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Reimagining Real Estate Services

transforming relationship between next-gen tenants and landlords

Data & Insight-Driven

Duration
3 Months (2023)
Role
Service Designer, Design Researcher, UX/UI Designer, Visual Designer
Type
Service Design | UX/UI Design | Interior Design
(Team Project)
THE CHALLENGE

We are aiming to address the evolving needs of Savannah, Georgia's Millennial and Gen Z renters while tackling the issue of fast furniture consumption and waste. With Millennials and Gen Z comprising 31% of apartment rentals, there's a clear demand for sustainable solutions that align with their values of social responsibility and environmental consciousness. Additionally, frequent tenant relocations present challenges for both residents and property management staff, prompting a reevaluation of work processes for improved efficiency and satisfaction.

THE OUTCOME

The project resulted in a comprehensive solution to develop a user-centric, economically and environmentally sustainable model to revolutionize apartment services.

 

A dual-centric approach was employed, focusing on both tenants and property management staff, leading to the creation of the "Evolution Map." This framework guides the transformative journey of apartment services, enhancing professionalism and satisfaction. Practical initiatives, including the Tenant Aid Network and smart segmentation of public spaces, address the demand for sustainability, reducing waste and meeting the needs of Millennials and Gen Z renters.

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Poster

Project Timeline & approach

In this project, we've employed a methodology that synergizes insight-driven strategies and quantitative research. The methodology is broken down into five crucial stages:

Timeline & Approach

Our process iteratively revisits the first two stages. This iterative cycle enables us to refine our insights continuously and effectively steer our research in the right direction, ensuring our exploration is anchored in relevance and driven by veracity.

Background:

In the dynamic landscape of the US rental market, Millennials and Generation Z are the driving forces. Nearly 3/4 of Millennials are renters, and an unprecedented 12.3% plan to rent indefinitely (Gans, 2023; How Millennials are reshaping the rental market: Some plan to rent forever 2022). With Gen Z making up 83% of the fastest-growing segment of the market (Gen Z Statistics 2022), the demand is clear. Specifically, in Savannah, Georgia, individuals aged 25-34 make up 31% of apartment rentals (Savannah, Georgia Rental Market Trends 2022).

 

This rise in renting is not without its challenges. The 'fast furniture' trend contributes to 9 million tons of furniture waste annually (Berg, 2021). The swift evolution of tenant requirements and a lack of motivation among property staff led to decreased tenant satisfaction, operational inefficiencies, and strain on Tenant-Landlord relationships.

​Hypothesis Statement:

We believe that by increasing employee engagement and professionalism, enhancing service transparency, diversifying revenue streams, fostering community spirit, and optimizing common spaces, we can increase employee and tenant satisfaction and retention, cater to the “Collaborative Pathfinder” (Millennials and Gen Z), and improve the overall living and working experience.

1. Monitor & FramE (1st round)

1.1 Integrative Research Approach: Unveiling Challenges and Opportunities in the Rental Market

Based on our initial needs and objectives, our research team, composed of two researchers and two leaders in service design and delivery, conducted comprehensive research in Savannah, Georgia, USA to gather more detailed data on potential challenges. Our methods included observation, interviews, surveys, case studies, field observations, and document analysis. During the initial desktop research phase, we assembled qualitative and quantitative research to understand the current and future trends and issues in apartment rental market, targeting tenants, property management employees, and other stakeholders in the apartment rental market. The objective was to understand their leasing process needs and expectations, aiming to improve services, experiences, and promote sustainable living.

Unlocking the Future of Apartment Living

1.2 Cross-Sectional Stakeholder Engagement & Market Trend Analysis

Based on the above we first determined a cross-section of tenants and employees as dual subjects, we began by identifying and prioritizing key stakeholders using stakeholder maps and a prioritization matrix, then proceeded to study market trends through a macro trend review, data analysis, and competitor assessment to understand the current and future trends in the market.

STAKEHOLDER MAP -1
STAKEHOLDER MAP -2
Stakeholder Prioritization Matrix -1
Stakeholder Prioritization Matrix -2

1.3 Survey Insights: Understanding Millennial and Gen Z Expectations in the Rental Market

We collected 192 survey responses from millennial and Gen Z tenants, and the findings revealed that as the main force in the apartment rental market, they have relatively higher expectations for apartment amenities and services, and need advanced facilities that can accommodate remote work, etc. However, the existing traditional properties are often unable to meet their needs. In addition, property service companies often lack effective communication mechanisms in dealing with tenant issues and complaints, which has led to widespread tenant dissatisfaction with service quality. These insights played a key role in moving our project forward.

