As a coliving operator, you typically provide a combination of affordability, community, and convenience. Depending on your model and location, sometimes one element is more important or visible than others. For example, in expensive global cities like New York, London or Hong Kong, affordability is the first thing that comes to mind. However, even in those expensive cities, community and convenience are big factors in the equation. Successful operators have done a great job establishing their brands as leaders in all these three — think of your favorite coliving brand if you want an example.
Good customer experience > convenience
Convenience in coliving is about making it easy for prospects to find a new home, have all the information at their fingertips to make decisions, move in seamlessly and enjoy the stay and the company, and move out in a frictionless fashion.
Convenience is not an absolute value, it’s often measured as a comparison. In the case of coliving, it’s measured as the comparison with the conventional home searching process (and the global nature of the business makes it so that prospects will make this comparison both against the local conventional home searching and a “global standard” for home searching). Luckily, coliving as an option itself is more convenient than the conventional rental process:
- If you want to live for six months in a city where normally the rental contracts are two years, coliving provides convenience by giving you flexible terms.
- If landlords require 12 months of rent upfront from foreigners or want a local to sign a lease, coliving provides convenience by “financing” you and guaranteeing for you.
- If the typical process involves the extensive use of real estate agents and many in person viewings, having all the information about the homes online, with a simple user interface, rich descriptions, and professional photos, coliving provides convenience by making the search process more efficient.
These are all examples of convenience intrinsic in coliving, as an alternative to conventional renting. All coliving operators provide this, by definition.
To be a successful operator however, you need to provide more than this intrinsic value, you need to create a superior customer experience. That is the convenience intrinsic to the coliving model, plus an explicit effort to remove all friction at all stages of the coliving customer journey.
Superior customer experience through the customer journey
The most successful coliving operators have improved all aspects of the journey that a coliving prospect goes through, end-to-end, from when they start to research coliving as an option until when they move out. Here we make a list of some best practices at each step of the customer journey.
While searching for a new home, a great customer experience comes in the form of a rich listing (on the coliving operator own website or on third party listing services). A “rich listing” means:
- Complete information and details about the home, the rooms, the amenities, and the neighbourhood (including also a map and landmarks).
- Professional pictures of the space and possibly virtual tours, to be able to get a great sense for the place.
- Real time availability of homes, rooms, beds, …
- Detailed pricing (with what’s included and how the duration of the stay may change it).
- Info about potential housemates
While some operators do this well, there are still many that lack some of these elements. This list does not look particularly complex, but it requires a good integration between the CMS (Content Management System) and the PMS (Product Management System) to be able to bring all the relevant info to the frontend. Too many (smaller and larger) operators still have a standalone CMS, which needs manual updating every time that there is a change in facilities, a move-in or a move-out. The operators specialising in apartments across many locations, rather than buildings, seem to have done a better job here. Some examples of operators doing particularly well include:
Listing services, like Anyplace.com and Coliving.com also do this well (it’s their job, no surprise here) as long as the operators have processes and tools in place to keep them updated. Additionally, these provide a level of consistency across all the operators listed with them, to the level of that “global standard” that I mentioned above.
Once a prospect has researched a few options, they are moving on to the next phase, which eventually ends with their decision to move (or not) into your coliving home. At this stage, a great customer experience translates into easy interactions between the prospect and the operator, and specifically:
- Having the ability to communicate through the channel of choice of the prospect (for example phone, email, chat, WhatsApp or another channel), with prompt and informative exchanges.
- Finding clear and exhaustive answers now, and avoiding surprises later. What are the house rules, what is expected of prospects as members of the community, is this really an all-inclusive option or are there caps (many operators here in Singapore have separate utility charges or even maintenance fees, but it’s not clear to prospects, who may be thinking of coliving as all-inclusive). Good and exhaustive FAQs are the basis for a good experience here! CommonTown in Singapore has nice and clear FAQs, not only on a standalone page, but also at the bottom of every listing — see this example here.
- Being able to schedule (and reschedule) viewings online, if they are doing an on site viewing.
- Receiving clear information about the screening and matching process, having information about the housemates of a specific home they have chosen, and even having the option to meet them through the final steps of the decision process.
- Last but not least, reviews available online, through trusted third parties (Google or Facebook, typically).
Do you want to excel at this stage?
- Ensure that your technology platform (mainly the CRM) can create a consistent and informed experience through a tight integration with the CMS. Having more information available through your platforms and being able to share this data upfront helps. Doing this consistently prospect after prospect helps to seal the deal.
- Build your “customer advocacy” programs and tools, to get the current members more involved in this stage of the customer journey. Authenticity is more effective than anything else when it comes to personal decisions like a new home!
A great customer experience at this stage comes in many forms:
- From convenient tools (again!) such as electronic signatures for the lease agreement and any other documents, as well as automated and consistent communication (for example with an email introduction to the community manager, and a calendar picker to grab a time for a coffee together).
- Product customization, which can be as simple as name tags on doors or go as far as giving the ability to choose the furniture they want for their new homes (for example, through furniture rental plans)
- Building/home space, including the access to the coliving space. While this alone won’t get you a 5-star rating (though iglooHome may disagree) it certainly adds up to the overall experience.
All these require strong operational capabilities, supported by the right tools (again mainly the CRM) to be able to execute consistently. Scale matters for operational excellence and consistency, and large operators have an advantage here.
This step of the journey is the main living experience, and tends to be mainly about the community and the product. From a customer experience perspective, how you deal with “living matters” (maintenance, billing, housemates, …) and what additional experiences you (or the community) can create, become differentiating factors.
Beyond the basics, the most successful operators focus on providing “building blocks” or services to enable their members’ lifestyle. Example these are:
- DoveVivo created a rich catalog of deals available to its members through their mobile app, going from wine home delivery, to gym subscriptions, from travel deals, to camping equipment rentals.
- ZoloStays, also through their mobile app, offers to its members value added services, such as weekly food deliveries, landry services, or bedsheets replacement, for an additional fee
Providing the ability to manage “living matters” in a self-service manner is crucial for a great customer experience; having also the ability to get these additional experiences in the same fashion becomes a way to delight customers. That’s why larger operators have their own members’ mobile app to do both.
All good things come to an end. At this last step of the process, the intrinsic convenience-value of coliving should be enough to guarantee happy customers. Moving out of coliving spaces is much, much easier than moving out of usual homes, not just because there is no moving company to call.
However, judging from the online comments from some customers, that’s not always the case. Check out Google reviews for more on this.
On the other hand, the most successful operators have managed to use this last step of the journey to leave a lasting impression on their soon-to-be-ex-members. Besides giving some swag as a parting gift (because who doesn’t like a company tee-shirt?), here are some examples of two services that can extend the convenience of coliving post move-out:
Throughout all the steps of the customer journey, using technology is the constant that we see playing a difference in the operators ability to be able to deliver a superior customer experience. Having the right tools (and processes) can help you offer a customer experience on par with that of larger operators.