Knock Talk: Episode 20 – Multifamily innovation, Envolve’s path to exceed customer expectations

What does it mean to be “innovative”?

We hear about it a lot. Google searches are chock full of expert advice about transformation, renter trends, technology, investments and data-driven decisions. And so, we wanted to hear from someone who actually lives it every day.

Enter Anna Laura Hatchett, regional manager at Envolve Client Services Group and tech-forward leader of her company’s Innovation Committee.

For Anna Laura, innovation means adapting and adopting to meet consumer expectations, create relationships and engage with residents, prospects and teams. And technology is a way to deliver on that.

Anna Laura joined Lucas Bourgeois, VP of Knock, in our latest episode of Knock Talk where she shares how Envolve internalized innovation as a strategy, and tied it to the bottom line.

Watch the entire episode at the top of this article, and view the highlights and full transcript below.

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Episode Highlights

How and why did Envolve create the Innovation Committee?

What is the goal of Envolve’s Innovation Committee?

What does Envolve’s board think about the Innovation Committee?

How do you know there is value in the technology you choose to vet?

Technology helps Envolve keep up with shifting consumer expectations

What does the future of the Envolve Innovation Committee look like? 

What metrics are important to measure with Knock?

Full Transcript

Lucas: Hey, my multifamily friends. This is Lucas here with Knock, and we are welcoming you to Knock Talk, where we shed light on all things multifamily proptech. In this episode today, we’re going to be talking with Anna Laura Hatchett, regional manager of Envolve Client Services. Very excited to talk to Anna Laura about the topic of innovation, as she has been heading it up for the Envolve organization over the last year. Welcome, Anna Laura.

Anna Laura: Hey, Lucas. It’s always great to talk to you

Lucas: It’s wonderful to have you today. Thank you for carving some time to talk with our multifamily friends here about innovation. Let’s start out and kickoff. How the heck have you been? What’s going on in your world?

Anna Laura: Well, we’re in the middle of a snowstorm in Memphis. We’ve got pipes freezing and people not able to get to work and some people coming into work. It’s been a hectic week. It’s a Wednesday, it feels like it should already be Saturday, but we’re making it through.

Lucas: That’s how we’re going to do it in multifamily, we never keep things easy. It’s always moving and shaking and things turn our way. Somehow we always end up closing the day out with the tasks we need to accomplish. I wanted to quickly tell our audience here and share a little bit about Envolve. Obviously, you work there and you’re an expert and have been at the Envolve organization for some time. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your organization to our viewers?

Anna Laura: I’ve been with Envolve for almost five years and was promoted to regional about a year and a half ago. Envolve was formerly known as LEDIC Realty Company. We are affordable housing. On our own side, majority, almost all is affordable. Envolve Client Services is the fee-manage side of Envolve. We have a good mix of anything from neighborhood associations to conventional market-rate Class A properties and some affordable as well. When we are looking at technology within our company, we have to make sure it runs the full gamut, that it can be something that an affordable property could use, as well as a market rate.

Lucas: It sounds like you have all classes of assets there and various facets of multifamily from affordable to conventional, to some of the lease-ups that you manage. Like you said, implementing technology, you have to probably put things and compartmentalize it and see what it’s going to fit for each asset type. Quickly, can you tell me, in your experience in vetting out technology, how has that worked, since you have such a diverse portfolio?

Anna Laura: Really doing a lot of industry-related calls, getting on Facebook chat rooms for multifamily space and looking at that, following certain industry experts and getting their thoughts. It’s a lot of research. Especially during the pandemic, you would shut your laptop down and sit on the couch and try to watch TV with your family, but I’d be on my phone researching, what can I do to make sure that we’re able to still tour apartments, or that we’re able to ensure that if our asset shuts down due to quarantine, that we’re still able to take phone calls.

It’s been a lot of off-normal time, behind the scenes, researching. I enjoy that. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not a one-size-fits-all because of the diverse asset types that we have. You can find different solutions for different budgets and different asset types.

Lucas: A lot of technology out there can adapt to the different asset types. We’ve had various conversations about this, but share a little bit with our audience, maybe where Envolve was with technology one or two years ago, and where you’re trying to go. Our topic today is innovation, and you are on the innovation committee at Envolve. Why don’t you talk about where it was to where it is today. Then, we’ll go into how this innovation committee was created.

Anna Laura: Our company as a whole was looking at innovation but it was more looking at innovation from an affordable and you have reacts and all these inspections. You look at it from a maintenance point of view, wanting to make sure that the maintenance team can close out work orders, the maintenance team can put in that they are walking vacant units weekly, so that owners and the ones that are doing inspections know. They did a lot of that, a lot of innovating with one site, mobile technologies for maintenance, as well as the Yardi product too.

There wasn’t a lot of innovation from the marketing side. With my having the background, the conventional market-rate background class A, lease-ups, that’s always something that I’ve used on my specific sites that I’ve been over. As a regional manager, now started when the pandemic hit, really just going rogue and researching it, getting permission to use it. My portfolio was using a lot of technology that the other parts of the company were not. Our CEO, Daniel Hughes sent out some surveys saying, “What technology are you using?” I was using a lot of technology. I then got nominated as the chair or the head of the technology innovation committee at Envolve.

