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There’s a joke about outrunning a bear that Benedict Cumberbatch (as Alan Turing) tells in “The Imitation Game”:

There are two people in a wood, and they run into a bear. The first person gets down on his knees to pray; the second person starts lacing up his boots. The first person asks the second person, “My dear friend, what are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” To which the second person responds, “I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you.”

In the first blog in this series I looked at the ‘Stages of Change’ model and our reaction to change, which our body perceives as a threat.

This blog looks at whether, faced with the Covid-19 crisis, it’s better for the property industry to pray or lace up its boots!

From bricks and mortar to hospitality

It’s more than 25 years since I returned from the USA with a vision for our industry founded on the principle that we are “no longer in bricks and mortar business but part of the hospitality industry”. An industry inspired by the best hotels, seeing our tenants as guests rather than an anonymous income stream. It’s seems common sense now but it was close to heresy back then!

Some in our industry saw this idea as a ‘scary bear’, and prayed it would go away. Fortunately, others ‘laced up their boots’ and they’ve become our clients and friends.

Last week Property Week launched a campaign to “Save the Office!” encouraging the industry to lead from the front on the return to the office. Of course, it’s sensible to ‘underline why workplaces are so important and showcase best practice so employers can help their people return to the office confident that the appropriate Covid-19 safeguards are in place’. But I can’t help feeling that if this campaign is to be successful it needs to look beyond saving “bricks and mortar” and at “saving our customers”. Let me explain.

Offices will be saved not because developers like to build them, investors to own them and corporate leaders to enjoy their corner offices, but because people choose to work in them. Employees of the past had no choice where they worked but that’s different now. Covid-19 has broken the dam and given employees the taste for a different workstyle. The rows of empty desks in our cities and business parks are the strongest reminder that it’s employees who are our ultimate customer.

The latest data from Leesman doesn’t give much comfort to the “pray’ers”. 82% of 127,000 employees surveyed agreed with the statement that “my home environment enables me to work productively”. That is 19% points higher than the 63% of employees who say they have a productive workplace.

Insight

At RealService, we believe that the future of the office industry lies in getting in-depth insights into what motivates both the 82% “productive at home’rs”, and the 18% who looking for a different solution.

But if only it were that simple! There are a lot more than two types of customer, and the task of creating a new vision for the future workplace requires a granular understanding of the needs of the close to the 30 million people who form the UK working population. You can then scale that up to include the 1.25 billion knowledge workers across the world (source: Forrester).

We can learn lessons from the hospitality industry (itself decimated by Covid-19) where the focus is on asking “what is the experience that our customers want?”. For the property industry, this means applying the tools and techniques of service design to our existing assets and future developments. The starting point for our asset management or development plans should be “who is our customer and what are there practical and emotional needs?” and not “how much space can we get on the site”.

Likewise, our customer retention strategies need to step out of the world of spreadsheets and into the world of loyalty and brand building.

At RealService we believe that the successful development, asset and property management strategies of the future will be shaped by standing in the customer’s shoes. It’s only by truly aligning ourselves with the ultimate customer, that we’ll be able to outrun the Covid-19 bear.

So, we’re campaigning to “Save our Customers” and their businesses, and hope you’ll join us!

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Howard Morgan is the founder and MD of RealService

If you’d like to understand ways that RealService customer research, consulting and training is helping our clients to get ahead in the Covid-19 era please contact

Howard Morgan howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk

 

www.real-service.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eerie silence

I ventured into London last week for only the second time since March. There was an eerie silence in the heart of the City of London.  Working from home has sapped the lifeblood out of the financial district. My gut feeling is that we are witnessing a once in a lifetime step change in the way we work. I also think that it’s as futile for office investors to see this is a temporary blip as it was for retail property investors to believe that online shopping would have only a minimal effect on our high streets and shopping centres.

For those whose careers have been built on building offices in the City, it’s only natural to have self-belief in their products. Like me, you’ll have read the interviews which put forward the line that 1. We are social creatures 2. Teams can’t work well when separated 3. Young people need to learn by listening 4. Sandwich bars deserve our support. ….so it’s only a matter of time before the problem goes away and we return to the way things were.

