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What is the metaverse and how is it going to affect the world of real estate? We put on our RealService virtual reality headsets and took a look into the future.

1 – What is the metaverse?

According to Deloitte the metaverse is the internet in 3D. “It’s a form of digital interaction where connected, virtual experiences can either simulate the real world or imagine worlds beyond it,” they say.

Simply put, the metaverse is a digital incarnation of a physical space and is the gaming industry taking the next leap from Fortnite or Minecraft towards new audiences in real-world adaptations.

So, instead of building empires or fighting aliens, we will be using these platforms for shopping, attending concerts, or even going to work.

The metaverse is the internet of 1993

2 – How developed is it now?

At the moment, the metaverse is in its infancy. If you had a Commodore 64 computer in the early Eighties or signed up for a free Hotmail account in the Nineties, you’ll know what it was like to be in at the start of something.

Picture showing a 1984 Apple MAc computer
Computers have come along way since this 1984 Mac

“The metaverse is literally the internet of 1993,” said Dan Reitzik, CEO of TerraZero, a metaverse land developer. (We’ll come back to what a metaverse land developer actually is later).

Dan was speaking at a BizNow digital summit on the metaverse and commercial real estate and what he meant is that in terms of tech and of usage, the metaverse is just starting out.

He also meant that in terms of potential, the metaverse is mostly untapped but is going to be limitless. We have all seen what’s happened with the internet.

3 – How is it affecting the retail industry?

Even though it is early days, it is having an impact.

Just as they got to grips with the importance of the customer experience and found innovative ways to attract consumers to their stores, shopping centre managers, developers, owners and investors are finding their experiential approach is being trumped again by the internet.

A shopping centre in the metaverse will give virtual visitors a feeling of being in a store. Retail brands love it because the average time spent in a metaverse store exceeds 20 minutes, compared to the two minutes or so for simple on-line shopping.

The metaverse is also a natural environment for hosting events. A concert in a venue like Wembley Stadium might hold 100,000 people, but a concert on the metaverse could be seen by millions.

4 – What about the office?

Its application for the world of work does not seem as advanced except in areas which improve communication and drive culture. Bill Gates has said he reckons Zoom will be dead in two-three years, and there won’t be too many folk mourning that, but that doesn’t suggest that we will all be back in the office.

On the contrary, the BizNow panel unanimously felt that hybrid working was here to stay but that having an office in the metaverse where avatars can meet and chat as if in person would be an advance on the two-dimensional Zoom or Teams experience.

One contributor said landlords were already being asked to provide a “digital twin” to their occupiers’ rented office space.

It’s an amenity for real-world properties

“It’s an amenity for real-world properties,” said Erin McDannald, CEO of Lighting Environments. “It provides a digital swing for tenants who are not ready to leave the physical world and ties physical spaces to virtual spaces.

“It is the nearest thing we have to meeting face-to-face and it allows a company to have a global culture.”

5 – How does it actually work?

There are several metaverse developers, notably Sandbox and Decentraland, who have created virtual worlds in which ‘players’ can buy parcels of land, build on them or rent them out.

The number of land parcels is limited, to create scarcity and competition so it becomes more valuable. Sandbox has 166,000 plots of land, each of which are 96m2.

After purchasing the land – in crypto currency only – it will be registered on blockchain as an NFT (non-fungible token). The buyer can then decide what to do with it, but whatever the decision, it will require considerable technical expertise from the platform designer to build the experience required.

In many ways the process mirrors real-world practice. An investor/developer/landlord will look for a prime location, design a building and rent space within it.

There is a mammoth project in Toronto to make an entire digital city

6 – How will this be a good thing?

It has already proved attractive to brands who have created virtual stores, allowing people to browse and buy in the way they would in an actual physical shop. One example from the BizNow panel was an American sandwich shop where shoppers could build their own virtual sandwich – and then have the real thing delivered to their door.

