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Customer Experience

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By Sophie Hazeu

A WHILE ago I conducted a post-occupancy study with a number of managing directors.

I was exploring their reasons for choosing the prime real estate into which they had recently moved and the majority of respondents, bar a few who mentioned bike racks and lockers, stated location, rent, rates and square footage as their top priorities when acquiring that particular property in central London.

Sophie Hazeu

Sustainability was on the list but not the top five. No surprise there then.

However, research RealService has carried out recently suggests that seems to be changing and the Road to Cop26 – the UN Climate Change Conference, which Glasgow is hosting in November – is being paved by property companies who are full of good intentions.

That is great, but alongside those who are champing at the bit to refurbish their stock with green credentials are those who feel these costly changes are unfair and unfeasible. Nick Leslau, Chairman of Prestbury Investments, highlighted this in his Property Week article Our Industry is being set up to fail.

‘Carbon neutrality or we will leave’

Nick may have a point, especially when it comes to retro-fitting old buildings. But there’s still an opportunity here and it’s one every property manager should take because during the aforementioned research, on how loyalty impacts on the likelihood to re-occupy, we found that despite good relationships with the landlord and high loyalty to the location/estate, some occupiers stated categorically they would leave at end of their term if their goal of carbon neutrality was not supported.

Consequently, I then began to think about how this high level of ‘Defection Risk’, despite high loyalty, could be identified and then mitigated without having to scramble to achieve the costly changes Nick identified.

We already know that the impact of Covid has produced rapid change in the property market, mainly bringing in hybrid working plans far earlier than previously anticipated. An immediate desire to restructure offices into ‘collaborative spaces’ over desk-based business is, and will continue to be, a huge disrupter for property owners.

A further challenge on the horizon is the increase in weight given to the sustainability of a building as being a prime factor in leasing real estate. This factor is being set out by customers as a clear benchmark – which needs delivering and appears non-negotiable. For some, it’s overtaking the traditional drivers of rent, rate, square footage and service charge.

Create a ‘sustainability champion’

So, it seems property managers have a choice.

They can do nothing and run the risk of losing occupiers for whom carbon neutrality is an important aim.

Or, they can capitalise on this new driver (along with a more flexible lease offering in the short term), by developing sustainable buildings which, in the long run, may enable a higher rate to be demanded.

This is the time to take the sustainability advocate out of the corner, raise their status and create a ‘sustainability champion’ who has a voice.

This champion has a hugely important role in understanding customer perception, and setting their expectations.  This person needs to be able to multi-task.

  • Environmental reports need to be delivered to customers on time (most take six months to deliver an electricity invoice)
  • Reports must be customer-friendly, usable for investors and appropriate for delivering board-level results
  • They must be a trend spotter; what are the latest customer ‘must haves’?
  • They must be able to engage with customers and learn from them whilst managing a realistic sustainability plan. This last point is vital.

So, if the sustainability champion is the means of mitigating ‘Defection Risk’, how can this risk level be identified in the first place?

Defection risk matrix

Working for a major global client, we carried out a number of in-depth interviews and assessed the responses in a Defection Risk Matrix.

This matrix evaluates how effectively ‘loyalty creators’ – like demonstrating empathy and engendering trust  – are being delivered.

We then looked at the ‘loyalty indicators’, to establish whether the customer’s commitment to the landlord, or the property, was strong enough for them to re-occupy against all other factors, such as achieving carbon neutrality in 2030.

Essentially, we were determining whether the customer’s loyalty was enough to mitigate against all the reasons they may wish to leave.

The results enabled the client to identify priority customers where loyalty needed to be enhanced, and therefore the risk mitigated. And, this is where the sustainability champion also comes in; to partner with each customer on their intentions and needs.

We can help you spot customers who would be on your Defection Risk High list. But you can start supporting those for whom sustainability is a key issue right away.

Create the sustainability champion, make sustainability a deliverable goal and keep your loyal customers loyal to you.

If you would like more information on how we can assess your customers’ loyalty, please contact us at info@real-service.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

RealService, Founder & MD, Howard Morgan will chair a webinar in the British Property Federation’s ‘MyBPF – Digital Series’ on 29th March. He’ll be exploring the customer experience skills gap and how we can ensure our industry has the right skills for the future. Full details and sign up here

https://bpf.org.uk/events/property-s-got-talent-new-skills-required-for-a-post-pandemic-world/

Nurturing a diverse and skilled workforce is a key element of the BPF Redefining Real Estate long-term agenda for change.

Pre-pandemic research by RealService for British Council for Offices (BCO) identified that “the disruptive forces reshaping the way we work call for an equally disruptive response in the way we serve our customers” and that “there is a wide and increasing skills gap in both the quality and quantity of talent able to deliver the customer experience expected by occupiers” The Coronavirus Pandemic has widened the gap and called into question how we educate and recruit in the property industry.

This webinar will explore “What is the mindset and what are the skills that the property industry needs to nurture for the post pandemic world?”

Speakers include

Prof Yolande Barnes
Chair
Bartlett Real Estate Institute

James Ainsworth
Head of Estate Management
PwC UK

Lynne Keenan
Executive Director, Head of Scotland
MAPP

Harriet Jones
Producer
Experience Makers

 

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

RealService, founder & MD, Howard Morgan, has been appointed joint course director for the new CX in Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme launched by Experience Makers and the Bartlett Real Estate Institute .

Experience Makers is the real estate industry champion for customer experience professional training and research. The Bartlett Real Estate Institute (BREI) is part of University College London’s world-class faculty and the focal point for all built-environment professionals to re-think real estate.

The CX in Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme is the first short course of its kind to combine academic research with industry insight to provide a vital understanding of customer experience strategy in property, and the skills to implement it.