I liken this self-belief to that shown by shopping centre owners who confidently told consumers that there’s no substitute for being able to try on a dress or shoes in store. Meanwhile the percentage of online sales has grown year on year. Retailers saw that the future was multi-channel long before shopping centre owners. For shopping centre owners, being invested in just one channel has proven a scary place to be.

Blended working

Flexible (or blended) working is the workplace equivalent of multi-channel retailing. It recognizes that one solution doesn’t fit all and that each business needs to think through what’s the best blend of workplace solutions for its customers, suppliers and employees. For some businesses that answer could still be the 9 – 5 traditional office but for the majority it will be a blend of office/hotel/cafe/business centre and home working.

Technology is enabling the change in workstyle with high-speed broadband and low-cost software tools like Zoom and Teams making it possible to work from anywhere. Covid-19 has added another reason not to commute to the heart of our cities, but the underlying trend towards flexible working is not new.

If we accept that office real estate’s biggest competitor is now the ability to work from anywhere, then the question for owners is “what can we do to compete?”. At RealService we’re excited by the opportunity to work with our clients to better understand the desired workstyle of employees. We are already seeing a move away for the formulaic and to the creation of a new and exciting range of products and services which give companies and their employees the workstyle they want.

For those financially and emotionally invested in the old model, this will require a transformational change in thinking.

So how ready is your business to change its thinking?

Real estate has a fundamental health problem but how ready are we to face up to this?

We can learn a lot from the Stages of Change model used by the medical professions.

https://rcni.com/hosted-content/rcn/first-steps/stages-of-change-model

The Stages of Change model describes the different stages we go through when we want to change something in our lives. This readily translates into the world of business

  1. Pre-contemplation: This is where we’re not thinking seriously about making a change or we don’t really see it as a problem.
  1. Contemplation: We’re now beginning to think about our business models and we’re beginning to see that maybe there is a problem that’s affecting our long-term business health.
  1. Preparation/determination: By now, we’ve realised that something needs to change, and we’re ready to make changes – but maybe we don’t know exactly how, so we look for help.
  1. Action: We now know what we want to change, we’ve researched how we can change it, and we’ve got a plan to put into action.
  1. Maintenance: We’ve got to a position where we can sustain our new approach
  1. Relapse: we may revert to our old ways when the market begins to strengthen or it just gets too difficult

Where is your business at today?

The starting point for real estate business leaders is to ask where are we today in terms of our readiness for change? It’s time to be honest. Do we have the energy and resolve to change? Do we have the clarity of customer insight and vision to take action?

In this new series of blogs, we’ll look at ten strategies to accelerate your business through the change model.

 

Howard Morgan is Founder & MD RealService, customer experience consultancy

 

www.real-service.co.uk

 

To discuss any of these themes contact Howard at howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk

Howard Morgan, Founder and MD, RealService and senior consultant, Dr Danielle Sanderson will be speaking at this webinar hosted by GRESB on Tuesday, June 16 

Program:

1. Presentation of research from Professor Danielle Sanderson and Howard Morgan, Real Service covering scientific evidence of the correlation between occupier satisfaction and performance of real estate portfolios: “Occupier satisfaction and its impact on investment returns from UK commercial real estate”. The outcome proves that it pays off to engage with your tenants and occupiers.

2. Necessities and unique selling points for investors in real estate! Rob Palter, senior partner at McKinsey and Company will present a summary of the article “Commercial Real Estate must do more than merely adapt to the Corona Virus” with their worldwide vision of the consequences for stakeholders in real estate coping with the 6 feet economy.

3. Worldwide status of consequences of Covid-19 for the office market in Europe and the US by Jeroen Lokerse, CEO of Cushman & Wakefield NL. “Practice what you preach”. Emphasis on the required modification in working environments caused by the 6 feet economy. Worldwide consultants of Cushman advise tenants on making their working environment Corona-proof. As Cushman’s organization returns to the offices in several countries, hear their experiences.

4. Theories and measures to enlarge the safety (the 6 feet economy) of people are necessary, but how are they perceived? Phil Jonckheer, founding partner of Keepfactor, will present this new emphasis in their platform and their tenant engagement program on the perception of the occupiers about safety, health, hygiene and well-being.