It’s going to be great for estate agents, or anyone wanting to show a property to someone who can’t get to the physical location. There is, for example, a mammoth project in Toronto to make an entire digital city so potential real estate purchasers in, say South Korea, can be shown around without having to get on a plane.

It’s also a potential boon for tourists who can play their way around Toronto before they get there.

Virtual reality is also already used in construction to bring two-dimensional plans to life.

7 – Is it a great leveller – and what does it cost?

You can have a swanky property in the metaverse so there’s no need to have a swanky property in a great physical location – is the theory.

In practice, there will still be parcels of land which will be more valuable than others because of their virtual proximity to key sites. For example, retailers want to be close to other prime retailers so competition for spots in virtual malls could be fierce.

According to Forbes, less than a year ago, the average price for the smallest plot of land available to buy on Decentraland or the Sandbox – two of the biggest metaverse platforms – was under $1,000. Today it’s sitting at around $13,000.

Picture showing a woman holding a virtual reality headset
Those headsets!

8 – So what are its problems?

Firstly, there are many metaverses out there competing for your cyber currency and if you remember the battle between Betamax and VHS, arguably the better product lost out to its better resourced competitor.

Then, your prestigious building or storefront cannot currently be transferred from one metaverse another – they are not ‘decentralised’ – so you would need a new design for each metaverse.

And another variable which is stalling the progress is that all transactions are carried out in cryptocurrency. This can be a step to far for major corporations who, according to Reznik, “don’t like to see these currencies on their balance sheet” and the recent volatility in that market is also not helping.

Finally, while the tech is improving all the time … those headsets!

9 – How can RealService help?

For retail owners/investors, working proactively with your brands is the best way to develop a partnership approach which can improve the experience of real-life shoppers and mitigate the draw to the virtual world.

Our Real-Insight interviews target brand decision-makers to give you a deep dive into how your offering is perceived, benchmark it with your peers and provide intelligence as to how you can develop the relationship for your mutual benefit.

The best way to attract occupiers back to the office is to engage with them about the experience they want when they get there. Real-Insight interviews can target both occupiers on the ground and the decision-makers who make the judgements on location and space. Our ability to provide clients with independent evidence is key.

10 – Where can I get more information?

Please contact Louise Freethy (Louise.Freethy@real-service.co.uk) or Justine Johnson (Justine.Johnson@real-service.co.uk) if you would like to know more about Real-Insight, RealService’s Voice of Customer research.

For more general information, please check out the websites below.

  • Metaverse basics from Deloitte here
  • Experts discuss the future of the office here
  • Learn about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) here
  • All about buying land on the metaverse here

‘Real estate is about revenue, retention and reputation – and our clients understand that’

The message of the 2022 RealService Conference was that our people are key to making the most of a future in which the property industry will embrace customer experience as never before.

“The post-pandemic world is a different world and our services have never been more in demand,” said director and chief operating officer Louise Freethy, who welcomed staff and consultants to their first face-to-face gathering for three years.

“The insight we provide and the customer experience strategies we promote have engagement at board level.

“Real estate is about reputation, retention and revenue and our clients understand that. They know that RealService adds value and it’s our privilege to help them.

“Our interviewers, our project managers, our people who work tirelessly and professionally to provide our high-quality services are our best assets. Thank you for all your efforts.”

RealService founder Howard Morgan’s mantra has been that property is not about bricks and mortar, but about hospitality and the people who occupy the buildings.

It’s our time. Please be part of creating our future Howard Morgan

“It’s our time,” he told the attendees. “The pandemic has shown that landlords must understand their customers. RealService has a wonderful future, and I would say to you, ‘please be part of creating that future’.”

Also important to the RealService business are our values, and prizes aligning to them were awarded by Louise.

Howard received the ‘pioneer’ award in recognition of his lightbulb moment from which RealService was born, his constant innovation around product development and the honorary professorship he was awarded by UCL following his creation of Future Leaders educational programme.