Voices from the Field

Archetypes for Tenants (n=192):
1. Guardian Tenant - Safety-conscious, community-engaged.
2. Collaborative Pathfinder - Tech and eco-conscious, values digital living and services.
3. Harmony Keeper - Cleanliness-conscious, proactive in waste disposal and maintenance.
4. Self-Sufficient Solvers - Independent, owning their living arrangements.

Segments for APT Service Staff (n=23):
1. Master Orchestrator - Balancing tenant concerns, maintenance, and financial tasks.
2. Caretaking Handyhero - Handling repairs, facility upgrades, tenant satisfaction, and property durability.

Deciphering Patterns -1
Deciphering Patterns -2

1.4 From Research to Key Insights: Unveiling Tenant Needs and Market Trends in the Rental Sector

Based on the initial insights from these surveys, we then interviewed 7 tenants and 4 property management employees and conducted 11 in-depth interviews to analyze the behavioral patterns of millennial and Gen Z tenants and employees, and found that tenants shared common pain points and corresponding needs such as inadequate work and study environments, economic pressure and frequent relocation resulting in inadequate living materials and immature life skills, which is a high overlap with the Collaborative Pathfinder group, so we set it as the target user group for the project. Here are simplified key insights from our research:

Low wages and competence among property management staff are affecting the quality of service provided, raising concerns about the efficient functioning of property teams.

The Collaborative Pathfinder tenant, with distinct lifestyles and values, demands new features in rental spaces, like availability of household tools and bigger work/study spaces. Property companies need to adjust their offerings to meet these emerging needs.

Frequent tenant relocation in Savannah increases financial strain on both property management companies and tenants. This instability puts financial pressure on tenants due to relocation and furniture costs and impacts company income and forces additional investments in facility maintenance and updates, affecting both operations and tenant satisfaction.

The booming used furniture market in Savannah indicates a growing expectation for improved in-apartment amenities among tenants. This trend should guide property companies in enhancing their apartment amenities to attract and keep tenants.

1.5 Experience Mapping: Unmasking the Post-Occupancy Challenges in Property Services

Based on our collected data, we created an experience map with a dual subject of staff and tenants, highlighting the urgent need to address post-occupancy property service experiences. 

"We encounter a variety of service issues that are not perceived before occupancy" - said the interviewee. 

Therefore, the core objective of our research pivoted towards identifying how to connect tenant and staff experiences to co-create value, benefits, and improved experiences.

Experience Map (Macro) -1
Experience Map (Macro) -2

2. Explore & Identify (1st Round)

2.1 Collaborative Workshop: Fostering Innovation and Stakeholder Involvement in Service Design

To deepen our understanding and enhance, we organized a hybrid online and offline workshop involving key stakeholders. This included 3 tenants, 1 property staff, and 1 cleaning staff to validate our understanding and determine its direction, ensuring stakeholder participation in problem exploration and solution building. 

Kick off Workshop

First, we discussed and shared our previous findings and insights and validated the needs and expectations of apartment tenants and property employees in the experience map, as understanding user pain points and desires is key to designing a truly user-centric service.

Tenant Insights: Collaborative Pathfinder tenants prioritize high-quality remote work amenities, service, and affordability, assuming this will prompt long-term tenancy and referrals.

Property Staff Insights: Staff face turnover and maintenance issues, seeking to improve service while avoiding added stress, assuming this boosts job satisfaction and revenue stability.

Based on the experience map, we encouraged the participants to fully discuss and validate the known and unknown factors of the project to build a comprehensive and substantive Risk & Assumptions Matrix, which effectively helped us understand the possible challenges of the project and further develop strategies to address them.

Risk & Assumptions Matrix

At the same time, we identified various entities in the entire service ecosystem, including service beneficiaries, providers, enablers, and influencers, and together established an Ecosystem Map for the project. this process helped us to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of the service process and how the various players interact with each other.

Ecosystem Map -1
Ecosystem Map -2

On the other hand, based on this activity, we gathered the vision of our tenants and employees for the future of our property services, and from this we identified the success criteria. These success criteria will guide us throughout this service design project, ensuring that our solutions meet the needs of tenants and employees, while also helping property companies achieve their business goals.

