Joseph Batdorf is CEO at J Turner Research, a Houston-based company that tracks customer service and resident satisfaction scores for multifamily clients nationwide. Founded in 2003, the company gathers information from prospective and current residents about their attitudes, traffic sources, satisfaction levels and management in order to establish benchmarking tools to identify property strengths and weaknesses.

Just recently, the firm entered an agreement with Paradigm Properties, a market-rate multifamily and student housing owner and operator, to measure prospective and current resident perceptions through a Web-enabled survey program. In the first of a two-part series, talks to Batdorf about the science of market research. Why is it important for managers and owners to “take residents’ temperature” on a regular and frequent basis?

Batdorf: Customer service has become something of a buzz word in the multifamily industry. We frequently see owner/operators claim to deliver the best customer service to their residents, but without actually measuring it on a consistent basis, it is nothing more than a hollow promise. To truly provide good customer service companies need to measure it, train for it and pay incentives to staff. Taking the pulse of prospective and current residents using quantitative survey methods enables an owner or operator to gain frequent and unbiased insight into the attitudes and perceptions of their target audience. The feedback can then be utilized to recognize trends and adjust operations and marketing, improve training for staff and deliver requested amenities etc., to successfully improve occupancy and profitability. You say apartment community management firms can affect three primary behaviors once residents have moved into a community. Can you elaborate on this and explain how management and on site staff can influence these behaviors?

Batdorf: Management can affect three resident behaviors: the length of the resident’s stay, getting residents to refer other residents and encouraging brand loyalty. Extending a resident’s length of stay as long as possible at a property reduces turnover and the associated costs. However, there are numerous cases where residents are extremely satisfied yet will move anyway. For example, a resident that is transferred to another job in another town may be very satisfied with the community experience yet must move. Hopefully, the experience at your property was strong enough for the resident to consider your “brand” in the new town and refer their friends and family to your community.

Good customer service affects these behaviors and is a defining factor in the health of an apartment community’s success; because it has a direct affect on these critical behaviors. Management firms who value customer service measure it objectively so they can effectively improve satisfaction levels. Recognizing the needs of its residents and incorporating procedures to meet those demands can improve the resident’s perception of the community’s customer service. These three factors are the backbone to a community’s occupancy and profitability. It is an accepted fact that customer service is important. But some also say customer service measurement is expensive and cumbersome. Is that latter part of the equation just a myth?

Batdorf: The services offered by J Turner Research cost $75 a month per property and provides easy to understand real time reporting for all levels of management. By utilizing a third-party research firm specializing in the multifamily industry, owners gain the expertise to develop, manage and execute an ongoing survey program capable of delivering the results they seek immediately.

Without market research experience, measuring customer service can be a cumbersome and expensive process which burdens staff and yields very little valuable data from residents or prospects. Several factors can affect measurement: residents may fear repercussion if they answer an owner-developed survey honestly, so the results can inadvertently be biased when the staff analyzes the data, the surveys may not ask the right questions, etc. The most valuable and actionable information is gathered most effectively when customer service measurement is left to experts in the field.