Our data whizz Lasha Gegidze received the ‘expert’ award for his development of the innovative RealService dashboard, while senior consultant April Davies was the ‘young-minded’ recipient because of her ability to embrace any new challenge with positivity.

Jane King, a proofer and scheduler, won the ‘caring’ award for being ready to help anybody with anything, anytime.

Picture showing a line up of people outside
RealService Conference 2022 … This is us

‘It’s people who drive your business, who are the face of your business’

Guest speaker Tricia Heberle was Chef de Mission for Team Ireland at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

She spoke of the importance of putting people first – in her case, the athletes – and having values which become the pillars around which the organisation can grow, and change can take place.

“It has been great to be out of my comfort zone learning about the changing needs and opportunities in the real estate industry for property developers and landlords delivering on customer experience,” she said.

“There are many synergies between your business and the world of sport, especially when it comes to realising that it’s people who drive your business, who are the face of your business – and who are your customers.”

RealService, the customer experience consultancy for the real estate industry, is delighted to welcome Justine Johnson in the role of Associate Director, with special responsibility for creating new products and services, and business development.

Justine joins RealService from advertising company Grey London, where she held the post of Group Business Director, working with a wide range of brands including Volvo, VW, Virgin Atlantic, Bose Global and GSK.

Howard Morgan, RealService Founder and CEO, said: “Justine joins RealService at a time of significant opportunity for the firm. With 23 years’ experience in CX insight, training, and consultancy, we are ideally placed to help the real estate industry through a period of dramatic change. We’re not resting on our laurels and excited to be attracting the next generation of talent to the company.”

Louise Freethy, RealService Director and COO, said: “Winning and keeping occupier customers has never been more important to our clients. Justine’s experience gained working with blue-chip companies around the world will be immensely valuable, enabling us to bring customer experience solutions from within and outside the property industry.”

Justine said she was looking forward to her new role.

“I was looking to join a company with a strong sense of purpose operating in a sector where I can make a real difference and believe that I’ve found that in RealService,” she said.

“The real estate industry is undergoing a revolution in the way it thinks about its customers. I’ve seen this kind of transformation happen elsewhere and am excited to have the chance to bring my experience to RealService clients.”

This announcement follows Howard’s recent appointment as an Honorary Professor at the UCL Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction. Howard will continue to provide strategic consulting advice to RealService clients while pursuing his interests in real estate education and as a trustee of a mental health charity.

Louise, who recently celebrated 18 years with RealService, will be extending her leadership responsibilities in the coming months as the firm implements its succession plan.

Director Sue Flatto is to become an adviser to RealService from May 1, stepping back from her day-to-day involvement in client projects.

 

About RealService

RealService helps our clients to improve leasing, retention and loyalty by creating a better experience for occupier customers. Our services include customer insight, customer experience consulting, skills training and networking.

 

For more information contact:

Howard Morgan, Founder & MD

howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk

RealService Founder, Howard Morgan, recently spoke at the Navigator Forum organised by  CGA 

A report of his presentation is available here and reprinted below with thanks to Chris Garthwaite and Carla Hall at CGA for the invitation.

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Introduction

Cities around the world have seen a fundamental change in the way we use property and real estate. As with many of the seismic shifts since March 2020, this was a trend that was already in motion pre-pandemic, but Covid-19 has escalated the evolutionary process.

While change presents challenges for commercial property owners and those in businesses that hinge on real estate (not least UK pensions, which are underpinned by property), it also presents opportunities as well. So, how can businesses adapt their thinking to create a customer experience worth paying for in 2022 and beyond?

What’s changed in real estate?

The overarching change is that we simply are not using commercial property in the way we were five years ago. Remote working is perhaps the most obvious change that has occurred, with digitisation opening opportunities for people to live and work beyond the overpopulated and highly priced realms of major cities.

Remote working was a creeping trend that has leapt forwards, with many wishing to continue working from home all or part of the time going forward. It opens all kinds of opportunities, ranging from ‘levelling up’ income and local spending across the UK to providing more job opportunities for anyone who can’t travel into the likes of London and Manchester on a regular basis.

