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Claire Middleton

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QUESTION. What do Singapore Airlines, the NHS and The Crown Estate have in common?

Answer. They all examine – and publish – their Net Promoter Scores.

The score is a measure of customer loyalty used by more than two-thirds of America’s Fortune 1,000 companies and which has been embraced in the UK by forward-thinking property companies like The Crown Estate and Great Portland Estates. Both are RealService clients and have published their latest scores in their 2021 Annual reports.

RealService can help you measure the loyalty of your customers and benchmark your score against your peers.

Managing director Howard Morgan believes the NPS is putting the spotlight on customer loyalty in the property industry: “The NPS is independent, it’s transparent and it is a powerful device for landlords in motivating their leadership teams and suppliers,” he said.

“It’s an industry-standard measure and I am delighted we are trusted by our clients to gather data which tracks and demonstrates their progress in improving customer loyalty.”

End user satisfaction more and more important

Investors are increasingly focusing on rental income and that makes the satisfaction of the end user more and more important. A good NPS is attractive to investors but it’s also an early-warning system which highlights areas which could be improved.

The score was developed in 1993 by Fred Reichheld and later adopted in 2003 by US consultants Bain & Company and tech company Satmetrix.

It is based around the simple question: On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague? Plus the obvious follow up: Why?

The score identifies promoters, passives and detractors; it’s the promoters who will recommend your product or building to other potential customers.

As well as helping you calculate your NPS, RealService can also benchmark your score against other property companies, via our RealService Customer Experience Index.

RealService Customer Experience Index

The Index is based on around 35,000 responses to questions put to residential and commercial clients over the previous two years, covering eight core areas and incorporating overall Net Promoter Scores.

RealService clients can analyse their own data confidentially and compare their RealService CXI score with their peers in the property industry. It is published annually.

Louise Freethy, RealService director and chief operating officer, believes the property industry should embrace a metric which has long been used in other sectors.

“The NPS is a tried and tested tool which is an incredibly useful indicator for landlords as they reinvent office, retail and industrial environments and engage their customers in that process,” she said.

So please download our factsheet which covers NPS basics or contact RealService director and chief operating officer Louise.Freethy@Real-Service.co.uk for more information.

 

NPS Factsheet

THE Build To Rent industry is ready to embrace an accreditation system which would set standards and protect the sector from rogue operators.

At a virtual roundtable event chaired by RealService founder and managing director Howard Morgan, industry leaders discussed how Build To Rent (BTR) could continue to improve its offering to customers. In summary, the participants agreed it was time to begin an accreditation process which could define a set of standards, be a trusted guide for customers and provide a means of communicating performance to audiences such as investors – while still leaving room in the market for different offerings at different price points.

Attendees observed there was an emerging need. “We are approaching a period of development and maturity in the sector so things which might have seemed impossible three years ago are now within our grasp,” concluded UKAA chief executive Dave Butler.

Accreditation and data transparency

Participants explored whether an accreditation system should involve the release and sharing of underlying data between industry peers. The main conclusion among attendees was that the sharing of data was not an immediate priority – not yet, anyway – but there appeared to be consensus around the need for a set of minimum standards around what customers should expect.
The debate around data sharing centred on trust, the quality of the information and the method of harvesting it.

Katherine Rose, director of BTR & PRS at Navana Property Group, said: “Sharing data is important but I don’t think the industry is ready to do it yet. We’re all still a little precious and also, how accurate is that data? Everyone wants to look good and how truthful are they? I’m not sure everyone will play fairly. But it’s the way to go. We should all pull together and be less precious.”

Opportunities for Market Differentiation

PPP Capital’s Sanjeev Patel, managing director of LuxuryDigs, said: “I do believe there is a need for accreditation but I also believe there is a place in the market for a Premier Inn and a Waldorf.

“If you want a Waldorf, fantastic, pay for it. If you want a slightly cheaper product, go to a Holiday Inn or a Premier Inn and pay a bit less. They may be very different but in both you will get a clean room and a comfortable bed. I’m comfortable with everyone signing up to a minimum standard – a high minimum, mind you – then you can pitch your assets wherever you want them to be and marketing and customer expectations can be managed appropriately.”

Creating standards 

“I would draw an analogy with Wimbledon,” said, Howard Morgan.

“People had been hitting a ball around for a long time but had no ability to compare their skills with others until Wimbledon came along and defined a set of rules and how to score. I think there comes a point in an industry’s evolution when someone has to say it’s time to draw up some standards that we all abide by and, although it might not be comfortable for everyone, it seems that we are getting closer to that point.”