Following the presentations, an online Q&A will be hosted by Steven Pringle from GRESB.

Jun 16, 2020 05:00 PM in Amsterdam

Register here https://gresb.com/event/webinar-social-distancing-or-working-from-a-distance-consequences-of-covid-19-on-the-real-estate-office-market/

 

Over the past decade, the BCO has initiated the driving of the customer-service revolution in the property management industry. RealService has researched and authored three reports for BCO looking at how a customer experience culture can be introduced and developed

Embracing the best practice guidance published by the BCO Occupier Group, Savills has adopted the concept of building performance and developed a new customer-focused business model for managing prime offices and places.

The webinar highlights how Savills has incorporated the recommendations into its property management service, touching on its service delivery strategy pre-Covid-19 as well as how property management as a whole may need to adapt in response to the pandemic.

 

 

RealService, Founder & MD, Howard Morgan was invited to contribute to this podcast by Estates Gazette

As the world eventually recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an invaluable opportunity to re-set priorities and re-focus business beyond just the bottom line. In this final Mental Health Awareness Week podcast from EG, our guests ask whether a kinder, more compassionate real estate industry could be one silver lining from these painful months.

EG deputy editor Tim Burke is joined by

Howard Morgan, founder and MD, RealService
Zoe Sinclair, founder, This Can Happen
Juliet Smithson, head of operations, Lion Heart

Listen to the podcast via the link below.

https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-hkru6-dd5046

Roundtable discussion hosted by Goodman Masson – 28th April 2020

RealService Founder and MD, Howard Morgan was invited by financial recruitment specialist, Goodman Masson, to host a roundtable discussion with leading CFO’s and FD’s in the hospitality and restaurant sector.

With well-known operators like, Travelodge, making the headlines and the battles lines being draw, is there a better way to align the interests of owners and operators?

Here are some top tips for avoiding conflict

  1. Talk about the whole package

Hospitality industry CFO’s were clear that the landlords that they were making most progress with are the one’s who are willing to look at the whole package. That means not just the March 2020 quarter’s rent but also the June and September quarters, service charges, monthly rents, turnover caps and the basis of rent calculation. Those landlords who recognise that “we’re in it together” is more than a slogan and actively engage in understanding the operator’s business and constraints will make the most progress.

  1. Look at each other’s break points

CFO’s are pragmatists and recognise that both parties have break points. Those break points could for example be linked to external funding commitments. Recognising and being transparent about these constraints can save a lot of time. Honesty is the key – this isn’t a time for gaming and hiding behind smoke and mirrors.

  1. March quarter rent

Not everyone sees the withholding of rent at the March quarter day the same way. While most hold the line “we can’t trade, we have no income so how can we pay rent?”, not all agree.  One FD told us that they do not believe that landlords should be denied the March rent as it was neither the tenant nor landlords fault that the lockdown was brought in. This FD took the view that withholding the March quarter rent set the discussion about the future financial relationship on the wrong footing.

  1. Be clear about language

There is a lot of new language being bandied about and FD’s told us that it’s important to make sure that both parties have the same understanding. Deferment, holiday, freeze, suspension, credit, waiver, abatement, concession, discount, reduction can mean different things to different people. Take care to define terminology.

  1. Don’t lose sight of our commercial reality

FD’s were keen to caution landlords about the speed of restart. “It’s going to take time to restart operations as the lockdown is released and its could be 6 – 12 months before the new normal is reached” said one FD. In the meantime, the viability of operating restaurants or leisure venues under social distance rule is likely to be marginal. “Just because a unit has reopened, don’t expect the pre-covid rent to be immediately affordable”. One FD warned that “if landlords are greedy, it’ll make more sense for us to keep a unit closed”.

  1. New operating formats

Hospitality operators are actively looking at new formats that will allow them to reopen and maintain their brand presence but comply with social distancing regulations. Expect to see coffee shops operating on a takeaway only basis and leisure operators to reduce the density of customers. The view was expressed that high street stores are far more likely to open first rather than those in a managed shopping centre environments.