While there may be some friction between businesses and employees as to how the remote working model plays out in the long-term, as of September 2021 50% of British employees are still working from home at least some of the time. That’s up from 37% before the pandemic. The change has prompted technology to advance in order to improve the remote working experience. Last month alone we saw Facebook showcase their haptic glove prototype, allowing you to feel objects in virtual reality.

It’s not just offices, however, that are seeing changes. The high street has been under ‘threat’ since the dawn of the internet, and the challenges of the last two years have meant that anyone who hadn’t changed their shopping habits to the digital realm has now been largely forced to. As a result, shopping centres and brick-and-mortar stores are suffering.

Even rented housing and apartment buildings are facing enormous change in cities (linked back to remote working). As people realise that they are not bound to urban areas, landlords find themselves competing for tenants in a way they have never had to before.

We are at a moment of profound change and for lots of businesses that’s a daunting prospect, but it’s not a situation that has never occurred before. For example, one might see both an industry and society parallel in the colliery closures and ensuing miners strikes in the 1980s. They, too, were a way of life, impacted entire communities, were linked to the very essence of how the country was run, and had the capacity to make entire businesses irrelevant in a very short space of time.

Reimagining the proposition for commercial property

Against this backdrop we need to change the way we think about commercial property. What is it for? How is it used?

Since 2002 Barclays has been selling off its office buildings and leasing them back. Large city apartment buildings have been plagued by scandal and a loss of trust post Grenfell, and shopping centres are floundering. For example, Bluewater’s 30% stakeholder, Landsec, is currently in talks to buy Lendlease’s 25% stake for £200m. That would represent an overall value drop of around £800m over the past three years.

That said, we are seeing a repurposing of those buildings and the way they’re used for work, life and leisure. What businesses need to think about is how to provide services that enhance experience in these environments.

Space as a service

In offices, stats show that typically just 2 out of 10 corporates are satisfied with the services they get from landlords. So, the old is being outshone by the new, as ‘space as a service’ providers like WeWork capture the mood and gain 9 or 10 out of 10 in customer satisfaction surveys.

The shift in our approach to commercial property comes down to two things: service and experience. Office and apartment buildings are shifting from a focus on ownership to the monetisation of services. That includes physical space as something people consume according to need. That might be in the likes of WeWork or student accommodation providers like Unite Students. These are no longer places to simply crash for the night, they provide tea, coffee and services that enhance the experience.

The tenant as the customer

In apartment buildings, landlords are being called out for abusing power (only recently, Luke Johnson wrote his piece ‘Time to end the abuse of tenants’ for The Times). There’s also a rise in pressure groups like Guardians of the Arches, calling for tenants to be treated as valued customers.

One example that Howard highlighted, was from Quintain Living. Their lifestyle focussed rental company has been developing an area outside Wembley, producing something colourful, imaginative and experience focused. It includes a rooftop community space on the 14-storey residential tower, as well as two floors of office space which tenants can use free of charge. What they’re delivering as a result is not just a roof over your head, but a community that’s nice to live in. There are camper vans on the roof, which can be offices for the day, colourful post boxes and hot tubs – the emphasis is on the experience.

In many ways this is forward thinking. However, one contributor pointed out that in other ways, this emphasis on community is a throwback to the way continental Europe structured its communities in the past, with commercial premises on one floor and housing on another. There is inspiration to be drawn from the past as well as imagining the future.

Training and behaviour

The missing link between reimagining the way we use commercial property and executing those plans successfully is a combination of skills and strategic capabilities.

A mindset change

In the first instance, it’s about a mindset change. For a long time, those who have owned or managed property, have had the luxury of not really thinking about the customer and their experience. Property has been in demand, so landlords have been able to command high fees without providing any service. Now, commercial property owners find themselves in a position where it needs to give people a reason to come to them – they need to think about the customer experience.