The group also heard from Chris Garthwaite, the chief executive of customer experience consultancy CGA, who worked with 26 different rail operators to define a set of common standards.

‘Accreditation builds trust’

Having an accreditation system, he said, would build trust and help re-set expectations.

“Trust is a key differentiator; if you lose trust, you lose loyalty. In a world which is accelerating, becoming more digital but where you have a fragmentation of customers, understanding the emotion and sentiment of your customers will become fundamental to delivering the value of the brand – or the industry – to those audiences.”

There is already an accreditation system in the student accommodation sector and according to Jane Couch, chief operating officer of Fresh Property Group, while this is an extra cost – around £2-3 per student – this extra spend actually helps attract investors.

“Investors are traditionally risk-averse but they know about the accreditation costs up front and it means they know you are a responsible operator who is not going to have problems with negative feedback hitting the press.”

Prospects and next steps

Dave Butler said there was already a UKAA benchmarking group working together to deliver a manifesto around what ‘good’ looks like and he issued a call for anybody who wants to contribute to that debate.
“While I’m not going to die in a ditch over the sharing of data – I think that’s a while down the road – it is hugely important to define ‘good’,” he said.

Read the article on the UKAA website here

WE are very proud to present our latest innovation; ladies and gentlemen, clients and friends (cue fanfare), this is the brand new RealService Dashboard.

Created over the last 12 months from a RealService brief by Jon Saville, of our tech partners at Walnut Innovation Limited, and our own data supremo Lasha Gegidze, this live reporting tool will make it possible for our clients to analyse their data in real time and in more segments than a chocolate orange.

“It’s a brilliant, new versatile tool which will bring up-to-date statistics and customer insight to our clients,” said RealService director and chief operating officer Louise Freethy.

It’s especially useful for clients with diverse portfolios who might want to monitor trends by country, or by sector and it provides both the macro and the micro view. Want to know your NPS score over the last five years? It’s all there. Want to know what a specific occupier said in response to a specific question in a specific building in Poland? That insight is there too, in Polish and English, at the click of a button.

Lasha Gegidze … RealService data supremo

Daily refresher dynamic

“It has a daily refresher dynamic, it looks modern and enticing and the information is easily navigable,” said Lasha. “Clients can add new pages so it’s bespoke to them and the data is sliceable and diceable in every way.”

While RealService was the driving force behind the brief, it was Jon Saville at Walnut who had the technical know-how to make it happen.

Based near Peterborough, Walnut have worked with RealService for around 10 years.

It started with our Quest system, the cloud-based client portal which securely stores the transcripts from the thousands of interviews RealService conduct every year.

Jon Saville … dashboard designer

“We were given the opportunity to redevelop the Quest system, which was a substantial piece of work – in fact, it took two years,” said Jon.

Focused on the needs of clients

“This dashboard is similar and it has been an interesting journey. RealService are completely focused on the needs of their clients and they want to deliver the best service. It’s our job to give them that support.”

Jon sees the dashboard as a real value-add.

“It is completely integrated into the Quest platform so any data put into Quest is reflected on the dashboard.

“The other advantage is that all you need is a web browser or mobile phone in order to see it. It has been designed so there is the least amount of ‘friction’ between the data and the user.

See at a glance and track trends

“The immediacy in the way the information is presented means you can see at a glance what it’s trying to say and track the trends. It’s pretty much piped into your eyeballs!”

If you are thinking of conducting Voice of Customer research and would like to hear more about the dashboard and our other services, please contact Louise Freethy, our chief operating officer, at the email address below.

Louise Freethy can be contacted at: Louise.freethy@real-service.co.uk.

Walnut Innovation can be contacted via www.walnutinnovation.co.uk.

WELCOME to the third of our interviews in our CX Conversations series. Here, David O’Sullivan, director of occupier and property services at Great Portland Estates, emphasises the importance of gathering regular, independent feedback from customers.

David O’Sullivan

He talks about how ‘over-communicating’ during the pandemic has improved the relationship between landlord and occupiers and emphasises the ‘people-focused’ nature of the business.

Oh, and don’t do what the banks do. Definitely don’t do what the banks do.

THIS is the second interview in our series of CX Conversations and it’s with Kaj Bakker, the head of sustainability (Europe) for global REIT Cromwell Property Group.

Kaj is a passionate convert to the importance of customer experience in the property industry and talks about how annual feedback gathered by RealService across the continent has enabled Cromwell to better understand their occupiers.

