With this being such a tricky time for everyone in the workforce, our leaders wanted to take some time to share the things that are lifting up their teams and workflow! As the weeks go on, we’ll share tips and insight from various leaders throughout our business for anyone looking to gain different perspectives.
Un-learning to push through burnout with Dustin, our Director of Operational Finance
Dustin joined Smart City last year after consulting for a few weeks on the company’s need for data insights and forecasting. He left his Fortune 100 company and jumped headfirst into a company in the middle of hyper-growth, and hasn’t looked back! Originally, Dustin planned to develop our Strategy Department focusing on business intelligence and data analytics, but as March rolled around, he took over leading the Finance department as our Director of Operational Finance. The timing was of the essence during this transition because, after only two weeks with his new team, we all went to work from home. But even during a pandemic, he has held his team to high expectations, and they continually exceed them. How has high performance remained a focal leadership point? Dustin said it’s all about being your best, and being honest when you’re not.
“I’ve been told it’s uncommon for someone who lives in MS Excel and loves data to be equally as passionate about mental health, but here I am. Before the pandemic, most of us had a pretty clear distinction between work and home; we had a routine that often included leaving our home for a physical office. With the importance of slowing the spread of this virus, stay at home orders were issued and many companies, including ours, still work from home. We asked people to live and work in the same space. And when couples, who normally spend evenings and weekends together in their one-bedroom apartment, are now having to pick which side of the living room is their “office,” workspace and home space are fused together. Navigating these new work logistics is extra pressure on our team members that we need to be mindful of that. This further highlights the need for actual rest and recovery of our employees for the sake of their well-being .
This new reality of blending workspace and home space means it is often more difficult to unplug from work at the end of the day. Maybe it means you get to shift from the office chair to the couch, or you close your Chrome tabs that have work info but stay on your laptop for a few more hours. But as days became weeks and turned into months, this constant state of work/life limbo will impact mental health. Time literally feels different this year  and that’s something everyone needs to be aware of. As a leader, this means it’s extremely important to make sure that your employees are taking adequate time away from work to recharge. I have actively encouraged my team to take mental health days, and they have taken full advantage of them. From a long weekend outdoors to allowing yourself to stay up late playing the latest video game, my team members know when they’re getting burned out to take time off. I’d much rather someone take two days off and come back refreshed, then for them to try and work exhausted for weeks on end.
We must also lead by example. In addition to my leadership position here at Smart City, I’m two and a half weeks away from completing my Executive MBA, plus I’m also a husband and father of two little girls (a 2-year-old and a 9-week-old). I’ve had to constantly learn and re-learn how to rest because from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning…for the third time…to the moment I put it on the charger at night, I’m plugged in. Thankfully I ran across an article  that reminded me how crucial true rest is to my well-being, plus it had some tips on how to achieve it. I have a reminder on my phone that goes off in the middle of the morning, and before I mark it as complete, I take 30-45 seconds to be still and focus myself on being present. I also try to do one activity and fully submerse myself in that activity and put my phone down. It might be making French press coffee, eating lunch away from my laptop, or walking around between calls. The goal is to make sure that I’m also taking time to ensure that I’m fully engaged in my work every day in the same way I expect my team to be. And when the burnout happens, don’t try to push through it; step away, unplug, rest, and then get back to work. You owe it to yourself, your team, and your company to take the rest you need to be at your best as we navigate this pandemic and whatever else 2020 has in store.”
Elevating customer service to prevent layoffs with Jake, our VP of Customer Success & Technology
Jake has been with Smart City since 2016 when he joined the company as a locating agent. As time progressed, Jake moved into the role of VP of Operations and Finance, where he launched an external Concierge pilot program to test out how clients would respond to more than just locating apartments. On his journey to build out the company’s business model to truly make Smart City services a one-stop-shop for renters, he combined the customer experience team with the concierge service to produce the Customer Success department to turn first impressions into lasting impressions.
“Our Customer Success Department at Smart City Locating was faced with one of the most difficult decisions in the early days of COVID – with our volume of clients looking to rent an apartment potentially drastically decreasing, how many team members will we need and how many will we have to layoff? Instead, we asked the question – how can we retain every person in this department? From that emerged our new team, Smart City Concierge.
From the start of this global pandemic, our company’s focus was to retain as many, if not all, employees at Smart City. To get our new Concierge up and running, our Recruiting Specialist from human resources, a Customer Experience Specialist, our Customer Success Manager, and I came together to form the team that would be the foundation of an eventually-expansive department for Smart City. In order to leverage a new caliber of customer service and prevent layoffs, it had to be built from scratch with zero outside headcount, zero additional funds, and the scrappiness of working as many hours as it takes. Thus far, the journey has been challenging yet incredibly rewarding, to say the least.
The vision of adding our Smart City Concierge to our process was simple: we would become the one-stop-shop for apartment renters. From communicating the moment customers reach out to Smart City to finding their dream apartment, to assisting with their moving checklist to ensure they get moved in smoothly, and periodic check-ins after they have moved in. Incredible customer experience cultivates strong promoters and we want our customers to feel confident about telling their friends and family members to use our service based on their own journeys!