It’s a way of thinking that the hospitality industry has understood for generations. CGA’s Graham Ryan recalled living in an apartment building in the USA, where the concierge added enormous value to each tenant by knowing everyone’s name, always saying ‘hello’, and being engaging. The community loved him, and 26 years later, he remains a positive memory of that experience. That individual and his customer service created value for that asset.

It is a mindset that forward thinking businesses are seeing tangible benefits from across the board. For example, researcher Dr Danielle Sanderson investigated the determinants of satisfaction amongst tenants of UK offices. She found that if you can increase satisfaction by one unit on a 1 to 5 scale, you can increase total returns by +1.9%.

New skills and training

For many businesses this will require a change of perspective, but ultimately that’s driven by introducing different skillsets at a top level, and training to make sure that those values are then reflected through the different customer touch points in the business.

A contributor noted that it’s essential for teams as well as leadership to be inspired to this new way of thinking. She said that staff need to be taken on the same journey as leaders through appropriate training and mentoring. It was felt that if teams are not involved in that transformative process towards customer experience, then they will naturally pivot back to what they know.

It was highlighted that traditionally, the recruitment process into the property industry has focused on chartered surveyors, but those qualifications and courses don’t cover customer service or customer experience. They are transactional. Unless those individuals are naturally inclined to service, they won’t have the necessary skills to address customer experience. They must be generated, taught and trained.

With that in mind, we are now seeing more and more jobs available for a Head of Customer Experience, and training providers are catching on. For example, UCL has launched a short course titled CX in Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme.

One contributor, whose company is in property investment, said that they have moved from a one size fits all approach to a one size fits one experience approach. They have pivoted the business so that everything is consumer centric. Where a landlord might have traditionally only had contact with a tenant when a three-year tenancy agreement came up for renewal, there’s now a property management layer that’s about knowing the customer and ensuring they want to stay. The question they ask themselves is ‘how can we be Ritz Carlton for living, office space and logistics?’ The Ritz Carlton has its own centre of excellence, so they are creating a similar capacity in-house to ensure staff training.

The gap in strategic capabilities

In addition to training, there’s the question of what a more experience focused approach to the property industry looks like and what businesses need to factor into their budgets and capabilities to make that happen.

Pastries and ice creams

One contributor works with a landlord who had worried: ‘We can’t supply enough milk to our office building!’ It’s a new issue for landlords, but as they are now providing tea and coffee making facilities, the logistics around milk and how much they needed becomes something to think about. The same landlord had questions about their Danish pastries – were they too big? Should they be providing them at all?

Whether it’s pastries or luxury toiletries, in many ways such an issue seems trivial, but when it’s done to scale it is both a budgetary and logistics consideration, the likes of which hoteliers and brand consultants have been thinking about for decades. There’s a need to decide what’s required, when, how much, how it’s being delivered, how waste and cleaning are to be managed. It’s also about measuring the impact of these small details on the customer experience so you know what to change, increase or decrease.

Historically, no budget would have been put aside for these experiential factors, even if the thought had been there to implement them. Now, the property industry needs to incorporate them into its thinking. The service charge system in the UK has meant that’s where the budget is set. Most properties have a budget line for letting but they don’t have a line item for customer retention.

One contributor remembered suggesting to the owner of an office building that they give ice creams to all the occupants if the air conditioning system went down. The response was ‘we don’t have the budget’. Today, new operators are coming into the market, and they are more attuned to a service-based way of thinking. In short, the pastries and ice creams are accounted for.

Marketing and measuring satisfaction

Even how we ‘purchase’ space is changing. Increasingly, online portals are playing a role in how we search the market for property. Outside property you can purchase in one or two clicks, but can’t with property – is that part of the future? At the moment, pricing isn’t dynamic either, but is that going to change? If we’re renting offices by the day, will we see surge pricing? Will there also be more TripAdvisor style review platforms for property?

What do each of these things mean for skillsets required within the property industry? What partnerships would create a competitive advantage?

