able to go in and quickly make those adjustments, get that message out to residents, it went from four people in a, in a household to being two people using the gym at the same time. It seemed like daily we were dealing with a new modification of those policies. So being able to keep them updated was huge.

Nick Latz: Right. Yeah, we're hearing that from our other customers as well in terms of COVID impacted the volume of communications. Or just like you mentioned, it's like, hey, we have to update the policy, the process sometimes on a daily basis. So more communications, and the criticality of those communications. The stakes for having those communications missed, or not heard, or not followed, the stakes became higher almost overnight on that. And so we do see a lot of customers just like you guys kind of rethinking their communication process and different tools and methods that they have do those communications.

So that's great. So I'm just going to shift gears on you here a little bit, Jered. I wanted to ask you about one of your new developments in your new communities, Gig Harbor, which I understand is a single family development, is that right?

Jered Lerum: Yeah. It's definitely a unique project for us and unique to our area. It's purpose-built single-family homes for rent. So how we're framing it is you get the independence of a single family home, but you get the support that you would from traditional high-end multifamily. On-call maintenance and everything that goes along with that. So you have kind of this extra layer of insulation between you and the rest of the world.

Nick Latz: That's cool. And so these single family homes are in the same neighborhood?

Jered Lerum: They are. So we've got a large plot, 174 single family homes, all just exactly what you expect. Garages and the backyards. It's a single family experience with the added benefit of multifamily management.

Nick Latz: So that's really interesting. So typically, and the customers I'm familiar with in the single family context, your homes are spread out, right? So it makes it really, really tough to do traditional multifamily service delivery. It seems like you've got a different model. How do you tie in back to the beginning? You kind of told us here's how Edison thinks about resident experience. How is that the same or different, or how are you guys thinking about that overall it at Gig Harbor?

Jered Lerum: We're taking the systems and practices that we have in place that have been successful at our multi-family projects and bringing that to Skansie Pointe, the development in Gig Harbor. It's an opportunity to work with a product type that we hadn't before. The builder on the project is actually one of our sister companies, and they are a custom home builder. So we've taken all of that expertise in that area and applied it to the areas that we have expertise in. On the multi-family side and all of that customer service that goes along with it. It's an exciting project. And the response to it has been amazing.

Jered Lerum: Part of that is the housing market where the project is located. Inventory is very thin. Prices are very high because of that. And it's a sought-after area for folks to move to. And this gives an opportunity for people to experience not only the area, but single family home living, even if they're not able to come up with a down payment to purchase a home.

Nick Latz: Right.

Jered Lerum: Which I mean, a lot of folks find themselves in that. It's not the mortgage payment that's the issue, it's being able to get to that down payment. The other benefit that we do hear is that there's some extra perception of security. One of the things about multifamily is every tenant is screened, and everybody is screened the exact same way. And for that to be in a single family environment is not something that you... You always hear the adage, you can't pick your neighbors.

Nick Latz: Yeah. Well, you can at least screen them.

Jered Lerum: We screen them. And you don't have to worry about the 20 foot RV that is sitting in front of the house and that kind of thing.

Nick Latz: I like that.

Jered Lerum: Yeah.

Nick Latz: I've had some neighbors in the past that I wish were maybe screened.

Jered Lerum: Yeah.

Nick Latz: So that's interesting. It sounds like you've got a unique there, so that's great. We're looking forward to hearing more about that and seeing as you start to lease it up kind of what the lessons learned are from a service delivery perspective and from a resident experience perspective.

Nick Latz: So a final question here for you, Jered. Who are two other guests that you think would be good to invite onto this Resident Experience focused podcast?

Jered Lerum: Gosh. The first one that that comes to mind is Adam Everline. I've worked with Adam in the industry for, gosh, at least the last 12 years. And Adam and his group started a company a couple of years ago now, I think, that we've been working with them on the collection side. And the things that they've been able to do for operators is so drastically different than traditional collections. And his insight into the operational side of things, I think, is unique in that he's worked for a number of different companies in a number of different aspects, but knows everybody. So we all just talk to him. So he kind of becomes the sounding board for the industry. And just a killer product, but just a great guy in the industry. A second I'd have to think about. You've had some great folks on. I'd say you definitely need to have somebody from Mobile Doorman, but I think you've probably got that locked down.

Nick Latz: Fair enough. Okay, Adam Everline. So we will circle that one. That sounds like a good one. Well, Jered, this has been a great discussion. Appreciate your perspectives from an Edison point of view. And we got to dig deep on this one on the communication side, which I really like. So thanks so much for joining us today.

Jered Lerum: Thanks for having me.