We launched the Smart City Concierge just over two months ago and these have been my biggest takeaways to building a new, bigger, and better, Customer Success department during a global pandemic:
– Successful process doesn’t always come from the top down. While I had an idea of what the flow would start off looking like for a Concierge conversation, our process evolved with insight and suggestions from the team as a whole. Don’t forget, at any company, you hire amazing and talented individuals who bring so much to the table – listen to them and their ideas. Our CEO, Cassie Brown, taught me when I first started at Smart City that “one good idea can come from 100 bad ones.”
– When you think you have the best process in place, simplify it. In Customer Success, we are looking to elevate the customer experience, not prolong it. I’ve had to learn and ask myself, “what are the least amount of questions we can ask while maximizing the value we provide to our customers?” The process we thought we needed is now about half the size and our customers are happier because of it!
– Review those transcripts. This might be the most tedious activity for a customer success leader but, man does it give you insight. Who better to listen to than the customers themselves? We review transcripts weekly and take incredible conversations and showcase them and we take the not-so-incredible conversations that need work and learn from them. What’s been the most fun about this experience is seeing our team’s voices shine through in their conversations because they are constantly looking to create a unique experience for each person.
I am so proud to say we were not forced to lay off a single person during this global pandemic. Instead, we expanded a department and launched new cities all with the existing team we had in place. The time and dedication each Customer Success team member has contributed over the past couple of months not only enabled stability and sustainability for this department, but cultivated growth! We’ve even welcomed two new team members over the past two weeks and anticipate another two to join us soon. I have learned so much as a customer success leader and I am humbled every day to be surrounded by incredible humans who put the customer experience first.”
A pep-talk from Michael, our Director of Sales
Michael has been in sales for almost a decade and has led our team of locating agents for the last two years. To highlight how Michael’s leadership has impacted Smart City and our clients, between 2018-2019 alone, our sales team experienced a 66 percent increase in leases company-wide Y.O.Y. Numbers like that don’t come from thin air and Michael’s big takeaway he wants to share when it comes to impactful leadership is learning to leave your ego at the door.
“Every organization is facing an economic environment that continues to create uncertainty around every corner and businesses will have to make some really tough decisions along the way. These tough decisions will change the landscape of what a “team” looks like. Some teams may have been reduced drastically to help with overhead or combined with another team to improve efficiency and better serve your customer. We all see what uncertainty is doing to our economy and communities, but I want to talk about what this uncertainty is doing to team morale.
As a leader, this is a great time to look in the mirror and tackle something that isn’t talked about enough – our egos. Whether you lead a team of five or 500, if you aren’t hard-pressed to use this time to better support, build, and grow your team, odds are your ego is standing in your way. Now is not the time for ego! It’s not the time to stop listening to feedback or be above ANY task needing to be done in the organization, and it damn sure isn’t time for leaders to go into self-preservation mode.
Don’t stay on the sidelines because the execution isn’t your job. Don’t sit in your ivory home office “managing.” Join your team and walk to the front. Hopefully, all that uncertainty will become new opportunity, ultimately shifting your team’s dynamic from surviving to thriving.”
Resources: “Ego is the Enemy” -Ryan Holiday; “Chop Wood Carry Water”-Joshua Medcalf
Insights from Hannah, our Director of Marketing
Hannah has seen the company grow from its roots as a small start-up only serving apartment renters of DFW, to the award-winning, nationally-recognized company serving renters in multiple markets across Texas that it is today. With Smart City only being seven years old, marketing efforts have been vital to the growth and client loyalty. Here’s what she has to share when it comes to helpful tools, perpetual content agility, and keeping that intact as we brace for what could be a very long stint of working from home.
“At Smart City, I oversee a broad, yet collaborative and close-knit marketing team. Our roles span from the always eventful Social Media and Public Relations roles, to more technical ones like Email Marketing, SEO, Analytics and SEM. When COVID-19 hit, I knew it would be a shock to myself and the team. Something that has shone through since shelter in place orders were implemented is that collaboration doesn’t have to stop dead in its tracks at the mention of “work from home.” As a marketing team, we’ve been adamant about the following tools and resources and let me tell you, the ideas and execution are flowing rapidly! Here are our must-have tools for success:
-Asana: keeping ourselves organized through a project management software has kept us all working in the same direction, toward the same goal
-Zoom: brainstorming sessions have been key
-Never-ending group chats: don’t let the creativity and collaboration stop!
-Quick, candid, and open feedback: here’s one of my favorite articles on feedback.
As a final note, if your marketing techniques haven’t changed since COVID has arrived, I encourage you to revisit that decision. As a marketer, I dissect every piece of content or email I see and I’m sure you do, too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen everything from content only related to COVID, to a range of content mentioning nothing about it. Marketers can do too much, and I’ve seen it; but, if you aren’t acknowledging how this is impacting your employees, clients, customers or consumers, you’re missing the opportunity to meet them where they are in all this! Find out how those audiences are being affected and speak to that. How can you still help them during this time? What questions are they asking themselves or what product are they looking for now? How can you fill in the gaps? Once you answer that, you’ll have a stream of campaigns ready to launch that not only help your company but most importantly, your customer!”
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