“We want to ensure our residents feel safe at the place they call home.” That’s what Eric Rodriguez, VP of Operations at Real Estate startup Common says when sharing how they help renters navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New York City-based startup serves the coliving market with more than 2,000 residents in seven major urban markets across the U.S. They use technology to better serve existing customers (called members) and help others in their communities, all while keeping employees safe.
As a small business, Eric and his team have had to adapt their business model and use technology to help them do so. “Being flexible and moving fast is key for small businesses during this crazy time,” Rodriguez said.
Here are three ways they are doing exactly that:
Common is adapting its business practices to offer more flexibility to its members facing financial hardships, and to support the greater community. They offer new payment and rental assistance programs, match charitable giving, and extend a host of benefits and incentives to medical professionals and displaced college students in need of housing.
One of the biggest changes Common has instituted may foretell a lasting trend: they’ve shifted to virtual tours of their apartments. Not only is it the safe thing to do, it also drives business. Common says virtual tours increased by 66% in the first two weeks after the change, to an average of 50 a day. They’re converting those leads, too: almost 30% of Common renters applied for an apartment after taking a virtual tour.
“Our leasing operations were built to be completely digital in every aspect, so moving to solely virtual touring has been easy for us,” Rodriguez said. “Many of our current residents chose Common because they were coming from other states or countries, and needed something they could tour from the comfort of their couches. Even after the pandemic subsides, I think many of these virtual and automated operational elements will remain meaningful to prospective renters and members alike.”
Georgia Flaum, Common’s Director of Member Experience, took to LinkedIn to detail how her team is adapting to better serve members while following physical distancing and other safety protocols. While some of these measures are specific to the real estate industry, most of them can be applied — or, at the least, provide inspiration — to almost any small business.
Digital technology is well-suited to serving customers when face-to-face interactions aren’t possible. For example, Flaum’s team built a custom form in Salesforce to help members log issues more quickly. The system, in turn, facilitates faster routing of issues to the right people to resolve them.
Common also changed the messaging in their email responses to reflect changes brought about by new safety protocols. All move-in and move-out correspondence is now completely virtual, as well, and managed through Salesforce.
Even in an industry built around physical locations, digital tools can help foster community. A few of Common’s ideas translate to almost any business. To start, they launched a new weekly newsletter to keep members updated. Community is key to Common’s value proposition to members, and regular in-person events have been a big part of that. Rather than cancel events, they’ve shifted them online. Flaum says they’ve been able to maintain community digitally through events like online cocktail crafting, cooking, and knitting classes, and even a virtual dance party.
A key to making virtual events successful is interactivity. Flaum says they work with vendors to deliver supply kits (yarn for knitting, ingredients for cooking, etc.) to members ahead of online classes. Her team also instituted an online feedback loop that lets members suggest ideas for future events.
Rodriguez added that making events completely virtual has allowed their residents to connect with, not just the people in their buildings but, “Common members all over the country.” “While our previous events we’re typically region-specific, we’re now choosing activities that appeal to everyone no matter where you live. We will definitely continue putting them on post-outbreak.”
Common’s business practices aren’t the only part of their operation they’ve adapted to the challenges of COVID-19. Their members are showing resilience too.
Contrary to what you might think, Common hasn’t seen a rise in roommate dispute tickets since shelter-in-place and similar measures went into effect. “They’ve actually gone down in some markets,” Flaum said. “Tickets usually arise from lack of communication. People being home and together may be leading to increased communication and conflict resolution.” How’s that for a silver lining? All of this closeness might actually be helping people get along.
Learn more about how Common is reimagining the urban real estate market in their customer story and watch the video below.
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