Is it possible to give happiness to your customers? And, how does your approach to business make your customers feel? 

Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, renowned author and an expert in what it takes to forge meaningful, unforgettable experiences for customers, will be joining us to share, inspire and promote change at AIM 2016. 

The co-author of “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending,” Dunn is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. She has focused a great deal of her work on a couple of key questions: Is it possible to give happiness to your customers? And, how does your approach to business make your customers feel? Her research has been featured in hundreds of media outlets around the world, including The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The London Times, Maclean’s, Time and CNN.

Dunn’s keynote remarks will close AIM on Wednesday, May 4, from 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. In this Q&A, Dunn previews her keynote presentation and discusses what lessons her research may hold for the multifamily industry.

For those readers and attendees who may be unfamiliar with your work, give us a quick summary of the topics on which you have focused your research and writing. Has your work addressed apartment renters in any way?

Dunn: I run a place called the Happy Lab, where we use the tools of science to figure out what really matters for human well-being. A lot of our research has focused on money and happiness, and we’ve shown that how people spend their money may matter more than how much of it they’ve got.

Although we haven’t focused directly on apartment renters, our research suggests that people may be able to get more happiness out of their apartments by re-thinking how they use their housing budget. For example, rather than splurging on a spacious apartment with a newly remodeled kitchen and bathrooms, people may be happier living in a more affordable building that offers a strong sense of community.

What are some examples of companies that you feel really understand the relationship between happiness and money, and tailor their outreach to consumers accordingly? What lessons can the apartment industry learn from these firms, considering rent is typically someone’s greatest monthly expense?

Dunn: TripAdvisor and Virgin Galactic are two companies that have a sophisticated understanding of consumers’ happiness. Although both companies are in the leisure market, their work can be harnessed by marketers to improve consumers’ happiness with their non-discretionary spending.

Most people think of TripAdvisor as a useful source of information for planning a trip. But it turns out that 20 percent of users return to the site after booking everything for their trip—they come to read and re-read all the details of the hotel, restaurant, spa, or other attraction that they’ll be visiting. And research suggests that providing people with access to these sorts of appealing details ahead of time can actually increase their enjoyment of the amenities once they arrive. These details can also sustain people through long waiting periods.

Virgin Galactic is selling something that doesn’t quite exist yet: trips to space. But they’ve harnessed the power of anticipation to keep their clients happy in the meantime. These examples underscore how the information that marketers provide to prospective renters can increase their contentment while waiting for a place to become available—and can potentially even alter their enjoyment after moving in.

Give us a brief preview of your AIM presentation, and what do you want the audience to take away from your remarks?

Dunn: I’ll be describing several research-based principles that can be readily applied to help people get the most happiness from their money. Although these are broad principles that can be utilized by individual consumers and marketers across diverse industries, they have interesting implications for apartment marketing.

For example, one of the key principles is “Buy Experiences.” That is, people consistently derive more happiness from spending money on experiences (like trips and special meals) than on material things (like couches and flat-screen TV’s). This suggests that the physical characteristics of an apartment—which people tend to focus on when deciding where to live—may actually matter less than the experiences the apartment enables them to have (e.g., cocktail parties, backyard barbecues). People typically think of an apartment as a material thing, but encouraging them to think of it in terms of the experiences that it provides can actually enhance their satisfaction with it.

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