  1. Fixed rent v turnover

CFOs see turnover rents as an essential element of the future leasing model. Most recognise and accept that this will lead to more involvement by landlords in their businesses. Some are wary saying “It will also put pressure on our already stretched finance departments. We don’t need more complexity now”. For a business with say 600 units across the UK, the thought of renegotiating leases from fixed to turnover and potentially running each on a difference turnover percentage is daunting. There are lessons from the airports and stations where true turnover rents are well established.

  1. Proceed with caution

One COO told us that he had decided not to enter into any written variation agreements with landlords until it was clear whether the Government would be offering any further support for the landlord and tenant relationship. There was wide support for pan-industry initiatives to win government support for a rent furlough scheme.

  1. Pandemic clauses

CFOs are starting to think about how they can build clauses into lease agreements which reflect the possibility of further lockdown waves and whatever comes next after Covid-19. They express the view that landlords and tenants will want to introduce force majeure clauses.

  1. Don’t press the nuclear button

A final word of caution. FDs warn those landlords who are not willing to engage from pressing the legal nuclear button. They say that contrary to perceptions “we are not being showered with cash by the government”. This is not a time for heavy handed action like winding-up petitions. “Hospitality operators have long memories and will want to work with owners that they trust” warned one FD.

Focus on the future

So what are the final messages from CFOs and FDs for landlords?

“Look at the long term, be flexible”

“Don’t just talk partnership, bring the words to life”

“Accept the reality, the March quarter has gone, let’s focus on the future landscape”

RealService would like to thank Paul Goodman of Goodman Masson for inviting us to chair this event.

 

Contact RealService

If you would like to discuss any of these themes, or understand more about the ways that RealService can equip you and your teams with the insights and skills to operate in the Covid-19 era, call Howard Morgan

07801 628554

howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk

Never has the business relationship between landlord and tenant been under greater pressure than now.

The Covid-19 crisis has hit the already reeling retail sector, the demand for office space has disappeared overnight and viewing a residential property is a risk to health.

When the going gets tough, you might expect landlords to revert to stereotype – taking advantage of legally binding commitments made in better times.

RealService clients see the world differently – they see the crisis as chance to enhance relationships and demonstrate a genuine humanity.

We’ve been working for the past 21 years to help our clients to create truly customer focused property businesses. We’re proud that our clients pay more than lip-service to treating tenants as customers. We’ve helped them to measure customer loyalty and to understand what best practice looks like.

The coming weeks will test their resolve and whether their “customer first” mission statements are more than hogwash. We’ve been working with them to develop their empathy skills, to learn how to ask open questions and to listen to the practical and emotional needs of their customers. Some have already shown that they are listening https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2020/march/tfl-takes-steps-to-support-tenants

At RealService, we’ve always advised clients that when the going gets tough, the most important thing you can do is stick close to your customers. They will tell you what they need, you just have to deliver it. For the property industry post Coronavirus, this is going to mean radical change. We’re ready to help our clients gather even more intelligence about their customers.

The message to our clients is simple…. we are here for you and ready to give any practical support that you need. For example, helping you to keep in touch with your customers, to communicate important messages, or just to see how they are doing. If your resources are stretched, we are able to help.

We’re also bringing customer experience professionals in real estate together through our Experience Makers network – why not join our discussion group and share ideas and get inspiration at https://join.slack.com/t/exmnetwork/shared_invite/zt-cog6pzdt-XQZNLjZXHS1YVSsud9E6HQ

The RealService team are working from home and easily accessible via email, telephone and video conferencing.

Whatever the coming months bring, we remain relentlessly focused on providing our clients with excellent professional service and support they have come to expect of us, and we thank them for their continued loyalty.

Reporting from the 4th Annual RealService / GRESB Customer Experience Seminar

“Today we are launching the search for property’s next holy grail. It’s our belief that we as an industry need to be able to better measure and prove the return on investment in improving CX,” said RealService founder and MD, Howard Morgan.

Setting the scene at the start of the fourth annual RealService / GRESB customer experience seminar hosted by The Crown Estate in London on November 7th 2019, Morgan went on to explain: “It is easier to spend the money than it is to measure the impact of it.

“There will be those who say that investing in improving CX is about belief –  that you’ll never be able to measure it, it’s just too complex. Well, we disagree.

