How tech is driving the resident experience with Joe Easton
Technology and its continued advancement have provided the space for operators to focus on the end-user - the resident. But, what does this mean? Joe Easton from Rent Manager discusses what operators are doing today and how the way of the future is accommodating renters’ freedom of choice.
How are managers & owners prioritizing resident experience? [02:00]
- In the past it was a “want” but not as possible - now they have the ability to focus on it.
- Technology has enabled them to move beyond the day-to-day operations.
Technologies impact on operations [03:30]
- Automation is a huge driver and a broad spectrum - from communication to maintenance.
- Increase efficiency by getting the right message to the right person at the right time.
Is there an order of operation around tech, process, and execution? [08:00]
- Where you start depends on flexibility of areas.
- Greatest competitive advantage is the way that you choose to operate.
Major themes of COVID’s impact on operations? [09:30]
- 60 to 90 days after COVID hit was when the largest wave of “figuring it out” hit.
- This timeframe was operators utilizing tech better and placing weight on digital adoption.
- Back half of the year was when operators started adopting truly new technologies (for them).
Emerging trends for operators leaning into resident experience [13:00]
- Experiences tied to the initial resident interaction which sets the tone of the relationship.
- Tied to freedom of choice - how the resident chooses to interact with the property - from leasing to payment and beyond.
- Going the direction of the hospitality industry.
Renting is now a lifestyle [17:00]
- Requires you to think beyond amenities like pools and gyms.
- Long-term value and convenience, so start thinking about deliveries, sharing services, cleaning services, entertainment.
- This isn’t just Gen Z or an urban market trend. Retirees are moving to a renter lifestyle as well.
Next five years will see massive change [21:15]
- Started with smart home tech and will push much further.
- From better internet to shared workspace as an amenity and more.
- Look at communities that are more specialized and built around a specific renter segment.
Joe Easton is a technology aficionado, seasoned networker, and seeker of conversations that go beyond the surface. In his role at Rent Manager, he is focused on providing customers with the freedom of choice that’s delivered by the software’s ever-expanding Integrations Program. You can find Joe on the Beyond Rent Podcast or at an industry event near you!
Nick Latz: Joe, welcome to the show.
Joe Easton: Hi Nick. Thanks for having me.
Nick Latz: So, Joe, thanks for joining us today. Excited to hear a little bit about the beyond rent podcast. I know that you guys started this gosh last summer. And so you're several episodes into it, probably a farther, a little bit farther along than we are at the resident experience podcast. And so since you've been doing it, I'm curious, what are some general themes that have emerged?
Joe Easton: Yeah, yeah, you're right. We started at kind of the end of the summer of 2020. It was one of the projects we picked up during COVID-19 and it's been a lot of fun. It's been really interesting doing the podcast. We talk to all types of different operators. We talked to different experts and we talk a lot about technology. We talk a lot about how it's being used, how people are implementing it, but we don't always stick to technology. We talk about people's processes, how they're executing, um, and just because of the nature of where we're at with things right now, we end up talking a lot about COVID-19 the pandemic and how people are reacting to it.
Nick Latz: Gotcha. That makes sense. Technology process execution. That's actually, you know, very related and aligned with what we talk about. And then, you know, our podcast is the resonant experience. So we're probably a little bit more targeted around, around the resident experience. I'm curious, which of those general themes that you just mentioned, technology process execution, which one of those do you see intersect the most with this general concept of resident experience?
Joe Easton: Yeah. When it comes to the idea of resident experience, I really think technology has, you know, a hand-in-hand relationship with resident experience. Um, technology is so critical to what operators are doing right now in property management. And it's really, what's enabling them to kind of take that step, move forward and start offering better resident experiences.
Nick Latz: Yep. In that, in the operators that you speak with Joe, um, cause I know you spoke, spoken with a bunch of operators, a bunch of customers. How, how do you see managers? How do you see owners prioritizing the resident experience? Where do you think it lies in the overall kind of priority spectrum of all the things that owners and operators have to think about these days?
