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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
Pre-contemplation: This is where we’re not thinking seriously about making a change or we don’t really see it as a problem.
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.
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.
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.
Maintenance: We’ve got to a position where we can sustain our new approach
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
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