Q&A With Cortland’s Chief Experience Officer Mike Gomes
Before the coronavirus pandemic, residents at apartment communities socialized at the pool, gym or in other tenant amenity areas. Now, to fill the gaps, some apartment operators have shifted to incorporating more virtual engagements between residents.
We caught up with Mike Gomes, chief experience officer at Cortland, to chat about how they are implementing creative ideas to elevate tenant experiences during the reopening phase of the pandemic. Gomes has previously spent time on the executive team at AMB Sports and Entertainment, the organization that owns the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and Atlanta United of the MLS.
Q. Tell me about what a successful virtual engagement strategy looks like? How can it help retention and leasing?
A. Engagement with both future residents and current residents has always had non-in-person interactions. The prospect engages with your website; talks with a community team member via phone; exchanges emails with questions or to secure a specific apartment and move-in date, and applies for a lease online. For residents, they already pay rent and submit service requests through digital channels, and they might contact the office via email with a question. Those engagements are just as important to the overall experience as any in-person engagement might be for taking a tour, visiting the office or moving in. If the resident or prospective resident feels we are responsive to them and we treat them as individuals, then they will be more inclined to lease with us and want to remain with us.
That is why we developed a digital transformation vision. And starting last year we built a completely new website platform for all of our communities, added more self-service tools for prospects and began rolling out a new prospect management CRM system to better serve those people interested in living in a Cortland apartment home. Those upgrades and enhancements positioned us well to deal with the recent lockdown.
Q. Is it possible to completely replace physical engagement with virtual engagement at multifamily properties, or do you plan on eventually returning to old-fashioned physical engagement strategies?
A. It may be possible, but I don’t know if that’s what consumers want. I read an article recently about changes being made across the hotel industry – no valet service, no bell service, no buffet breakfast, no in-room coffee machines, virtual check-ins that eliminate the need to go to the front desk and no in-room housekeeping during your stay. While some of those changes won’t be noticed or may even be welcomed by consumers, the experience itself has been diminished and the service you pay for when staying at a hotel has lost some of its distinction. So, there are risks there to be mindful of.
Q. Can you give a few examples on how some of your communities across the portfolio are implementing a digital-physical fusion?
A.We have worked with RealPage for several months now to enhance the experience for residents through its Active Building portal, and this month, we’re converting our portfolio over to what we call “Cortland+.” It may not be where I’d like it to be yet from a UX standpoint, but it’s a significant improvement over what we had used, as it provides more self-service capabilities for residents. By thinking of the portal as the residents’ digital companion to their living experience, as opposed to a commerce vehicle, you can create a rich experience the residents can trust and rely on. Paying rent and submitting a service request are base table stakes. Having a mobile app that is contextually relevant based on who uses it and when it is in their resident lifecycle is what we expect from our digital tools today. But, as we work to get there, we can still use the app to plan and communicate physical or virtual events, provide a variety of services and perks to residents, and allow them to secure a parking pass or reserve a parking spot or garage from us with just a couple of steps.
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