Enhancing Digital Experiences in PBSA


Yardi joined a panel of experts at Property Week’s Student Accommodation Conference to discuss enhancing digital experiences in PBSA. The panel was moderated by Lem Bingley, editor for Property Week and featured: 

Improving the Student Experience with Technology 

Enhancing Digital Experiences in PBSA

According to Uswitch, 98% of UK adults aged 16-24 now have a smartphone. Due to technology being a part of our everyday lives, Bingley asked the panel how tech can improve the student experience. Le Marquer states that it’s “not technology for technology’s sake”. Empiric Student Property utilise technology to survey students on a regular basis so they can make improvements and enhance their experience. “Technology and data can support us by doing the heavy lifting” but the human element remains in their buildings to provide the best of both worlds. 

Bingley explained how “people expect to be remembered” especially “when they’re interacting digitally”. Le Marquer agreed and said, “It’s not necessarily knowing their name but it’s knowing their preferences. If they’ve had a problem before, how was it solved – it’s how we act towards their preferences.” 

Technology for Student Wellbeing 

Redman believes that “now more than ever before, students feel isolated and lonely in their accommodation.” It was revealed earlier that mental health is one of the leading reasons students drop out of university. Students are meeting each other more online, whether it’s “dating apps or online gaming, they’ve never met them in person”. Technology can be utilised to provide a better experience for students by connecting them, “allowing students to find others and feel like they’ve got a home away from home”.  

Better Data = Better Experience 

Harley was asked how property management software can deliver a better experience to students. He believes “access to accurate data for your staff and teams makes it easier” for them to provide a frictionless experience. He states that AI is “going to change everything digitally” and how it could be utilised for roommate matching and much more in PBSA. “We’re about to go through a revolution in that digital experience and it will challenge the way we operate,” Harley adds. “People want more choice – they want to communicate [at a time that suits them], not a specified time of day”. 

Artificial Intelligence 

AI is a hot topic at the moment. Harley says AI is already being used with chatbots at Yardi to help customers. “The results are staggering in terms of what it’s learning, how it’s helping and streamlining leasing and maintenance processes.” Embedding this software in your student apps allows them to “chat and get an answer immediately”, but with a choice to “speak to a human being as well”. 

Le Marquer agreed and explained how Empiric Student Property is interested in AI for dynamic pricing and mental wellbeing. “The next stage is having more automation around that – being able to predict demand surges and understand how we react to that.” She continued by expressing how technology such as artificial intelligence could help predict when someone was reaching a crisis point. “We could look at the triggers leading up to that and use AI to detect and predict when they’d need support and look at what we put into our buildings.” 

Enhancing the leasing process 

Continuing the conversation about AI, Redman thinks “the utilisation of AI in current technologies” will be crucial in terms of “improving not only operations but also the letting process.” He states that it can help with general search engines and already know the student’s budget, their preferences and help find them people to live with. “It’s less about scanning through multiple pages to discover where they want to stay and more about utilising technology to better inform them, helping to improve the lettings process.” 

Improve occupancy rates with digital technology 

Bingley asked the panel how we can utilise technology to help improve occupancy rates. Redman said, “We can utilise tech to increase retention year-on-year. First year students with PBSA providers, in theory, should have the highest lifetime value.” However, he goes on to say that only “42% of first year students stay in [their accommodation] in their second year.” He believes bringing in technology to help create a “good experience, community feel and brand for students” will help get us closer to 100% of students staying in the same accommodation. “Which again, makes it easier to achieve full occupancy when you’re tiered,” he adds. 

Harley says it’s not just about improving occupancy rates as “that’s what it’s designed to do”. He believes it’s more about “net operating income” as well. Harley agrees with Le Marquer that “understanding the student better, seeing what’s happening and spotting trends” will be beneficial. “The systems will help drive occupancy as they’ll free up your time to focus on marketing your spaces.” Technology is there to save you time so you can help nurture and understand your student’s needs further. 

How can technology help the bottom line in ROI for an operator? 

The final question of the day turned to return on investment – how can technology help? Le Marquer states how technology is already helping them with energy usage and “encouraging customers” to reduce energy usage. “It’s not always about rental growth, it’s about cutting costs in the right way, so it benefits everybody.” Harley believes it’s “right across the business – it’s marginal gains for me”. Every touchpoint from attracting customers to your website through to moving in. “Where you can make marginal gains across all key processes is where you make the biggest difference.” He explains how you can’t do everything at once but having a strategy in mind and looking at everything from “how you collect payables, manage construction or support your students”, that’s where you can improve your bottom line. 

See what events we’ll be attending in 2024 and meet with Team Yardi. If you want to see how our unified property management and accounting technology for PBSA can help, get in touch.