Kaj Bakker
Kaj Bakker, Head of Sustainability (Europe), at Cromwell Property Group

He also touches on being the middle-man, the asset manager serving two masters – occupiers and investors. It’s understanding occupiers, he says, which will drive retention, reputation and revenue – and keep investors happy.

Next time, David O’Sullivan, director of occupier and property services at Great Portland Estates, emphasises the importance of customer feedback and how ‘over communicating’ during the pandemic has forged closer relationships between landlord and occupiers.

Welcome to our series of CX Conversations.

If you are a property company unconvinced as to the value of customer experience, please listen to our series of interviews with key figures from different sectors. We’ll be posting over the coming weeks and our interviewees include:

  • THE CUSTOMER. The head of real estate for PwC speaks stridently about the levels of service and engagement he expects as a major customer and he offers up a future of the office as ‘business theatre’.
  • THE ASSET MANAGER. The head of sustainability, Europe, for a global REIT talks about the importance of retention and reputation as key drivers for revenue.
  • THE LANDLORD. The director of occupier & property services for a major UK landlord explains the value of communicating with customers and how building relationships will serve them well in what are likely to be tough times following the pandemic.
Chris Richmond

1. The customer

This first interview is with Chris Richmond, senior head of real estate for PwC.

We asked him about the services he expects as an occupier, the role of managing agents and their preparedness for post-pandemic office life. Oh, and we also touched on the future of the office itself.

Next time, Kaj Bakker, head of sustainability (Europe) at Cromwell Property Group, will talk about being the middle-man, the asset manager serving two masters – occupiers and investors. It’s understanding occupiers, he says, which will drive retention, reputation and revenue.

CONNECTING on a human level with the end user is the way the office sector will remain relevant as it undergoes the most radical change in decades.

So concluded CGA founder and managing director Chris Garthwaite as he wrapped up the first roundtable event to mark his organisation’s collaboration with RealService.

The event was the opening salvo in RealService and CGA’s series Revitalising Real Estate and the discussion revolved around the theme Reimagining the Office: The Customer’s Voice.

“The office is one of the last institutions which is now breaking down,” he said. “Covid is an accelerator, but a distraction. The office now can be a home, a coffee shop, it’s wherever the end user wants it to be.

“It’s the biggest change in 40 years and probably one of the last industries which is being fundamentally altered.”

Strategic partnership

RealService and fellow customer experience consultants CGA have launched a strategic partnership with the aim of giving clients the best of both worlds: RealService’s expertise in the property industry and CGA’s renowned knowledge of other sectors.

The launch event featured some of RealService’s valued clients and they were challenged by one of the industry’s biggest customers, Chris Richmond, senior head of real estate at PwC.

Those around the table impressed Richmond with their commitment to customer engagement although he said his personal experience was a patchy one.

RealService and CGA launched their formal collaboration with a roundtable online event which discussed the future of the office

“Maybe PwC are dealing with the wrong landlords,” he said, adding that while some had engaged with him during the pandemic, there had been little dialogue around a return to work.

David O’Sullivan, director of occupier and property services at Great Portland Estates, said his team had, if anything, over-communicated with occupiers.

“It’s disappointing to hear of Chris’s experience, because I can say with certainty our delivery of that type of response has been exemplary,” he said. “We went early, issuing a return to work playbook to advise occupiers.  We have kept every one of our buildings open, we’ve communicated throughout the process and run occupier clinics.

“Moreover, it has been a highly-valued process that has really improved our relationships. It has been the one constant thing we have been able to talk to them about in the last year and it has really cemented our relationships.”

While Richmond was preaching to the converted an even bigger question remains: what is the office environment going to look like in the future?

PwC have announced they will be embracing flexible working with its chairman Kevin Ellis saying he hopes it will be “the norm rather than the exception” and that “we want our people to feel trusted and empowered”.

Its workers can now work from home for a couple of days a week and start as early or as late as they want, which could have major implications for the space PwC currently occupies.

RealService founder and managing director Howard Morgan, who facilitated the discussion, wondered if space should be priced by the day? “Surge pricing is prevalent in every other sector,” he said.

Paul Rostas, founder of Plus X, the coworking provider, said: “We’ve tried to develop our product in a different way; we used to work at our desks and have an away day to think differently, maybe now, we work at home at our desk and come into the office to think differently.

