Graham Gilbert: For the Best Buzz (and Efficiency) Outfit Your Property with a Mobile App

by Scott Reid

The proliferation of amenities in student housing is well documented. New developments are delivering incredible physical and technological features that make working professionals jealous. The best amenity, however, may be a piece of technology student residents already have: their smartphones.

Students want to use their phones for everything – except for talking to other people, of course. Making the smartphone central to the resident experience engages students, which leads to happier tenants and greater efficiency in the building.

How can managers do this? Provide residents with a mobile app to handle all their property-related needs. This is the technology students want. A study by Purdue University reported that 70 percent of students find apps faster and easier to use than the mobile web browser on their phone for tasks. Furthermore, not only do students want an app, if you give them the features they want they will actually use it.

Struggling with Social Media? Offer It to Your Residents

For example, harnessing social media is a challenge shared by all property managers. With an app specifically designed for a property, managers can provide residents with their own unique social network through a virtual community board. For the students, it’s a social tool – they can discuss jobs, organize outings, make friends, and, yes, occasionally complain about the manager. It’s a hyper-local, resident-to-resident (R2R) social network within your property.

The virtual community board is not just a social network, it provides an opportunity for managers to learn about improvements to make. Are residents complaining about it being too hot? Send a message to let them know how to use the thermostat or how the heating system works. Did someone post about needing to borrow a wrench? The manager can lend her one.

The manager can leverage the insights gained through this particular social medium and use them to improve the overall living experience. In one building we work with, there have been more than 200 posts since fall move-in, which translates to a ton of information and actionable feedback for the manager.

Communicating via an App Solves the Package Problem and More

The glut of packages that arrives every day is familiar – and a headache to managers. Currently residents are notified through all sorts of channels: e-mails, texts, hand-written notes, and more. These are good solutions but don’t always leave the package pickup top of mind for the student.

Managers, of course, want residents to get their packages at the first opportunity. With a dedicated property app, when packages are logged by the staff, a notice is sent to the resident via the app just as when they get a “like” on Instagram or a new follower on Twitter. In the student properties with our apps, around 95 percent of packages are picked up within 24 hours of delivery.

Furthermore, an app can be used for important messaging besides package delivery. Imagine a hot water heater unexpectedly breaks at 9 p.m. just as residents are returning from dinner or the gym and looking to take a shower. By alerting them via the app, they will know instantly and be able to adjust plans accordingly. Or at the very least, residents know the manager is aware of the problem and trying to fix it.

As a result of the good communication, residents will gain a favorable impression of the manager. In turn, while they may be annoyed that they had to wait to take a shower, they can show friends in other properties just how responsive management is. The impact on word-of-mouth marketing should not be underestimated.

Special Deals for Your Special Students on a Virtual VIP Card

Speaking of marketing, local services such as restaurants and shops love students’ business and use incentives to attract them. Managers can use an app to broadcast and organize deals they procure for their residents. Thanks to the technology, it’s easy to create one-time (“buy before November 15!”) or on-going offers (“10 percent off for Northwest Lofts residents at Joe’s Pizza!”).

Residents will appreciate having the deals in an easy-to-find location on their phone and in a format the merchant will quickly recognize. What’s more, managers can see which coupons are actually being used and adjust their VIP card accordingly thus providing residents with the most relevant offers.

Maintenance Goes Mobile

The smartphone app will also be a tool for residents to take care of basic tasks such as maintenance and payments. With service requests, residents will be more inclined to actually log a problem because it’s easy to do via the app – they can even take pictures on their phone and submit them so the manager can see exactly what the problem is. Consequently, managers are alerted to problems before they get out of hand and cause further damage to the property.

A Must-have Amenity

With their infinity pools, state-of-the-art fitness centers, and supersonic internet speed, student properties generate plenty of buzz and attract prospective residents in droves. Nevertheless, the living experience still depends heavily on the communication between management and tenant. With an app, managers will ensure contact with residents remains strong. As a result, students will spread the word about their positive experience by telling (or tweeting or texting…) their friends.

 — Graham Gilbert is the co-founder of Mobile Doorman, a company that provides customized smartphone apps to multifamily properties.

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