Furnished Quarters Builds Personalized Customer Apps on Heroku Using Salesforce Data
The corporate housing company sets the gold standard in its industry with apps that engage customers and boost productivity.
Furnished Quarters is unique in the corporate housing industry. The company’s tag line “Stay Different” extends not only to its luxury furnished apartments and guest experience, but also to its tech stack built on Salesforce and Heroku. This combination has enabled them to deliver modern apps that use CRM data to make every engagement as different as every customer.
Furnished Quarters was founded in 1998 by Steven and Gary Brown, two brothers who wanted to turn a few brownstone residential buildings that they owned in Manhattan into furnished apartments that could be rented for short stays. The company has since grown its portfolio to 1,500 short-term, furnished apartments located in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California. They also offer corporate clients access to over 100,000 apartments in 800 cities worldwide.
The company’s business model is complex and driven by multiple relationships. Most bookings are made by corporate travel managers or relocation companies. Individuals also can book stays in Furnished Quarters’ apartments. Regardless of who booked an apartment, Furnished Quarters provides 24/7 guest service, WiFi, cable, local phone and housekeeping, all included. On the operations side, the company works with local business partners, such as landlords, property management firms, utilities companies, and other types of vendors. Maintaining a strong relationship with all of these parties—at scale—is critical to the success of such a high-touch business.
An early adopter of Salesforce
In the beginning, Furnished Quarters was using the basic technology of the late ‘90s to run the business. Like most websites at that time, functionality was simple and users could do little more than browse information. Inventory and bookings were managed on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which made it hard to scale the business quickly. The company moved some processes to Saleslogix CRM software hosted on-premises, however it was difficult to customize and couldn’t meet the unique needs of their business model.
In 2002, Furnished Quarters hired a digital product manager, Cory Haber, who convinced the founders to make a major investment in new technology. They decided to replace Saleslogix with Salesforce and the path to business transformation was set. Even in its early years, Salesforce’s cloud-based service was flexible and easy to customize, allowing Furnished Quarters to build much stronger relationships with customers and partners. Cory and the team could use the Salesforce platform’s drag-n-drop tools to rapidly build applications on top of their CRM that helped streamline employee workflows.
We’ve always been a step ahead of our industry with respect to technology. After adopting Salesforce, other corporate housing companies wanted to learn from our experience. Cory Haber, VP of Technology, Furnished Quarters
Industry-leading customer apps on Heroku
Cory eventually went back to school and then rejoined the company eight years later as VP of Technology with app development skills and tech startup experience under his belt. He brought with him a deep understanding of modern app technologies and a preference for building and running apps on Heroku. During his absence, the company had brought in consultants to continue exploring the potential of Salesforce by developing in Apex, but Cory had a broader vision. Today’s customers demand 21st century digital experiences, and one of his top goals for Furnished Quarters was to meet these expectations. He planned to do so by extending the company’s Salesforce backbone and adding Heroku to their tech stack. Due to its seamless integration with Salesforce, Heroku would make it easy to use CRM data to build highly personalized experiences for each user across their business segments and drive customer engagement.
As Heroku is a Salesforce company, the two platforms work hand in hand. It just doesn’t make sense to build apps on anything else. Cory Haber, VP of Technology, Furnished Quarters
To start, the Furnished Quarters team focused their attention on the guest experience. Their mobile app runs on Heroku and syncs with booking and building data in Salesforce. Guests can easily manage their reservations and access important information about their building, such as phone numbers, rules and policies, or amenities. As not every property provides on-site staff, the self-service app supports most guest needs during their stay.
The team also built a portal for corporate clients who book short-term rentals for employees who are travelling or relocating. Pulling relevant data from Salesforce, this Heroku app provides a unified view of all properties and locations around the world that are occupied by employees at any one time. The app helps corporate clients not only keep track of bookings, but also supports their “duty of care”—in case of a local emergency, companies can quickly locate and contact affected employees.
A live booking engine automates inventory management
Furnished Quarters is now running eight customer-facing applications on Heroku, all of them enriched by Salesforce data, with more to come. The most recent app is a live booking engine that enables users to reserve properties online in real time. As the corporate housing business model is different from a hotel or vacation rental, Furnished Quarters has to precisely manage its inventory to minimize downtime between bookings for each property. A live booking system would need to use complex algorithms to match available properties with customer requests, as well as calculate a blended rate based on rate fluctuations during the stay.