In doing that, I worked with a lot of other regionals, but also people from other positions on-site, with leasing managers, all types of positions on the committee. We spent about six to eight weeks researching different aspects of technology and innovation more from an operation standpoint. We developed a pretty big document that takes about an hour and a half to go over when you’re reviewing all of it with the board and the VPs of the company.

Lucas: Well, it sounds like you guys have been busy vetting out a lot of technology. Again, the innovation committee, what is your sole purpose? At the end of the day, you’re reporting to your board, what is your goals to come from this committee? Have you accomplished them so far?

Anna Laura: Overall, in multifamily, the goal is always going to be, to be as personable and really foster a relationship, establish a relationship with your residents or your potential residents. Due to how times are changing, and COVID, you can’t necessarily do that face to face and with a handshake. We really are focusing on using that technology to build relationships, and building relationships is going to look different in 2021. Hopefully, in 2022, we’ll be able to have more of that in-person building of relationships, but the expectations of people, in general, are going to be different now. 

They’re going to expect virtual tours, they’re going to expect for a leasing office to not be shut down due to quarantine or snowstorm, they’re going to expect you to still be able to answer emails and answer the phone from home. That’s one of the features I love about Knock, is that our offices are never shut down. We can always answer a phone by call forwarding during office hours. Expectations are different. We’re going to come out of this, always building relationships with our prospects and our residents. It’s going to be different how we do that. We’re going to do it through innovation of technology as well as good old-fashioned face-to-face contact.

Lucas: I know you’re working with your owners and investors, do they have any set standards or what are they looking for? They’ve obviously created this innovation committee, what is their end goal out of it?

Anna Laura: With the board, they oversee a lot of our own. They are our investors and our owners for our owned assets. Basically, people in general expect you to not skip a beat. I would say that we, as a management company, are maybe harder on ourselves than our owners are. They’re a little more forgiving but you always want to do the best that you can and you want to do– We have two clients. We have our owners of our properties and then we have a residence of our properties.

You really have to have a good balance of the expense of the technology for the owner side but the convenience for the residents’ side. When you consider both those and marry both of those together, you get a win-win. Both sides of the spectrum are happy and they’re accommodated.

Lucas: It goes back to exactly what you’re saying. When you’re investing in technology, if it’s not creating value then what’s the point? If it’s not tied to your bottom line, whether it’s value to your residence or value to have a frictionless experience, more value to your NIY. If it’s not contributing to that then there’s really no point implementing it. That’s what we say here at Knock. Question for you, what kind of technology are you vetting? I know you mentioned a few but what are you seeing up there in this tech space and how do you know it’s a value when you’re vetting it out?

Anna Laura: We started with several different things. We were always looking for a CRM platform not until I came across Knock. That was my first and biggest goal. To find something and implement something there so that I can make sure that we weren’t missing calls, we weren’t missing leads. That we were following up properly. That our phone calls sounded good. Everybody is fighting for leases right now and when you’re fighting with your comps for leases, you have to make sure that your team is sounding the best and following up the best and being the most creative.

The ability to listen to phone calls and provide training where they don’t sound that great but then also provide praise when you have a rockstar phone person. That is what I love about Knock and that’s what I was looking for. Just to make sure that we were staying on top of things. I’ve vetted about three different CRMs before I came and landed on your product. I’ve done the same with video. Being able to do video tours.

Lucas: It sounds like you spent a lot of time vetting it out.

I know we’ve had multiple conversations. Fantastic that we get to partner together. We feel like we won. I feel when you’re vetting out technology out there obviously, you don’t have endless piggy banks where you can invest in tech.

Were you given a budget to say, “Here’s your budget for technology”? Or did you have to go and fight for it and say, “This is the value it’s creating, once you test it out or implement it”?

Anna Laura: Both. With us having affordable, we really do have to look to see, we really have to show value on those affordable assets in order to spend those funds. At some assets, some of these technologies aren’t going to make sense and so, that’s when you’re really having to look at, we’re not an all market-rate portfolio, we really have to vet the different types of assets.

Lucas: You got to spend money to make money, they say, sometimes.

Anna Laura: Yes, and you have to keep up with the consumers expectations. At this point, it’s shifting, as I said, previously, from, they don’t expect to have to come to Memphis, Tennessee, if they’re moving from Chicago, they shouldn’t have to come and spend a weekend touring and buy the airfare and spend all Saturday and Sunday looking. They should be able to request self-guided videos or personal videos.

When I’m listening to my team’s phone calls, when I’m checking how everything sounds, I’m a lot of the times listening to the consumer and what they’re saying, and the behavior is changing. People are asking for videos and asking for things and not planning on coming into town to look. You have to keep up with the consumer expectations as well.

Lucas: Exactly, you have to have that mentality where it’s like, reducing the friction for the end-user, whether it’s the consumer or your leasing team is going to make a better overall experience.

Anna Laura: Absolutely.