We haven’t really tried a hybrid model

“Maybe Monday is for one company, Tuesday we set it up differently for a different organisation. From a cost-efficiency point of view that’s appealing; we reconfigure the space as and when people need it, driven by what the customer wants.”

For Dan Lovatt, head of property management and build to rent at Transport for London, the problem is two-fold.

He said: “First there is a technical side – help me with PPE, signage etc but then it’s, ‘I’ve got this space, help me understand what I am going to do with it’. The second lockdown has been a lot harder on people and there is less of a desire to work from home.

“Presenteeism plays a part. We talk about a hybrid model but we’ve either all been in or all been out, we haven’t really tried a hybrid model.”

From his perspective outside the property industry, Chris Garthwaite said change was inevitable.

“I remember working for Kingfisher when the internet arrived. It’s the same here. Your customers will have access to anything they want, on their terms. The focus must be on considering what are you selling? Is it productivity? Flexibility? This is about brands selling environments and this is where it starts to become really interesting.”

 

*RealService and CGA would like to thank Dan Lovatt (TfL). Michelle Laramy (The Crown Estate), David O’Sullivan (Great Portland Estates), Paul Rostas (Plus X), Rowan Packer (Mapp) and Raj Rajput (Hines) for responding to Chris Richmond’s challenge and to Chris Richmond (PwC) for being the provocateur.

 

CX Conversations: Listen to Claire Middleton’s interview with Chris Richmond here.

PROPERTY management and customer experience will be key to the future value of real estate, said Professor Yolande Barnes, chair of UCL’s Bartlett Real Estate Institute, at a British Property Federation webinar focusing on tackling the property industry’s skills gap.

Speakers at the event also included RealService founder and managing director Howard Morgan and Experience Makers producer Harriet Jones.

“The things that make real estate valuable are the people and what they do in the space,” Prof Barnes said. “There was a weird time in the 20th Century when money was made through inflation and the value-adders were those who could trade property at rising prices.

“However, the closed club of big-building real estate is dismantling. Upward-only rent reviews won’t be what creates value in the future, it will be the long-term performance and management of the building.

‘Property managers have come from central casting’

“It’s about the income which can be generated from the people in the building and that puts property management and customer experience front and centre.”

However, according to a report for the British Council for Offices, written and researched by customer experience consultants RealService, the industry is not blessed with a customer-centric culture and those who have been employed in customer-facing roles have come largely from outside the sector.

“Property managers often look as though they have come from central casting,” said Howard Morgan, the author of the BCO report. “We found there is nothing in the major real estate universities or in the APC process which emphasises the importance of customer experience. People are graduating without an understanding of who their customers are.”

In an effort to transform real estate and provide training to ambitious young property professionals, BREI has teamed up with Experience Makers to launch an executive short course – CX in Real Estate:  Future Leaders Programme. The course directors are Prof Barnes and Howard Morgan.

Experience Makers is a research, education and networking community which aims to put ‘life and soul into property’ and has a number of major landlords among its members. Many have contributed to the course content and endorsed it as a much-needed game-changer for the industry.

“There should be alarm bells ringing because landlords need to future-proof against what’s going to be a major change in the office sector and the impact of the internet on the retail sector,” said Harriet Jones.

“Customer experience is not just about making sure there’s a smile at the front desk, it’s about designing all your strategies around the customer and developing those processes. It is beginning to happen, and Experience Makers members can vouch for that, but it’s not happening quickly.

“The Future Leaders Programme is calling for pioneers to come and challenge the system, challenge RICS and change the language and processes of real estate.”

Other areas covered by the panel included the lack of diversity in the industry and discussion around how young people from different backgrounds could be attracted into property management.

The CX in Real Estate: Future Leaders Programme aims to address many of these shortcomings and will be run over five sessions, starting on May 6. Core to the course will be modules on customer experience strategy and design.

For more information on the Future Leaders Programme, please contact harriet@experiencemakers.com

To see the BCO report please head here

For the full BPF webinar please click here

A VITAL cog in the RealService business is the in-house research team.

These skilled researchers conduct the interviews which give RealService clients the in-depth feedback upon which they base key business decisions.

Many of the interviewers have worked for RealService for many years, returning to projects they know intimately on an annual basis. Others have backgrounds in languages, which enables the company to carry out research in the native tongues of customers all over Europe and beyond. For the Cromwell Property Group, for example, interviewers operate in French, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Finnish, and German.

This week, director and chief operating officer Louise Freethy registered her thanks to the team who have brought invaluable insight to RealService clients over the past 22 years, with a special emphasis on research carried out during the pandemic which, she said, has helped clients sketch out “the new normal”.

