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

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

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

Accreditation and data transparency

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

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

Opportunities for Market Differentiation

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

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

Creating standards 

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

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

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

‘Accreditation builds trust’

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

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

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

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

Prospects and next steps

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

Read the article on the UKAA website here

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