Lucas: This industry has just, I feel like skyrocketed and catapulted because of COVID-19, we’ve had to adapt quick. As far as technology and innovation that we’re talking about, do you think that the industry is going to continue to strategically invest to catapult to more innovative technologies?

Anna Laura: I think so. It’s always joked about that the multifamily industries are always behind the hospitality industry. We’re just always a little bit behind or sometimes we choose to be a lot behind there, that industry. They started doing daily pricing five years before multifamily ever did. My husband has a lot of connections in the hospitality industry, so we talk shop after hours. Our industry has really catapulted compared to hospitality as well. I think with that industry in a wall and us really still doing well for the most part, much better than any of us would have expected in March.

I think that we will continue to, we have seen what Why technology is needed. I think that the smart companies will invest in it and use it. 

I was excited that our CEO felt that it was an extremely important initiative and I was happy to be able to be the one heading up the discussion and the conversations with the committee.

Lucas: What’s the future of the committee look like? Because I’ve obviously vetted out some technologies now, do you have a rollout plan to roll technologies out or just to share a little bit about what’s next with the innovation committee?

Anna Laura: With us, I actually have a call next week with all the regional managers. I’ve spoken with the board a couple of times and I have spoken with the VPs of the company, we’re now to the point where the VPs and the board have said, “I like this initiative, I like that initiative, let’s have the on-calls with the regionals,” and so we’ll be looking at or the regionals will be looking at their properties saying, “Okay, this makes sense for this property. This makes sense for this property,” and going through and doing a rollout of the technologies that we have selected as our preferred technologies.

The committee itself was just tasked with this kind of one thing, but I’m always looking at new things and new initiatives.

I think everyone, in general, is trying to get very innovative and there’s going to be no end to it anytime soon. We’ll continue to be able to pick and decide what’s the best and what makes sense and what doesn’t, and you just really want to do it with the mind- being mindful of meeting consumer expectations, having a relationship with them, and anything that you can do to engage is a great thing. Even if you have to do it through technology.

Lucas: Exactly, and I give Envolve props for taking the time to create a committee, to invest resources, time, and funds to vetting out new technology. Props to them and hopefully, more organizations out here will take a page from your book. Let’s shift gears a little bit, and I have a question for you. Looking ahead into the future of multi-family or into your role at Evolve, what are you thinking about and what keeps you up at night? Is there any one thing that you’re just like, “Ah,” tossing and turning and it keeps you up?

Anna Laura: Well, right now it’s fear of frozen pipes that keeps me and the managers up.

Lucas: It changes, but no. I think the main thing is just making sure that the basics is the most important thing, having your onsite teams buying into that and investing into your onsite teams and them investing into the relationship with our residents. People get so tied up in this and that and the other that we all lose sight of the basics of what we should be doing to be successful and really relationships is part of that and a big part of that. It’s great that we’re wanting to use all of this technology, but again, I think it always comes back to the question, is this really fading into the core values, the basic values that we have, and the basic things that we should be doing?

Self-guided tours, yes. Knock, yes. You guys, we use you obviously for leads, but it also gives us a way to foster relationships, continuing fostering relationships with our current residents with the resident portal and the way that we’re able to communicate there. I love lease-up, so right now we’re really looking at trying to get new clients so that we can use all of these wonderful technologies for those assets. I think having all of these features on lease-ups that we’ll be doing here in the near future is going to be really awesome. It’s going to be exciting.

It sounds like innovation and technology will help streamline the gap to building that relationship with your customers, right?

Anna Laura: Absolutely, yes. Definitely will.

Lucas: Let’s just shift it one more time. We always ask this question to everybody that comes on our Knock Talk. If it came down to the future of multi-family, what’s one thing that you’re most excited about in this industry?

Anna Laura: Oh goodness. I honestly love how multi-family is going in and hugging some of those communities that are needing to be revitalized. I know that a lot of the financing with TIFs and pilots and things like that, that the inner cities or cities are offering kind of help generate that interest from investors, but I just love multi-family going in, revitalizing, adding value to an area that didn’t have as much value recently, but a long time ago did and I just think that’s a great thing.

It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of because we get to come in and manage those buildings and preserve them and keep them and build relationships with the tenants that live there now that maybe wouldn’t have lived there five years ago. I think that’s an exciting thing that multi-family as a real estate section is adding value back.

Lucas: I feel like multi-family, first of all, super excited to just be a part of this industry. I know that you have passion about it and I do as well and a lot of our viewers have passion for this industry, but I just think it’s an exciting time to be a part of this innovative multi-family group and all the new technologies that are coming on board I think are just going to elevate our industry to the next level. Any last thoughts in Laura before we part ways today?

Anna Laura: No, not really. I just want to say thank you for having me on and asking. We’ve been working hard in Envolve asking the questions of technology and how does it fit in our space. I was very glad that you were one of my several interviews for CRM and I very much have enjoyed working with you and using the product. The product’s been great.

Lucas: Well, we enjoy our partnership and we’re looking forward to continuing it in 2021 and beyond with Envolve and yourself. Thank you so much for the time today.

Anna Laura: Thank you, Lucas.

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