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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 is delighted to announce that our Founder, Howard Morgan, has been conferred with the title of Honorary Professor at the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction at University College London (UCL).

Picture of Howard Morgan
Howard Morgan, Founder, Real Service

The appointment recognises Howard’s pioneering work in the field of customer experience and real estate over the past 30 years.

The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction is an international centre of excellence in the teaching and research of project management, real estate and economics.

Speaking about the appointment, Howard said

“I’m very proud to receive this honour and looking forward to contributing to the development of this new field of real estate education and research.

The real estate industry will need to develop new skills and to attract a far more diverse pool of talent if we are to respond to the challenges imposed by pandemic and climate change. I’m excited to be working with an internationally recognised School which can bring fresh thinking to this challenge.”

Howard’s appointment builds on his role as course co-director with Professor Yolande Barnes to launch the ‘CX and Real Estate – Future Leaders Programme‘ at the Bartlett Real Estate Institute (BREI).

Professor Yolande Barnes said

“I’m delighted that Howard’s real-world expertise in this critically important area of real estate will be available to our students at the Bartlett.”

Howard will continue to provide advice on customer experience strategy to RealService clients who include leading investment managers, real estate investment trusts, landed estates, professional firms and professional bodies.

 

For more information contact:

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.

 

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.

 

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