The conversation raised several interesting avenues for exploration as well as exciting prospects for the future of the property industry. Key trends were identified including:

  • The rise of property management
  • The tenant as the customer
  • Space as a service

All of these warrant further exploration within themselves.

The speed of change in customer expectation is dramatic and the way in which customers are feeling and behaving when it comes to commercial property is entirely different to a few years ago. Is there enough industry awareness of that change, or is it just the enlightened few who are making a difference?

Howard concluded that as a mentor within the property industry, he often asks those who have newly completed their professional training, ‘have you thought about your tenants as customers?’ To date, no one has responded in the affirmative. It’s a skills gap and a huge opportunity – it’s just a question of harnessing it.

 

‘It’s fantastic to be working together on a new vision’

RealService would like to congratulate the customer experience team at Transport for London for winning the Institute of Customer Service’s UK Customer Satisfaction Strategy Award for 2021.

It has been a great privilege to work with Siobhan Jared and Tom Atkinson over the last four years and we are very proud of the contribution we have made towards that success.

Our founder and managing director Howard Morgan has provided strategic guidance and coaching on TfL’s customer experience strategy since 2018.

RealService have also carried out in-house training for property managers and surveyors and conducted Voice of Customer research so TfL can better understand their customers and stakeholders. Our research has enabled TfL to measure their CX progress, benchmark it against their peers and pin-point areas which might need improvement.

How we helped TfL

Howard Morgan, RealService Founder and MD, was appointed in Q1 2018 by TfL Commercial Development to provide strategic guidance on its customer experience strategy. Since then, Howard has provided a range of consulting and mentoring services to the Senior Leadership Team. Projects successfully delivered include:
      • Development of new vision, mission and customer strategy
      • Design of a new customer experience best practice framework for Build to Rent residential
      • Design of stakeholder consultation events
      • Motivational workshops to launch customer programme
      • Best practice safari including visits
      • Informal mentoring of members of the SLT and management team
      • Advice on key performance indicators and measurement
      • What TfL said: 'RealService are completely in tune with the property industry in terms of the research it does, the networking and their understanding of the social piece, which is such a growth area. As a niche company they think a bit differently and have challenged us to do the same. (Siobhan Jared, Senior Business and Customer Performance Manager)
RealService were engaged by Transport for London to run a customer service training course for property managers and surveyors.

TfL wanted their staff to be prepared to manage the impact of the pandemic on their customers and be able to engage with empathy and understanding.

The bespoke course covered the acquisition of broad customer experience skills and also focused on personal skills around communication techniques, building on empathy, understanding and assertiveness.

RealService have also run a Financial Skills for Property Managers course, while TfL have also been enthusiastic supporters of the Customer Experience in Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme. This course, co-directed by Howard Morgan and Professor Yolande Barnes at UCL’s renowned Bartlett Real Estate Institute, runs twice a year.

The impact on TfL: Feedback from TfL suggests the training had a significant impact on the relationship between surveyors / property managers and TfL customers who spoke of better communication and said TFL had become ‘absolute leaders in customer service’.
Since 2018, in-house RealService consultants have carried out three Voice of Customer studies, conducting telephone interviews with TfL’s internal and external customers.

Having a purposeful customer experience strategy, backed up by effective in-house training and buy-in from property managers and surveyors meant there was a demonstrable improvement over all key metrics across the three surveys.

Impact on TFL: The results from the most recent study, delivered in 2021 showed:
      • A huge positive NPS shift
      • Significant rise in overall satisfaction
Picture of Howard Morgan
Howard Morgan … CX strategist

Howard said: “Transport for London have embraced every aspect of customer experience and injected it into their DNA. It has become part of their culture and the improvements in Net Promoter Score and feedback from their customers demonstrate their efforts have borne fruit.

“It’s fantastic to be working together on a new vision, mission and customer strategy, but they have started on the really hard work of actually delivering it.

“This award is a marvellous recognition of their progress, and is much deserved.”