“Those like us at RealService, and no doubt many in this room, who intuitively believe in investing in CX, need to expect to come under scrutiny from two important stakeholders – our investors and our occupiers.”

It was clear from the full house and lively sessions that measuring the return on customer experience is firmly on the agenda in the property industry. However, the conundrum now is where best to invest your customer-experience budget, and how to judge if it was money well spent.

Morgan has been preaching for 20 years that real estate is no longer a bricks and mortar business but firmly ensconced in the hospitality industry.  “It’s a crazy world and in times of great change the only sound strategy is to stick close to your customers,” he said. “They will tell you exactly where to go with your business.”

Morgan and Harriet Jones, the Producer of property networking group Experience Makers, have started the search for the ‘holy grail’ and have been working on a method of measuring ROX.

“So, if CX professionals can demonstrate that by investing £X you will be able to increase your Net Promoter Score by Y points and increase total returns or net revenue by Z%, we will be able to access the funds we need to improve CX and raise the status that our specialism deserves.” said Morgan.

 

Measuring ROX scorecard

Harriet Jones introduced the prototype ROX Scorecard which asks those proposing to spend CX budget to identify the target audience, the overall purpose, how this fits with their CX strategy and the resources necessary. Crucially, it also asks for the intended emotional/social output, the hoped-for change in customer behaviour and the financial outcome. All three should have targets and measurement strategies identified.

“Before you can successfully evaluate the impact of Customer Experience investments, you need a clear CX strategy,” said Jones. “The scorecard should help you identify and measure what would otherwise be deemed simply ‘aspirational’ or ‘fun’,” she said.

Jones explained how the Scorecard would enable faster and better decision making, quicker budget approvals and the knowledge that money has been spent wisely​.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The customer lens

The keynote address was delivered by The Crown Estate’s Director of Central London, James Cooksey, and he welcomed the idea of a ROX scorecard.

“We have recognised that if we are to maintain our relevance we must operate as a business which adds service to the customer, rather than a property company that organises leases,” he said. “You can’t just build stuff and say, ‘do you want it?’ We need to do everything through the lens of our customers and to do that we need to get to know them.

He emphasised the benefits of customer engagement, saying: “There are people elsewhere who think customers are a pain in the proverbial, to be avoided at all costs. From our experience, engaging with customers is rewarding and enables us to build strong relationships. Now is our time.”

James Cooksey, Director of Central London, The Crown Estate

Completing GRESB assessments is a task undertaken by many investment managers and property companies and Roxana Isaiu, the GRESB real estate director, emphasised in her presentation that sustainability “no longer stops at climate risks and resilience”.

Stakeholder engagement is now a growing component of the GRESB assessment, but she was surprised that although many GRESB members were undertaking customer surveys, only 27 per cent of more than 1,000 portfolios were using the Net Promoter Score. “That is very low, considering it is the most comparable and the most quantifiable way of measuring customer experience,” she said.

‘Start measuring’

Her advice to GRESB members wanting to engage with their stakeholders was to carry out a survey of occupiers / customers. “Once you have your baseline and your NPS score, in principle the only way is up. It is important to measure. You have to start somewhere, so start with a few assets and start measuring,” she said.

Investment managers have traditionally been reticent to spend client cash on occupier engagement but are now having to react to investors who want to see initiatives in environmental sustainability, health and wellbeing and customer experience.

Kaj Bakker, the sustainability manager for Europe with Cromwell Property Group, said the company’s asset managers were now rewarded based on the NPS (customer loyalty) scores they achieved. “We needed data and for that we went to our customers, carried out research and now the NPS score is the best way for our asset managers to chase their bonuses,” he said.

“They were worried that there were different cultures in different countries, but you can get a ‘nine’ in Italy or a ‘nine’ in Finland – or you could get a zero. It just depends on how good the relationship is between the asset manager, the property manager and the customer. “The key is to ask your customers. If you hide behind your property manager or facilities manager, you cannot make a real impact, especially on customer retention.”

The operator’s view

When it comes to the operator’s view, the main issues have been extracting and justifying a customer-experience budget from investors. Speaking from the operators’ perspective, Sylvana Young, chief design officer at Get Living, said allocating budget to different projects is based around Get Living policies which focus on Tech, community amenities and wellbeing.