Joe Easton: You know, I think it's increasing in the priority. Uh, if you go back historically, I don't think it was on their radar. Um, I think for many people it was something that they would have liked to have done, but it just really wasn't possible. And again, kind of that same theme of technology enabling us to do more and more. I think it's moving up the chain of what's important. And I think there's a number of factors that are driving that. But I think just their ability to actually focus on it's a big one. They just never were able to do it before, because they were really involved in the process. The day-to-day the standard operating procedures of their business that having any time to focus on resident experience just wasn't a possibility.
Nick Latz: Yup. That makes sense. So you kind of said, okay, technology's helping, um, it's, it's helping to automate some things it's helping to drive kind of attention and focus and the ability to, to, to, you know, add more attention and focus. How, how do you see that though impacting the actual operations? Like where do you see the process efficiency coming into play to give operators more time?
Joe Easton: Yeah. Well, there's a number of things we could talk about there. Um, we can kind of dive into what that looks like. Um, I would say a big one as far as technology that's driving, the ability for operators to focus on resident experience is automation. Um, you know, I don't know if we want to dive all the way into that right now, but automation is a huge one. You know, when you take a look at how people use our resources, specifically their human resources, right? Uh, there's always a limitation of far as like what you can do, how you can do it. And automation is taking things off the plate of these operators so they can focus more time dealing with those high value situations, those high value conversations and situations that really help build their brand that help increase resonant experience where they can actually start putting new things in place instead of doing the same things they've always done. And that can be as simple as, you know, automating notifications - notifications that go out when a maintenance request is completed or something like that, uh, automatically getting late letters out. You know, if you go back historically folding letters and putting them into an envelope and mailing them, that was a huge deal. Now it's just a click of a button and it goes out via email, right? So that frees up our time, their time to really focus on experiences rather than tasks.
Nick Latz: Yeah. The aunt, the on-site operations job can be such a tough one, you know, and I know on, on our podcast and experience with customers, we hear that time and time again. And we kind of use this concept sometimes called the never ending checklist. And sometimes when I'm talking to operators, especially onsite operators about their day to day, it really seems that way because, um, you know, more so than a lot of jobs, they're Jack of so many traits and it can be, you know, heads and beds and, you know, driving, leasing and, and, and it's kind of the sales and marketing process. It can be all the things that go into communicating with residents and trying to provide that, that service and that information of what's going on in the property. Uh, it can be, you know, providing the friendly touch to talk with residents about, about their day, but there's, you know, there's probably 15 to 20 things. And, and one of the things that we just hear all the time is they're overwhelmed, right? The checklist is too long. You don't know where to start to get rid of some of it. Um, so you kinda touched on automation, communications and maintenance. Is that where you see the most opportunity for automation that communication and maintenance side, or are there others,
Joe Easton: You know, automation really can touch everything and yeah, the maintenance is really important. Uh, and really the communication tool is probably the best one, the best example. And what I like to really focus on is like, what communication can you take care of? Get off your checklist. Right? I like that never ending checklist idea. It's really true. It is never ending. So how do you fix that? How do you get those things off your checklist? Well, you start automating them and it can be, you know, both external and internal. And that's one thing that a lot of times, when we talk about resident experience, we are focused, I think on that external conversation, working with the renters, working with the residents, but how do you find the time to do that while sometimes you do it by getting really, really good in your operations, right?
Increasing those efficiencies, getting those messages to the right person at the right time. So they can take care of all of their tasks really, really quickly and get back to doing what matters most. Um, I would say another area, you know, you talked about different buckets or different areas of, of things that make sense to focus on leasing is another huge one. When it comes to automation, there are so many things that happen throughout the prospect life cycle, right? From prospect to resident, what does it take? There are so many little steps along the way. And how do you automate that? How do you get all of those little pieces taken care of without having someone on your team, pushing it along the entire time? You know, that's where automation is immensely valuable to speeding up that process and, and again, getting your team's hands off of all of it.
