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A Harvard Business Review idea that helped our housing business get through the pandemic.

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Toan Tien Housing builds and operates many serviced apartments for rent at the heart districts of Hanoi, a housing company serving long term residents, a hospitality company with a revenue stream of short term stays. We were indeed hit by the pandemic’s economic recession, and coming out largely okay. 

This Tet period for example, was sad, as the outbreak was at it again, ended the zero case days streak.

On the other hand, the newly formed marketing team (bye bye third party) was reading Harvard Business Review about rethinking marketing: shifting focus to cultivating the relationship with the customers rather than just promoting products and services to a broader audience. 

Big commercial companies were recommended to prioritize around the metrics customer lifetime value, rather than sales numbers and brand equity. From there brands could take a look at its long term prospect. They would show how much the customer would continue to keep the brand in mind and use its product and service.

That would demand the marketing department to work closer to customer services, product developement and get more relevant kinds of intelligence.

We mused as a rather small commercial company,

"Isn’t that we have been doing all along?"

A housing company like us started out with sales driven by the agents network rather than a marketing machine to have metrics quantitatively measured. So, the bedrock of the business has always been about keeping the customers with us as long as they reside in Hanoi, about minimizing the reasons they look for another host within Hanoi.

That’s us maximizing our customer lifetime value.

Our boss, the founder of the company, always preaches to the staffers about the need to put ourselves into the perspective of our customers and act accordingly:

What would make a foreign expert living alone feel assured, what would make feel values added while renting an apartment here? How to maintain to be a reliable housing provider to the diplomatic delegates from EU countries? What would the customers of all kinds like to hear when they run into trouble within our apartments?...

Insights about our customers would accumulate qualitatively over the years of reading feedback letters, connecting dots between similar customer profiles, boss’s occasional visits to the most important residents, staff getting to talk to our customers on various instances and sometimes getting to learn something from.

So it’s not just about a nice home, timely and thorough services business as usual. It’s about being warm, caring in both ways. It should express naturally to feel less of a work burden and the resident to not feel like seeing their landlords as stone cold.

All of which would get us referred to on high notes. “How much would you recommend a company to others” is also a customer value metric. Various customer testimonials in our West lake cluster got us a pattern of our residents having friends who showed some kind of dissatisfaction to their landlord (to be fair, not every type of housing is professionally serviced). It indicates that there’s little reasons to move out from a nice lakeview home with satisfying services, our residents would say something like I have no problems with my landlord.

Cultivating warm relationship between all sides did pay off in the toughest periods during the pandemic. The short term stays sometimes dropped to a negligible number, the plans to arrive in Hanoi and live in a Toan Tien apartment were halted, anxiety did feel across the residents.

Acting to keep the residents on our sides was the only option and measures based on solidarity to cut corners here and there, reduced the apartment rent, dealt with the landlords to lower the estate rent, and kept the reservations. And it was critical to have trust in each other to have the dealings through in a harmonic manner.

This business is pretty much about good sentiments - a sense of friendship created through good conversations, great services, gift exchanges, being warm to each other. Then there would be little reasons to leave your friend for some other sides as long as it’s been good, and stick together to go through tough times.

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