“Feedback suggests our customers want us to get the basics right. They want to know they have a good home, which is well-managed, and they feel secure. However, occasionally you do get the impression that a strong internet connection is more important to some residents than having hot water!”

Get Living’s customer experience activities have included pizza making, ‘paint like Banksy’ classes, and outdoor exercise sessions. “Measuring the impact is challenging,” said Young. “We try to look at cost versus benefit, but there are so many factors which contribute to that process that it is hard to value. We use NPS data from thousands of residents, getting feedback at the beginning, middle and end of their leases; we use ReviewPro to harvest comments on social media and there is an element of anecdotal evidence.

Endorsing ROX, Young said: “Can we clearly measure the return on experience? No, we can’t, so it would be great to have industry guidance and a process for putting a value on input versus output.”

Outside lessons

Chris Garthwaite’s lessons from outside the industry featured how the rail network was transforming its outdated ethos of passengers as “self-loading freight” into a culture which put its customers front and centre. Using its Heartbeat(R) product to map the differences between passenger expectations and reality, Garthwaite’s consultancy CGA is helping the rail industry get back on track.

An expert panel of Chris Richmond (Head of Real Estate at PwC), Dr Danielle Sanderson (lecturer, UCL), David Wright (Director, Director Group) and Darryll Colthrust (SVP of Technology) offered external perspectives, emphasising the value of putting customers at the heart of your property business.

Colthrust was forthright. Asked if there were ways of gathering information without dealing directly with customers, he said: “You cannot get around talking to your customers. You have to talk to them to get context, otherwise all you have is data. The last best experience someone had anywhere is the experience against which they will judge you. You can’t just link it to real estate – they are comparing you every single day.”

Summing up at the close, The Crown Estate’s Head of Customer, Michelle Laramy, endorsed the importance of having a clear CX strategy and a process by which you can assess, measure and prove the success of that strategy.

Tooling up with the ROX Strategy Scorecard can help you judge your CX outputs and is the first step on the road to measuring the return on experience. Holy grail, here we come.

               

Clockwise: Kaj Bakker of Cromwell Property Group (l) in conversation with Howard Morgan; Networking opportunities; Roxana Isaiu, Real Estate director at GRESB; James Cooksey at the lectern 

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RealService would like to thank The Crown Estate for hosting the event; James Cooksey, of The Crown Estate for his keynote address; speakers Michelle Laramy, Kaj Bakker, Sylvana Young, Roxana Isaiu, Chris Garthwaite and panelists Chris Richmond, Dr Danielle Sanderson, David Wright and Darryll Colthrust.

Want to know more?

RealService can help you measure customer loyalty and advise you on your CX strategy.

If you’d like to discuss ROX call Howard Morgan on 020 3393 9603 or contact RealService on info@real-service.co.uk

​You can find out more about CX networking group, Experience Makers, at www.experiencemakers.com

There is no argument that providing a better customer experience leads to better returns.

Research done by PwC in 2017 (Ingredients for Great Experiences) found companies that make experience a priority can charge a premium of up to 16 percent for their products and services.

And, Dr Danielle Sanderson’s PhD thesis, based on thousands of interviews conducted by RealService, revealed a total return increase of 1.9% “loyalty bonus” for property companies who could improve their customer satisfaction ratings by one level on a five-point scale.

However, the next big question for those in the property industry who are spending money on customer experience is in which areas is it best to invest, which areas will net the best returns on that investment – and how do we measure those returns, the ROX, the return on experience.

RealService, partnered by GRESB, the global benchmarking organisation, will be discussing Measuring ROX, the next Holy Grail, at a seminar hosted by The Crown Estate, in London on November 7.

We will have speakers representing the owner/investors, the developers and the operators – and a panel of customers who will kickstart the deliberations around how to create a reliable metric which tracks the results of your investments in customer and employee experiences — and how to implement it.

We will also be presenting the developing research which is being undertaken by networking community Experience Makers, of which RealService is a founder partner.

You can find out more about the programme – and sign up for the free event [button link=”https://www.eventbrite.com/e/return-on-experience-in-search-of-the-holy-grail-tickets-74103909789″ newwindow=”yes”] HERE[/button]

RealService is a GRESB partner and this is our fourth annual Customer Experience seminar.