“I would recommend Howard’s strategic expertise to any business wanting to put customers at the heart of their operations.”

Siobhan Jared, Transport for London

Siobhan Jared, TfL’s Senior Business and Customer Performance Manager, said: “We are delighted to receive the award because it recognises the progress we have made.

“Howard and his RealService colleagues have helped us from the very start of the journey and continue to provide advice, mentoring, education & training and Voice of Customer research so we can continue on this very rewarding path.

“We have worked with Howard since 2018 and I would recommend his strategic expertise to any business wanting to put customers at the heart of their operations.”

RealService are continuing to work closely with TfL.

I’ve seen the future of the high street and it’s in Bideford, Devon!

We’ve had some wonderful staycations this year in Yorkshire, Scotland and Cornwall and experienced some really first-class hospitality. Staying a AirBnB’s is a reminder that you don’t have to book into a big hotel chain or luxury boutique hotel to find people passionate and caring about the service they provide.

Our most recent staycation in Devon was also a reminder that you don’t have to travel to New York or Milan to discover innovation in retailing. In fact, in Bideford it’s right on our doorstep.

Bideford is a historic port town on the banks of the River Torridge in North Devon. In retailing terms it used to be what we called a “Boots and Woollies town”. Steady but unexciting. Of course, Woolworths have long gone and so have most of the multiples. I expected to see lots of empty stores but in fact there seems to be an organic process of change underway which is bringing a new vibrancy to the high street. That’s coupled with an excellent local-authority-run arts and craft market hall at The Pannier Market.

What’s so exciting about leather belts?

Some of the stores that you’ll want to visit are Josie’s Interiors, Sunshine and Snow  and Hip and Waisted. Let me tell you about Hip and Waisted, a shop that sells leather belts. What’s so exciting about leather belts? Let me share the wonderful experience we had and why this is the future of retailing.

The first thing you notice as you walk into this neatly presented store is the smell of leather, a bright array of colours and Adam, the co-owner working at his bench crafting belts. We were warmly greeted by his partner, Fee and given time to browse. Before I knew it, I’d struck up a conversation about my passion for handmade belts and I was hooked. It wasn’t the case of was I going to buy a belt, it was how many!

An orange/tan coloured belt caught my eye and I was about to buy one off the shelf when Adam said that he had a piece of leather with more detailing and  “would I like a belt made from that?”. He took the skin from under a stack and placed in on the shop floor. To my delight and surprise, he crafted my new belt right in front of me and gave me an unlimited choice of buckles to select.

For those like me who analyse customer experience encounters, why was this so special? The answer is that it met three essential ingredients of a great experience: He got the basics right in terms of quality, choice and price; he made it easy – the belt was ready while I waited – but most significantly, he created a strong emotional connection. We all want to be made to feel special and Adam did just that.

Why is this so important for the future of retailing?

On-line shopping can give us great choice, value and make our lives easy but, at least for now, it can’t create that strong and positive connection with us. You can’t smell the leather online and you can’t speak to the craftsman.

In years gone by we’d think, how can we take this exciting retail concept and make it a national brand on every high street? Let’s put those thoughts to one side and just ask ourselves “what can the property industry do to enable more craft businesses like Hip and Waisted to prosper?”

If you’re inspired by Adam and Fee, and excited by the challenge of improving customer experience in your property business, just call me to chat further.

Howard Morgan

Founder, RealService

howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

By Sue Flatto

We can all see that the pandemic has accelerated some important working trends. There has been an increase in flexibility in terms of where and when people work. Automation of jobs has been pushed forward on the agenda with technology enabled working catapulted into our lives, and the horizon for robots replacing repetitive tasks and use of AI moving even closer.

At RealService, we have been talking with occupiers and observed that, although people who have been forced to work from home (WFH) by the pandemic have found that technology has enabled them to do that successfully, what is missing is the sociability and serendipity of the office. Companies are grappling with rethinking what the office is for. The working models based around most people spending most of their time office based has been shattered and forward thinking employers are going back to the drawing board and building a new model.