Nick Latz: Right, right, right. And I'm sure you've heard some good stories. Anecdotes, examples, you kind of mentioned at the top, Hey, you know, on, on, beyond rent, we talked about technology. We talk about process. We talk about execution. I'm curious. Um, based on your conversations, do you think there's a, an order of operations across those three, right? Like, do you start with the process and then go into the technology or do you start with the technology? What have you seen people doing?
Joe Easton: Yeah. Well, I see a lot of people doing it, uh, either way. And I think part of it is really driven by the technology you use. If the technology, you know, isn't flexible, isn't customizable, then you might have to start with your technology. Cause you don't really have a choice, but if your technology is flexible, then 100%, you should start with your process. You should figure out what it is. What's going to provide that best experience, what you want it to look like. Uh, one of the things I say all the time is one of your greatest competitive advantages is the way that you choose to operate. Right? That's what we're talking about. Right? So creating your own unique processes to operate your business, to what you think is optimal for the best resonant experience, the best NOI, you know, any, any one of the metrics that you're trying to track, you figured that out first, and then you start applying the technology to it, automating where you can, you know, getting things, set up processes, whether it's online or whatever it might look like to take that process and make it as technical switching focus as you can.
Nick Latz: Right. Got it. That makes sense. And you also mentioned, uh COVID you know, which is, which is top of mind for everybody. We, we talk about that a lot with our customers. Have you seen, COVID had an impact on property operations over the last 12 months? What are the major themes you've seen?
Joe Easton: Yeah, it's been a crazy year and you know, I would say the first 60 to 90 days after COVID hit, uh, specifically I think for a lot of people that was the time that you're trying to figure out what this looked like, figure out what you're going to do. And technology was a great resource. And one of the things that we learned really quickly were that companies that were using technology that were automating, that were already focused on resident experience actually made it through the past year, easier than others. Um, if you were kind of in that other bucket where you didn't have all the right technology in place, or maybe you had an automated or you were kind of not even maybe doing things online yet, those are the companies that really had to like turn up the pressure and really start implementing those things quickly.
Um, on our side of rent manager, there 100% was a huge spike and people signing up for online payments, online, leasing, online portals, all of those tools, you know, we saw a big increase right away because these operators realized they had to have technology if they're going to make it through this pandemic. Um, so that adoption was huge and I think it's great. And we all know once you have have technology in place, what's your using those tools. You can never go backwards at that point. They're just too valuable. They're too important to how you operate. Um, so, you know, if there's a silver lining to a pandemic, I think that's kind of, one of them is that a lot of operators finally were able to move forward with regard technology.
Nick Latz: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So that's, that's interesting. I'm sure that you guys are rent manager had a really good kind of visibility into, uh, how, how folks were thinking about their operations, right. And, and what became critical and, and where the focus areas were. And so I'm curious about that. Did you see, you know, over the last 12 months you mentioned, Hey, people focus more on leasing and adopting those modules, payments, et cetera. Did you see, uh, I guess the digitization of, of their operations increase or did you see net new customers on the platform? And I guess saying that differently, did you see rent manager, customers using more of the platform over the last 12 months? Or did you see more of, Hey, we had customers that never use anything on rent manager before coming onto the platform for the first time? What was,
Joe Easton: Yeah, well, I would break it in two kind of different timeframes that first 60 to 90 days was 100% current customers utilizing software better and, and more digitized weighs 100%. The first 90 days, there are still some people coming onto our platform, but there was a slowdown there, like you would probably anticipate, you know, during a pandemic. Um, and then towards the back half of the year, that's when we really started seeing net new, right. A lot more operators coming around, they made it through the initial storm, doing whatever they had in place. And they told themselves, we're not gonna do that again to ourselves because it may not be a pandemic, but if there's any disruption of business in the future, we know we need technology. So we did started seeing a lot more net new customers towards the end of the year kind of saying that like we need technology and the pandemic was proof of it.
Nick Latz: Got it. That makes sense. And, uh, and you said something there that, that resonated with me earlier in that, Hey, people have spoken focused on these processes. People have focused on the resident experience over the last 12 months, and as they've innovated on their processes, they've enhanced their processes. They've further adopted technology. They're probably not going backwards. Right. So what do you see as the future? What do you see as some emerging trends for these operators that have leaned into the resident experience and focused on it?