We all recognise that feedback is key to our business. As investors or developers, we want to understand what drives our customers; as landlords and property managers we need to know what keeps our tenants happy.

The problem is that as occupiers or consumers we can feel we are being harassed for information, asked to fill surveys, click buttons or give ratings after practically every interaction, no matter how small.

‘How Did We Do?’, we’re asked as we go through border control.

‘Would You Recommend Us?’, we’re asked after a visit to the GP.

‘Rate Our Facilities’, we’re asked after a trip to the loo.

The UKAA’s September breakfast roundtable, hosted by JLL, had the theme ‘Residents’ Feedback: Lifeblood or Unwanted Gift’ and was facilitated by customer experience consultancy RealService.

As a company, RealService is very much in the feedback business, conducting independent qualitative and quantitative reviews to help inform and guide the customer experience strategy of major clients from all sectors of the property industry.

And so, the presentation from founder and managing director Howard Morgan revolved around the notion that those who want customer feedback should really have to earn it.

He said that it should be an easy process, completed at the convenience of the customer and requested only after a relationship has been cultivated through meaningful contact.

Basically, the customer giving feedback should be treated in the same way as the customer buying, or renting, your product.

“Business makes such wonderful claims about service but doesn’t always think about whether their methods for gathering feedback measure up to those claims,” said Morgan.

“I recently went on a cruise and almost as soon as I disembarked was asked by email about my experience,” he said.

The mail said the feedback would take about 10 minutes to complete but filling in the initial questions – how did I rate my cruise overall – led to a 32-page survey. The person who designed it was clearly not thinking about the customer.

Asking for feedback on washroom facilities, he added was “the height of madness”.

“Why would you have to ask how clean the toilets are? I am your customer, not your cleaning supervisor.

“Outsourcing feedback is too easy. We have to learn how to gather feedback in an independent, ethical way, without making it onerous for the customer.”

For those attending, volume of feedback was important, to weed out customers with extreme views, be they good or bad. Other points offered or raised included:

  • Asking for feedback got a better response than simply waiting for it – generally it’s unhappy customers who give it unasked
  • It’s hard to integrate feedback systems; for example, word of mouth with digital or electronic
  • Uber’s 360-degree feedback is stressful – should the supplier really be scoring the customer?
  • Verification is important; how do we tell if anonymous feedback is from a true purchaser?
  • In the residential renting world might it be wise to include ‘responding to requests for feedback’ in the leasing process?
  • The Build To Rent Sector is way ahead of other property sectors because of the realisation that ‘these people could be your customers for years to come’

Hannah Marsh, co-founder of digital feedback company HomeViews, said property was learning from the hospitality industry.

“Hotels wanted feedback but kept getting it from outlier customers – those with extreme views, which were usually negative,” she said.

Now they ask everybody because if you ask all your residents you get the people who might be happy with your service but wouldn’t write a review unprompted.

Sam Winnard, JLL’s Director – Residential Agency, gave an overview of their feedback methodology which included monthly email and telephone calls and residents’ forums. Google Reviews and Net Promoter Scores were used for benchmarking so JLL can compare itself with competitors and with scores from outside the industry.

“Our customers have all interacted with the likes of Amazon or First Direct and they expect the same level of service across the board,” he said.

The Net Promoter Score is a good way of finding out if your customers are passionate about your product and benchmarking their experience inside and outside the property industry, agreed Morgan.

“However, if you are going to be rated a nine or a 10 – the scores which suggest a customer will stay loyal and actively recommend you – there needs to be an emotional connection,” he said.

“After getting your scores, there are two challenges.

“The obvious one is to identify your detractors and proactively manage any issues they have.

“The second is to convert any sevens or eights – those who are passive – into nines or tens and to do that, you need qualitative information around what would make the difference.”

It must also be desirable to have that feedback collected and verified independently.

Wrapping up, UKAA CEO Dave Butler said: “Customers are essential to the success of our business, but we have a long way to go before we put people before buildings.”

If you’d like to know more about how RealService could help you to design a customer feedback programme, or measure and benchmark customer satisfaction, please contact Howard Morgan at howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk