BTR Opinions Build to Rent (BTR)

Has your development lost its vision? Sharpening the focus on experience

The property industry has woken up to the value of customer experience (CX). It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ but something which is core to a development’s success, making sure it meets the needs of the people who will ultimately work, live in or visit a new space. We know investing in CX is worthwhile, but do we know what best practice looks like and how to deliver it?

By Charlotte Crawley, Culture and Experience Director, Navana

Customer experience modelling is perhaps more advanced for retail and workplace assets – sectors where the language of customer journey mapping and customer satisfaction has started to filter through. But when it comes to residential, especially for mixed-use developments where the needs of different types of tenants and occupiers must be considered, there is work to do.

Delivering on ambitions 

The intention to put experience at the heart of a new place is often there. Many developments set out with bold ambitions at the master planning stage – how the development will look, feel, how people will use and enjoy the space. Many of us will be familiar with the excitement of sitting down with architects to sketch out new sites, how people will access them and find their way around. Yet this clarity of vision isn’t always carried through to the final scheme.

The devil is in the detail and at every decision point there should be a checklist to ensure that the choices made support goals determined at the outset. For a mixed-use development, that means considering not just the overarching design code and spatial framework but thinking right down to the layout and the detail of design of individual buildings.

Have the needs of different groups been considered? A new apartment might have been designed to be accessible for a wheelchair user, but what is the journey like for them from pavement to their front door? Will they get the same ‘coming home’ experience that others do? It’s the little details of a place that most of us will remember and influence how we feel and talk about it.

Beyond hospitality CX models

Similar principles apply to a property’s ‘front of house’ team. The aspiration might be for a new office building to deliver an exceptional concierge experience for employees and visitors. But if the team doesn’t have adequate space to work in, then their motivation and therefore service is likely to be impacted.

The concierge example – and the phrase ‘front of house’ – is something you hear quite a lot, mainly because many property companies have tried to align themselves with the hospitality sector when talking about improving customer experience. After all, can you name a hospitality business which has thrived after delivering non-stop poor service?

The theory is sound. But consider this. There are many great examples of top-tier service within the hospitality industry, but also many poor examples too. Applying a ‘hospitality customer service’ model doesn’t automatically mean that shoddy service is avoided. It also comes down to the individual companies to both recruit and train the right staff with the right aptitude and empower and inspire them to focus on what the customer values.

Ultimately, individual people play a massive part in determining residents’ reactions to a space and their satisfaction with the experience of living there. A concierge service is important but can often be quite formal – potentially right for a hotel but not your home. We all have tales of individual people who’ve given great customer service by focusing on you as an individual – the barista who remembers your order every day without asking, the hairdresser who asks how your children are or the postman who knows you by name. These sorts of people can make a place feel like home, and it’s this customer empathy and understanding which is so important, more than force-fitting an approach designed for the hotel sector into the world of residential or commercial property.

Putting a framework in place

The best property CX needs structure to help get the right spaces, technology, processes, and people embedded into a scheme from the off. There will be multiple supply chain partners involved in a mixed-use scheme, who all need to be pulling in the right direction. At Navana, we work with developers to help create CX frameworks that project teams can sign up to, asking the right questions during a development’s lifecycle to ensure a focus on CX is baked in.

And this needs to be done in an authentic way. Ongoing management of a place must reflect changing consumer needs and foster a sense of community, sensitive to culture and all abilities and enable multi use of the space. That’s how CX moves from being a theory or model to something that makes a meaningful difference to a customer and their day-to-day life.

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