Joe Easton: Yeah, I do. I think, uh, once you have something you can't go backwards, it's like anything personal business wise. Once you have something that makes life easier, you can't go backwards. Um, and I do think resonant experience is going to be one of these things. That's a key focal point, and I'm really glad you guys have this podcast focused on it, you know? Cause when you look at property management years and years ago, we all just really focus on internal processes because that's really all we could really control because everything was so labor intensive, but technology changes that. So we don't just focus on our own operations. We don't just focus on like the owner experience. If you're a third party, you know, tech really empowers us to focus on the user, the end user, the product. Uh, so I do think that's, what's going to keep moving forward and technology again is that piece that enables this even happen.
And I think there's a lot of things that are going to change. And I think there's a lot of things that will continue to kind of shift, but you know, specific areas that I think are really, really valuable, um, are probably tied a lot to that initial interaction with the resident in the beginning, part of their resident life cycle, the, the leasing process and how they interact with you upfront. Uh, we all know that your initial re you know, interaction with a person or a business, you know, that sets the tone. You can't make a second first impression. And younger generations are really going to demand a different type of experience. So they're going to want to see self showing or virtual tour options. They're going to expect your leasing process and your payments to be online. And if you're not offering those things, they may move on simply because you're kind of a touch behind where other people are offering these things in the, in their space, because more and more people are kind of demanding this, this idea of freedom of choice and how they, how they approach the services that use.
And it's something we talk about a lot on our side. We believe that property managers should operate the way they want, right? They should have that freedom of choice to do that. But now the resident's expect that too. So they want to be able to lease the way they want. They want to be able to, uh, view the or view the, uh, the property and the apartment when they want, they want to be able to pay when they want to pay and how they want to pay. They want all the choice. And we see that in every aspect of our life, when it comes to how and where we stream content like Netflix versus Hulu, versus how many choices we have to eat. And now we don't even have to go get the food. They'll bring it right to us. No matter what restaurant it is, freedom of choice is like just a staple to our culture. And I think property management industry specifically, while it was a little slower to adopt technology years ago, I think we're going to be really quick in adopting this idea of Fred's in an experience through the freedom of choice.
Nick Latz: Yeah. That's super interesting. And you mentioned, um, you know, food and services I'd throw in there like grocery stores, which are starting to adapt their business models. You know, the lodging industry, the hospitality industry, which is maybe a little bit further along than, than the rental industry, right? Because they have, you know, single day leases so people can, can opt out daily versus versus annually where, and, you know, the car rental industry is one. I talk about a lot, which is focused more on, you know, the, in customer, we're seeing this all the time in, uh, in different industries. Where, where do you think the rental industry is versus some of those customer service leaders? Or where do you think it is right now? And if you don't focus on the resident experience right now, if it, if it isn't a differentiator, do you think we're at that point in the rental industry where it's, where it's hurting owners, are they losing business yet? Or is that something we're predicting is going to happen in the future?
Joe Easton: I don't think you're losing business yet, but I think we're on the cusp of it. I think it's coming really, really fast. And I think that's just how technology works, right? It moves so quickly that if you, aren't trying to keep up, you fall behind a lot faster than you think you will. And I like that you brought up hospitality because I think that's the direction we're headed. And again, you're right. We're not there yet. And it's a slightly different business model, but, but I think we're headed there. And one of the things that I like to talk about when it comes, especially the multifamily, which I know is that the focus of this podcast specifically is historically renting was kind of just what people did, right? But a lot of people had aspirations of owning, right? That was like the American dream to own a home.
The mind set has kind of shifted, especially again, younger generations renting can now be a lifestyle. It can be permanent choice. And for that are renting term, they want the best experience. They're going to want something that's closer to what hospitality offers. And we can talk about amenities like gyms and pools and clubhouses. But we have to think even beyond that, at this point, we need to think about package delivery. We have to think about that food delivery, ride, sharing services, cleaning services, how they get things like internet in an entertainment. Like all of these things are gonna matter to them because they want to live in a community that has culture. They want to live in a community where everyone is deciding to have that kind of lifestyle. They're not renting there temporarily. Right? This is probably a long-term play for a lot of these people and they want to be treated that way. They don't want it to seem like this is temporary housing while they wait to buy a home. Nope. For a lot of these people, this is their long-term choice.
Nick Latz: Yeah. Super interesting. And, and kind of this lifestyle renter concept that you talked about, do you see that being more common in certain, uh, demographics, whether that's urban versus suburban or, you know, gen Z versus millennial, what are the trends you see there?
Joe Easton: You know, the younger you go absolutely. 100%. I think you're seeing that. Um, and I think there's a number of things that are going to drive that, um, right now we're seeing unprecedented, um, home values, right? The increase in home values of the last year. I think it's making it harder than ever to purchase. Uh, but again, I just think this service industry idea and experience is really driving gen Z specifically to want to have that lifestyle renter. But if you look at a lot of the data, it's not just those people and it's not just urban, there's people all over the place of different demographics. They're even saying people now, as they are looking towards retirement are actually looking to sell off their homes earlier and consider renting instead of owning a home late into their lives, because it becomes a better experience for them, right. They want to have time relaxing in their retirement. They don't want to take care of a home. So it's kind of, we kind of like bookends right now. And I think in, in demographics, definitely younger generations are going to drive this forward. They're going to drive the technology forward. But I think we will see some older generations kind of take advantage of this renter lifestyle as a choice as well.
Nick Latz: Got it. Yeah. That's interesting with the, with the, with the two bookends, like you mentioned, younger, older, and probably a bunch of use cases in the middle as well. So for this renter lifestyle, this kind of lifestyle renter concept that you've mentioned, uh, you mentioned convenience as being important. You've, you've mentioned the proliferation of these services, right? Like packages, uh, like food delivery. Are there any other amenities or services that you think are increasingly important to deliver on this value proposition of the lifestyle renter?
Joe Easton: Yeah. I think a lot of it is going to be driven by this whole smart home. Uh, you know, I don't want to say it's a trend because it's been around for a while and we know it's going to stick around, but I don't know if we even know how far it's going to go, but I think that's going to be one of those things. That's going to be just commonplace where you're gonna be able to access your, your property in your specific home, your unit, via your, probably your smartphone, maybe other technology you're gonna be able to control more in your apartment. It's all going to kind of just be built in. It's going to start making a lot more sense and they're going to come to expect that. So I think that's a big amenity that people are going to be looking for.
I would say, in the near future, right? The next like five years, I think that's gonna be really, really big, you know, when it goes beyond that, I think we have to look at the past year and look, the things that have changed in the amount of work from home opportunities that are occurring right now. And so I think renters are also going to look for amenities that fit that as well. So it might be shared workspaces, you know, instead of a clubhouse, maybe you've got shared workspaces that people can, you know, schedule time to spend in, instead of working out of their apartment, um, maybe a higher end internet. There's all of these things that kind of support these people that are working from home. Maybe you're gonna see a lot more people wanting more square footage because now they need a dedicated at home office. Uh, so I think those are gonna be some of the things that you're going to see, people start to request. And I think it's going to take a while to catch on though and, and catch up. So I think that's a little bit further out than the smart home stuff. I think that's actually going to come really fast for us.
Nick Latz: Yeah. As you said that I started thinking about, you know, what, one of the things that you can see to enable all this is increased understanding of the end customer over time within multifamily, right? Cause if you go back, I think you, you mentioned Netflix and we mentioned Amazon and some of the grocery stores. And I think one of the things you see in these B to C companies that, that have been kind of leading over the real estate industry is segmentation of customers. Right. And understanding all these different customer segments and what their needs are and what their personas are and what their use cases are. And as you kind of talked about shared workspaces and, you know, you talked about smart functionality. The thing that I was thinking about is, okay, this probably doesn't apply to everybody at once. Right? And not every renter is probably a leading adopter of this and not every renter is probably willing to pay more for this. And you probably shouldn't go retrofit all your buildings. Right. Right now. So that half the space is shared workspace, but there's going to be certain segments that want that. And there's going to be certain segments that want other things, right. And so one of the trends that I could see happening over time is just more understanding, more research on in residents and what their needs wants and aspirations are and the building of, of multi-family product. And then more importantly, multifamily service and technology on top of that product, the play to these different segments.
Joe Easton: Yeah. The segmentation is really interesting and it really speaks directly to that concept of freedom of choice, right. You know, people are going to want different things. And if you could just have one option, one opportunity it's not going to meet everyone's needs. And your example of grocery is spot on. I don't think there's, I mean, most grocery stores already had, you know, maybe some type of delivery or curbside pickup or online, there were things that were already in play. But again, you were wine a year ago and that got accelerated and I'm telling you right now, people aren't going to go back. People that decided curbside pickup for grocery was their preferred method are going to keep doing it. People that liked it delivered to their home, they're going to keep doing that. And those people that still went into the store to pick out the bananas that they wanted are still going to keep doing that. So these grocery stores have to accommodate all of those options now, and property managers are going to have to accommodate all of the options that the renters want. Um, it's going to be more complicated, but it's going to be a better experiencing end. And those that figure out how to do that are going to be the big winners.
Nick Latz: And yeah, I think you're right. And, and it's going to force specialization. Right. And I think more and more, you'll say, Hey, not every community or not every multifamily product is supposed to be a fit for every renter. So I think that's, I think that's super interesting
Joe Easton: Have that are designed specifically for like the work from home type Renner and they even market it that way. Like, Hey, if you work from home, we've got all the amenities you're looking for. If you don't work from home and you have these other needs, we may not be the right property for you. Right. I think that's a great point,
Nick Latz: Right? Yep. I can tell you what, we've got three young kids in our house. Um, and we started getting groceries delivered doing COVID we're, we're definitely never going back. It's, it's just the a is going to the grocery store and it's, it's dealing with the logistics of bringing the kids in there is tough and I'll pay the 20 extra dollars and not go through that on my Saturday morning.
Joe Easton: It's funny. So I've got three kids, but our youngest is 11. So our situation is different where going to the grocery store, we list leave the kids at home and we get away from the kids for an hour or so where you're the opposite, right. Bringing the kids with you is a bad experience. So again, we're kind of opposite ends of that spectrum where it's a better experience for me to go. And that's a better experience for you to have delivery.
Nick Latz: Yep. Okay. Joe, final question for you here, um, who is another guest that you think we should invite onto the resident experience podcast? Oh, great question.
Joe Easton: Obviously you always got to have new and exciting and fun guests. Um, I'm actually have a couple suggestions for you. Uh, one specifically, because I'm going to kind of promote our podcast. Again, we just released an episode with, um, Abby Wasserman. Uh, she works for a show mojo. They're a leasing automation provider and we talked all about the prospect experience and how to make that better. Um, so we talked a little bit about that today, as far as kind of digging in and talk about like what happens before somebody is a resonant cause that's the start of the, the life cycle. Uh, she's got a lot of great things to say about that, the experience, the other person, uh, they're one of our customers, Nicole shook, uh, she's uh, the operations manager for Eagle rock and they are phenomenal at leveraging automation tools for the benefit of efficiency operations. But most importantly, the resident experience, right. They're really good at keeping communication flowing with their resident. They're all up to date and they use a lot of technology to make it happen. So I think both those people would have a lot of great things to say about resident expense.
Nick Latz: Oh, those two, two great ideas. And I think you're right. We've, uh, we've talked to Nicole before and they run a tight ship over there at, uh, at Eagle rock. So that's a good one. You do. Okay. Thanks, Joe. This has been a fantastic conversation. Love to get your insights on here, around some of the themes that you're seeing on beyond rent and thanks so much for joining us today. Yeah. Thanks Nick. It was a lot of fun.