This exciting initiative is the culmination of research and consultation carried out by Experience Makers and partners that highlights an alarming gap between current training and the skills required for a fast evolving and increasingly service-driven industry.

The impact of coronavirus has plainly revealed the property industry’s reliance on its customers. The call for new and improved knowledge on how to create attractive and healthy places that respond to customer need has only increased.

Fellow course director Prof. Yolande Barnes, chair of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, said: “This new short course is an exciting next step in our journey to explore the richness and diversity of the value that real estate generates.

 “The programme sets out to open minds to new ways of thinking about real estate in the Covid-19 era and will equip students with practical tools to put this into action. Our ambition is to foster a new generation of professionals who see real estate not as a commodity, but as means to deliver an outstanding experience to customers.”

The CX in Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme is aimed at ambitious individuals working in all areas of property and its related fields, who recognise that real estate has evolved and who see themselves leading CX programmes at asset, team or business level.

Initially delivered online via eight units over six weeks, the intensive short course provides participants with a rewarding learning experience, equips them with practical tools to take back to their business and offers the chance to be part of a new alumni of property professionals with a customer mindset.

The CX in Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme is supported by Experience Makers members and developed in consultation with an Advisory Group of leading organisations passionate about pushing the industry forward.

These include The Crown Estate, Get Living, MAPP, Savills and Transport for London. Their involvement ensures that the programme is rooted in real-world aims, actions and successes.

Howard Morgan, said: “RealService was founded 20 years ago with the ambition to transform our industry’s approach to customer relationships. RealService is a proud supporter of Experience Makers with it’s mission to champion education and research in customer experience in real estate. I am thrilled to be collaborating with Professor Yolande Barnes and UCL Bartlett, an academic partner that shares our ambition to rethink real estate.

 “I believe that this programme is an international first and am excited to welcome participants from the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

 

Information about the course is available here:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/real-estate/study/short-courses/cx-real-estate-future-leaders-programme-short-course

Course start date: Tuesday, May 20 2021

 


 

 

About BREI (+ UCL press office number +44 (0)7747 565 056)

 

The Bartlett Real Estate Institute is a new global institute that is rethinking the traditional view of real estate. We offer MSc programmes, short courses and research opportunities that critically evaluate real estate within its wider societal, economic and environmental context.

 

About Experience Makers www.experiencemakers.com

 

Experience Makers are the real estate industry champions for customer experience professional education and research supported by a network of leading organisations and trailblazing individuals committed to pushing the industry forward.

 

28/01/2021

A Zoom focus group facilitated by RealService as part of the UK Apartment Association’s ‘Build to Rent Festival’ proved that valuable, qualitative feedback can be obtained in a cost-effective, but powerful way.

RealService founder and managing director Howard Morgan brought together a group of five BTR residents, with experience of renting in UK, USA, Europe and Asia, to share a wealth of insight during a well-attended 45 minutes on-line session.

He said: “We would have loved to have been together in one room but the Zoom technology worked a treat and the format could easily be adapted into other residential, industrial and office real estate settings.”

Surprise extras

The participants were given flash cards on which they could provide simple answers or ratings before going on to explain their thoughts in more depth.

Morgan said: “We were able to touch on all the core issues around communication, responsiveness, value for money and potential areas of improvement, but we also got some surprise extras, which you generally would not get from individual online questionnaires.

“Having the group interacting together also meant we were able to reach a consensus on some issues, instead of having five separate opinions.

“For example, the four participants in favour of having an app or portal to log repairs or register deliveries were able to put their case to the one who thought apps cold and impersonal. Hearing the argument from your peers is much more powerful than hearing it from your landlord.

“There was an insightful discussion around what they each wanted from the relationship with their landlord, the amenities they valued and the importance of feeling part of a community, be it within the apartment complex or outside it.

“They also came up with several simple but useful ideas, for example having a one-stop BTR listings website or having a garage-sale service for those moving in or out.

“All in all, it’s a really cost-effective way to get great feedback, which make great use of the power of Zoom”

Challenge perceptions

Sylvana Young, design partner at The Young Group, said the session had produced “genuinely useful feedback that both supported and challenged operators’ perceptions”.

She added: “The panel was real, balanced and informed with a good mix of experience, backgrounds and covered multiple locations.

“There is huge value in understanding what is important to customers. We carry out qualitative and quantitative research ahead of launching a scheme and we monitor customer service through the  living journey. But this facilitated something different as the panellists were able to share and discuss their views to a wide audience in real time.”

Harriet Jones, the producer of online community Experience Makers, co-facilitated the session. She said: “It was really refreshing to be involved in an event which heard directly from residents.

“It seems a really simple but effective way of involving your customers and it was great to receive feedback from the particiopants who enjoyed the chance to share their experiences”

Dynamic experience

Dave Butler, chief executive of UKAA said: “As an organisation, we have been trying to do some online research and was pleasantly surprised how well the session went. The model has great potential.

“The best thing is that is it good to talk to customers live. A survey will get you individual views but that dynamic of having people together gets you views that you can share across the sector. It feels like a much more interactive experience.

“You do have to get the curation right, the mechanics right and there’s a skill in that. You want to keep the conversation interesting, and flowing. A rotated group repeated regularly would give great results.

“RealService has the expertise and innovative skills to maximise these opportunities.”

Ready to focus?

If you would like RealService to run an online feedback focus group with your customers, please contact Howard Morgan (howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk). We can:

  • Identify your needs
  • Contact and recruit suitable participants
  • Devise the discussion guide
  • Facilitate the focus group
  • Draw actionable insight from the discussion

 

About us

RealService is a customer experience consultancy helping our clients create great places to live, work, shop and relax. See more at www.real-service.com.

Experience Makers is a champion for customer experience research and education in real estate. Join the network at www.experiencemakers.com