“Our research team are the unsung heroes of our business,” she said.

“They are practised in gaining invaluable information which can be analysed and presented to our clients. This has been true since RealService was founded in 1999, but especially over the last months where the real estate industry has been hungry for  intelligence around what they can expect the world to look like post pandemic.

Vast knowledge of the property industry

“We are not a market research company. We are a company with vast knowledge of the property industry and the insight our interviewers glean is used by our clients to inform their strategic business decisions.

“Major property companies will be establishing their post-pandemic offerings based on the findings of our research.

“The interviewers have to be highly proficient. They have to engage busy people in a conversation which will provide important feedback on specific questions, and, most importantly, they provide an independent voice.

“We rely on them and I wanted to take an opportunity to thank them for their work.”

So, what makes a great interview?

“A great interview is a conversation which is directed by the interviewer to cover specific points,” said April Davies, who has been with RealService for 12 years and whose projects have included Cadogan, Great Portland Estates, The Crown Estate and others.

April Davies … skilled interviewer

“We are often interviewing very busy people so we need to engage with them very quickly and convince them of the value of taking part in the research.

“It is about covering all the bases in the questionnaire and providing real-life examples, so when our client reads the transcript they know exactly why their customer thinks they are doing a good – or bad – job and what they can do to improve.”

The value of RealService feedback is described as “crucial” by David O’Sullivan, Director of Occupier and Property Services at Great Portland Estates.

“The feedback from the RealService surveys is not just important, it’s crucial, critical,” he said.

‘The feedback loop is essential’

“The feedback loop is essential and it’s one of the reasons we moved our survey from a biennial event to an annual one. Two years is too long to go without talking with your customers.

“To the question, what do we do with that research, the answer is we create action plans from the feedback.”

Before the start of each project, the interviewing team is briefed by the project manager. All have been trained around issues such as confidentiality and data protection. Last month, all undertook  Interviewer Refresher Training.

“We believe our research team is our point of difference,” said Louise Freethy.

“We do not contract out our interviewing to a call centre. We use an experienced, in-house team who are a key component of our business.

“They go above and beyond when interviewing to provide the sort of insight which allows RealService to go above and beyond for our clients.”

Announcing a new strategic partnership between RealService and CGA to support the drive for change in the real estate industry

REALSERVICE is delighted to announce an exciting new collaboration which will bring even more insight and opportunities to our clients as they revitalise following the pandemic.

We are teaming up with customer-experience consultancy CGA to provide clients with the best of both worlds: RealService’s renowned expertise within the property industry plus CGA’s insight from other sectors.

Howard Morgan, the founder and MD of RealService, said: “This is a crucial time for the property industry and we believe it needs the best thinking from both within and outside its boundaries.

“The industry is looking for radical thinking to help it quickly reposition and rethink its products and services.

“With CGA we believe we have found a partner with a similar real-world outlook and new tools, such as Heartbeat®, which will enable our clients to monitor customer experience with even more precision.

‘A great fit’

“We are a great fit in terms of culture and believe this will put us in an even stronger position to support our clients’ ambitions to become even more customer-centric.

“By speaking the language of customer experience and of real estate, we can offer our clients a fully integrated service covering customer insight, change-management consulting, performance measurement and training.”

RealService clients cover all sectors of the property industry and include The Crown Estate, Cromwell Property Group, Schroders and Great Portland Estates.

Chris Garthwaite, the CEO and founder of CGA, said: “The timing is right for the property industry to think in a radically different way about its customer relationships.

Thinking in a different way

“The industry is realising it must engage in a different way. It is finally thinking about the practical and emotional experience that the end user and business customer wants today and will expect in the post-pandemic world.

“It can learn a lot from the way that other industries are responding and changing their products and services.

“Bringing Howard and his team’s deep knowledge of real estate and customer experience together with our outside-in perspective from 20 years of working with blue-chip clients across the world like Coca-Cola European Partners, The Telegraph, Renault, and many more, is I believe a compelling proposition.”

RealService and CGA have already combined with great success on a project for Transport for London.

Dan Lovatt, head of property management and head of build to rent at TfL, said: “We have enjoyed working with both consultancies over the past year and the collaboration is exciting in that it gives clients like us access to fresh thinking about customer experience from within and outside the property sector.”

For more information please contact Howard Morgan at Howard.Morgan@real-service.co.uk or see the RealService website at www.real-service.com