Whilst we are still in the midst of the pandemic, it is easy to look at the empty office space and conclude that people want to stay at home to work, and some studies, such as Leesman, show that people think they are more productive and are happy working from home. However, Professor Lynda Gratton, of London Business School points out that there are gaps that employers need to recognise and factor in.  The office also provides opportunity for socialising, networking and creativity. These things are very difficult to do remotely. Bruce Daisley, author of The Joy of Work, and Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, agrees that there are gaps that need to be filled when people are all at home, only meeting on Zoom. Those random, chance conversations after face to face meetings and informal brainstorms are valuable to organisations. As this plays out, companies are likely to find that they are missing these vital aspects of working life.

Research done during the Covid crisis says that, not only have people enjoyed working from home but, without the daily commute, they have been able to spend more time with their families and more time working. However, Lynda Gratton suggests that this has come at a price. Some feel isolated and unconnected and many are missing out on chance conversations and random meetings and connections which spawn creativity. It is essential to take on board that employees have their own, individual, experience of WFH and to understand what they are. No two WFH experiences are the same and so no single answer will suit everyone.

Bruce Daisley believes that the ‘Hotelification’ of office space will become the norm with companies forming team hubs that meet in the workspace together at pre agreed times. One thing we can all agree on is that to entice people back, the experience of being in the office needs to be better than being at home.

Another point that needs to be taken into account is ‘Zoom fatigue’. There is a limit to how much the brain can absorb, using this medium. We all need a social break now and again and some human interaction.

So how will businesses move forward?

One pointer for the future comes from  Kevin Ellis, Chairman, PWC who on 20th October 2020 is quoted as saying

“From the messages I get from our people I know that many really value having the option to use an office, whether for a personal or business need. In the longer term it will be important to continue to ensure offices offer people something more than they can get at home, whether it’s working together, innovating or learning. I am sure I’m not alone in wanting this to be the case.”

But not all employers see things the same way and it’s our view that office life will not go back to where it was before the pandemic. Some organisations are already designating employees and long term homeworkers and this trend is likely to continue. Perhaps the term ‘office’ will become obsolete, in favour of ‘workplace’. Businesses will need to re draw what work looks like, and what and where the workplace is. They will need to identify aspects of job roles that can be done at home, and others that would benefit from having people together, at least some of the time. They will need to gather insight into how their employees are responding to the new world.

So as we go through this pandemic, and come out of it, as we surely will, and as future of work emerges, we need to remember that we are inherently social beings and business need to harness the value of social interaction in a way that gives us the best of both worlds. In all of this, one thing is still true – customer and employee experience is everything.

Does your organisation have the skills and insight it needs to navigate its way through this new world?

RealService, like many other businesses has had to pivot our services to meet the needs of our clients during the pandemic, and we have been helping them keep even closer to their end customers.  For landlords, developers and managing agents, this means gaining more insight into the behaviours and emotional needs of employees and finding a way to be part of the solution not the problem.

If you’d like to discuss how you can think differently about the future of your office portfolio, contact:

 

Sue Flatto

Director

RealService

 

+44 203 393 9603

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RealService is excited to launch the first of our new online training programmes starting with Financial Skills for Property Managers.

This easy to understand course helps explain financial information specifically for property professionals without financial training, giving you greater confidence when discussing financial matters.

This fundamental knowledge will help you feel more confident when dealing with businesses that are struggling, be more in control of situations when presented with financial documents and be able to present a better business case to your management and colleagues.

The course is being delivered by our highly experienced financial training facilitators; David Levenson and Joel Featherman; over four 2.5 hour sessions you will learn to decipher the confusing world of financial terminology with clear and simple explanations of the fundamentals including how to read and interpret profit and loss accounts, balance sheets and use financial ratios to assess the health of a business.

Further information about the programme and to register for the course is available at course details

** Early-bird rates available now! **

 

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!

____________________________

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