AIM 2016 is all about improving the user experience of both prospects and residents. And what better way to learn exactly what your customers are experiencing and how they feel about it than a focus group?

The “Creating and Managing Focus Groups for Feedback” session, which will take place from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Monday, May 2, will feature a live multifamily focus group. Summer Austin, vice president of marketing for Camden Property Trust, also will walk the audience through the logistics of creating a compelling and successful focus group, and attendees will get the opportunity to ask actual renters the questions they’ve longed to get answers to.

In this Q&A, Austin discusses the value of focus groups, offers some general tips for conducting them and explains what she hopes attendees will take away from the session.

How often does Camden Property Trust conduct focus groups, and what to you is the biggest value of them? 

Austin: At Camden, we conduct co-creation workshops (our version of focus groups) every year. We focus on different topics depending on the needs that our operations and leadership teams see.

Two years ago, we asked our residents about their experience moving into a Camden community. Last year, we asked them to tell us what Camden can do to encourage them to renew their leases with us.

Although the focus may be different each time, the goal of really understanding what our customers want from us is consistent.

When you conduct them, are you more focused on gaining insight into your current residents or your prospects or both?

Austin: It is always good to get the perspective of prospects as well as residents. To be honest, prospects that haven’t leased with Camden are less likely to commit to being involved in a co-creation workshop because we haven’t been able to build that relationship with them yet. When we do get prospects to participate, the insight is invaluable.

What advice or tips would you have for a multifamily firm that may be hesitant to do a focus group because of the expense or other logistics?

Austin: Soliciting customer feedback does require time, energy and money since you will most likely need to incentivize your participants to give up their time to help you. I would encourage companies to set up a framework and a process that they can repeat year after year. That way, you can continue to get great data without recreating the wheel.

Any general tips for conducting great focus groups?

Austin: Include unsatisfied customers. Having people that love your company and everything you’re doing is a great ego boost, but to get actionable insight, you have to ask people who aren’t happy with the product or the service that they’ve received.

Also, really think about who your customers are and include those demographics in the groups. It may mean scheduling your sessions at night or on the weekend to attract people who work during the day. Be flexible so that you can maximize participation.

What about alternatives to traditional focus groups – what do those look like and might they offer greater value in terms of responses and cost savings?

Austin: Phone-based interviews can provide useful information. You want to keep the conversation focused on a narrow topic so that you can really understand what the resident is saying and what they are asking for.

If you’re looking to get information on a website or other technology, there are online tools that you can use to gauge the usability of that site or program. We’ve used that at Camden in the past and have made changes to our site when we saw that something didn’t make sense to the user.

What do you want attendees of your session to walk away with?

Austin: I would love for people to leave the session feeling empowered to try a focus group for the first time. Yes, it will take time and energy, but the insights you’ll get from your customers can lead to solutions you may not have thought of otherwise.

Be sure to register for AIM 2016, and book your hotel room.

To get a full grasp of AIM 2016 and its focus on improving the user experience of prospects and residents, dig into the complete schedule of sessions and workshopsAnd look for updates on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and about the conference, speakers and the annual AIM Video Awards.

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