The complexities of the booking system were made easier with Heroku and Salesforce. Like the other customer apps, this one pulls booking and CRM data from Salesforce and funnels it to the website running on Heroku. The team built all new objects in Salesforce that allow the head of sales to manage rates by property type instead of by individual apartment, which makes it easier to automatically determine blended rates for extended stays. This represents yet another transition point for the company as it moves away from manual processes and towards greater automation and scalability.
Now, Furnished Quarters can take bookings around the clock with pre-approved rates, automating a process which usually required a live agent to price, then book a stay. In addition, the company built an API to integrate the live booking engine with channel partners like Airbnb, including support for “instant book” inventory management. As the company integrates with more and more partners, it can continue to expand its reach without increasing manual workloads.
Heroku apps that empower employees
Furnished Quarters’ digital transformation did not stop with customer apps. The company continually looked for ways to improve internal processes and help its employees be more efficient. For example, internal sales quoting processes were originally centered around a shared Microsoft Word document. Whenever an update was made to the document, an email would be sent out telling staff to close the file and reopen it to see the latest changes. The company improved upon this with another home-grown tool that enabled users to query availability of housing stock, generate custom sales quotes, and then email them to clients. However, all data had to be maintained manually, which made scalability a challenge.
After Cory’s return, he and the team decided to modernize the company’s sales quoting process using their new tech stack. All data was moved into Salesforce, and the team built a new sales quoting app, as well as rebuilt the company website, on Heroku. They used Heroku Connect to sync data between their Heroku Postgres database and Salesforce. Heroku’s ease of use allowed the team to spin up a Postgres database in seconds that had hundreds of thousands of records ready to build their application on top. More recently, the team integrated their new automated blended rate calculation, saving the sales team even more time. After a booking is made online, an opportunity is automatically created in Sales Cloud.
Heroku Connect is almost magical. As a developer, you don't have to worry about designing and setting up a database, or migrating data. You can just focus on building your app with CRM data that's already in Postgres and ready to use. Cory Haber, VP of Technology, Furnished Quarters
With the new quoting system in place, Furnished Quarters sales and marketing teams are able to respond to market changes more quickly, increasing their business opportunities. The system allows them to easily change pricing data in Salesforce and deliver updates instantly to customers and partners via the website on Heroku. Better yet, business teams can make updates themselves without the need for engineering support, as was the case with previous tools.
Unlocking scalability with Heroku + Salesforce
Furnished Quarters’ early investment in Salesforce is now realizing its full potential. Since Cory rejoined the company, his team has built a portfolio of applications that have transformed customer engagement and become a model for the corporate housing industry. By standardizing business data on Salesforce, the whole company is now empowered to manage large volumes of data in an organized way. Extending Salesforce by sharing data with apps on Heroku continues to allow the lean engineering team to deliver modern features and functionality that customers expect. Both platforms offer peace of mind with enterprise-grade security that protects customer and proprietary data.
All of this was not possible 21 years ago. But today, Furnished Quarters’ Heroku + Salesforce tech stack has been a game changer. The company has been able to scale the business and not only stay competitive, but also thrive in the digital era.
The combination of Heroku and Salesforce is unbeatable. Our small team is able to quickly deliver new products and features that make customers happy and differentiate our business. Cory Haber, VP of Technology, Furnished Quarters
Inside Furnished Quarters on Heroku
Furnished Quarters' portfolio of customer and employee apps on Heroku are built in Ruby. Application data is stored in Heroku Postgres and syncs to Salesforce Service Cloud using Heroku Connect. The team uses a number of Heroku Add-ons, including Airbrake Error Monitoring for bug tracking, Cloudinary for image management, and SendGrid for email delivery.
Learn more about how Furnish Quarters combines Heroku and Salesforce in this on-demand webinar: How Furnished Quarters Leverages CRM Data to Deliver Personalized Customer Experiences.
Listen to Cory Haber and Erin Allard discuss new ways to explore creativity in the Code[ish] podcast: Technology and Art.
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