Criteria for Success

In the final phase of the workshop, we refocused on the Experience Map based on the insights and criteria we had gained, and after in-depth screening and comparison, we identified that the "Experience during the Lease Term" was a Dead End for both users and employees. The reality of this stage was significantly different from the user's vision and expectations and was far from the criteria for success. Therefore, we decided to focus on the tenant's experience during the lease term as the main focus of our project.

 

We combined our previous insights with this workshop to develop preliminary "How Might We" (HMW) questions:

1. How might we create a more productive, satisfying work environment that enhances the tenant experience, driven by in-depth employee-centered research and a user-centered work model?

2. How might we satisfy Millennial and Gen Z tenants' needs for remote work and learning, address financial stress associated with regular relocation, and improve property management-tenant communication?

3. Monitor & Frame (2nd Round)

To gain a deeper understanding of this issue and to obtain more specific details about the "Experience During the Lease Term" phase, we conducted a second round of employee-centric research to identify opportunities for growth and innovation and to drive more effective collaboration strategies for trend analysis and competitive analysis.

 

We conducted a series of stakeholder interviews over the phone with a total of eight participants, including tenants, property managers, and property services staff, lasting approximately 30 minutes, in order to understand the complete process, perceptions, and insights of apartment property services throughout the residential experience phase, as well as their expectations, hopes, and key issues with property services. These interviews helped us to gain insight and validate the needs and pain points of our users, providing valuable insight for our next service design.

4. Explore & Identify (2nd round)

4.1 Insight Synthesis: Micro-Experience Mapping for Comprehensive Pain Point Analysis

The results of the interviews were collated and analyzed to form a complete micro-experience map of the current service experience during apartment occupancy, which incorporates descriptions of property and staff processes and procedures, as well as pain point analysis. The experience map will detail the experience processes, touchpoints, and key pain points, and analyze these findings and pain points against our program goals and success metrics to guide our next steps.

Experience Map (Micro) -1
Experience Map (Micro) -2

By analyzing the experience map and comparing the pain points with the success indicators, we found that the existing services that we need to optimize are: cleaning and maintenance services, services provided by the property office building, and services for public facilities and spaces. We also identified that the services we needed to add were apartment community services.

 

Finally, our updated hypothesis was determined:

Hypothesis

5. Ideate & Visualize

5.1 Co-ideation Workshop & Prioritization: Harnessing Diverse Insights for Systemic Change in Property Management

According to our hypothesis, we held a co-ideation workshop, inviting stakeholders to offer their short, medium, long-term solutions. 

Co-Ideation Workshop

Each participant was asked to describe their expectations and visions from their perspective. Then we collected a variety of MVP concepts from different perspectives, responsibilities, and aspects, as well as specific actions and stakeholders for each concept. 

Prioritization Matrix for Insights -1

Since this project was considering both tenants and staff, we needed multiple ideas to build a complex systemic change. We filtered our concepts through a prioritization matrix, and through our stakeholder discussions identified an employee-based impact vs. cost matrix and a tenant-based impact vs. effort matrix, respectively. 

Prioritization Matrix for Insights -2

All the ideas were analyzed by affinity analysis and classified into 5 categories of concepts:

 

1. Proactive Employee Engagement

2. tenant/sustainable-Driven Services

3. transparency & responsiveness

4. commercial value maximization

5. dynamic space utilization & management.

6. Prototype & Envision

6.1 Organization-facing outputs: Unleashing Innovation in Property Services Through Strategic Framework

Central to our work is the innovative "evolution map" strategic framework. We meticulously analyzed and integrated all 16 of our concepts using an ideas road mapping approach. This prioritized concepts by type, purpose, and time-consumption, identifying milestones, interdependencies, and potential roadblocks. The goal is to drive a transformative journey in apartment services.

Evolution Map (Vertical) -1
Evolution Map (Vertical) -2

Our methodology outlines actions and rolls out a phased implementation of concepts. This process is crucial for ensuring feasible growth and profitability at all stages. 

Evolution Map (Horizontal) -1
Evolution Map (Horizontal) -2
Organization-Facing

This approach has engineered a dynamic transition for property services through five core directions:

1. To tackle high staff turnover, low income, and skill deficits, we've implemented proactive staff engagement strategies including preventive maintenance workflows, a tenant-employee performance feedback system, and performance-optimized KPIs to uplift morale and performance.

2. Embracing the emergence of sharing and sustainable economies, we've launched tenant-centric services such as a community-based home tool rental and second-hand furniture trading service. This not only fosters a sense of community but extends product lifespan and reduces maintenance costs.

3. With a focus on transparency and responsiveness, we've developed an intuitive app that allows users to easily navigate service charges, levels, and real-time updates, revolutionizing how they interact with services.

4. On the business spectrum, we're tapping into value-maximization via strategic alliances, space leasing, bespoke services, and advertising opportunities, generating fresh revenue streams to counterbalance tenant turnover costs and operational expenses.

5. We're redefining apartment public spaces with smart segmentation and management. The introduction of functional zones and reservation systems addresses the need for remote workspaces, thereby enhancing the residential experience.

6.2 Turning to our customer-facing outputs: Reinventing Tenant Experience Through Intelligent Service Solutions

In harmony with our "evolution map", we've pioneered customer-centric concepts such as smart segmentation of public spaces, real-time service updates, and a community-led Tenant Aid Network promoting second-hand trading and tool rental.

Service Blueprint (Tenant/Sustainable Driven Initiative) -1
Service Blueprint (Tenant/Sustainable Driven Initiative) -2

This journey entailed deep exploration into the deliverables of each concept, resulting in the creation of the Tenant Aid Network APP:

This integrative platform brings together services like second-hand trading, tool rental, and incentivized community aid, offering a seamless user experience.

Tenant/Sustainable Driven Initiative: Tenant Aid Network APP -1
Tenant/Sustainable Driven Initiative: Tenant Aid Network APP -2

Additionally, we've redesigned the apartment's indoor public service spaces, crafting zones for remote work and study needs. This not only enhances service delivery but fosters connections amongst tenants, staff, and shared spaces.

Service Blueprint (Service Infrastructure) -1
Service Blueprint (Service Infrastructure) -2
Service Blueprint (Service Infrastructure) -3

With these initiatives, we're paving the way for a more interconnected, user-friendly, and dynamic living experience, driving towards our evolution map objectives.

Experiment & impact

Our project, built on an exhaustive study of Savannah's property services, aims to create a transformative impact for both property service providers and tenants. Collaborating with industry professionals, we've managed to craft strategies that could affect 14,648 individuals in Savannah and up to 12.05 million people nationwide (Savannah, Georgia Rental Market Trends 2022; Household Characteristics 2021). Our focus is now on refining these strategies, evaluating actual costs, and conducting small-scale feasibility tests. This approach will allow us to fine-tune our initiatives based on real-world feedback, which is integral to our successful rollout.

To ensure that our customer-oriented concepts resonate with the users they are designed for, we implemented a blend of online interviews and surveys to test the service design blueprints and touchpoint storyboards we created for two key concepts. These were shared with tenants online for concept testing and usability tests. Our focus was on a few primary aspects:
1. Smart Segmentation and Management of Apartment Spaces: We wanted to understand if it could fulfill the needs of tenants who work or study remotely.
2. Tenant Aid Network (TAN): We were interested in knowing if tenants would be open to trading second-hand furniture via a community platform provided by property management. We also aimed to understand if they thought TAN could alleviate their financial pressure, extend product lifespan, and promote sustainability.
3. Real-Time Service Request Updates: We tested if this feature could enhance satisfaction levels with property maintenance services.

The results were insightful. A substantial 77.1% (n=92) believed that smart segmentation could cater to their remote working and studying needs. 76% (n=92) were open to using TAN for trading second-hand furniture. Impressively, 88% (n=92) believed TAN could ease their financial stress, and 66.3% (n=92) thought it could promote product longevity and sustainability. Although only 55.4% (n=92) thought that real-time service updates would improve maintenance service satisfaction, a whopping 85.8% (n=92) desired this feature regardless of the service quality.

Result of the Prototype Testing and Future Plan

- Our strategy provides management with a dynamic "evolution map" to address issues like high staff turnover and low income.


- Proactive engagement strategies and performance-optimized KPIs uplift morale and productivity, leading to feasible growth and profitability.

Impact on Management:

- Staff engagement strategies enhance skill sets and job satisfaction.


- Implementation of preventive maintenance workflows and a tenant-employee feedback system creates an efficient and satisfying work environment.

Impact on Staff

- Our model aligns with the government's sustainable development goals by embracing the sharing economy and promoting sustainable living.


- Extending product lifespan and reducing waste contribute to environmental preservation and climate action goals.

Impact on Government

- The Tenant Aid Network app and smart segmentation of public spaces enhance the resident experience.


Intuitive interface for managing services and fostering a sense of community caters to modern living needs.

Impact on Tenants

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