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Improving the customer experience

In a time of great disruption in the office sector, a new report explains why occupiers should expect improved levels of customer service from their landlords

Recent years have seen a series of industries being transformed by disruptive new entrants to the market.Companies such as Amazon, Airbnb and Uber have used bold business strategies, founded on intelligent use of new technology, to take market share from established players.

One consequence of this disruption is that those established companies are finding themselves having to work harder to retain their existing customers, and this has often led to a renewed focus on customer service. The property sector is no exception, and the rise of new workspace providers such as WeWork has laid down a challenge to property owners to improve the customer experience.

This is the focus of a new report, Office Service Standards and Customer Experience: A Best Practice Guide, published by the British Council for Offices (BCO) and supported by British Land. It follows on from a 2015 BCO report that set out a 10-point action plan to improve relations between office owners, managers and occupiers. In the foreword, Chris Richmond, Chair of the BCO Occupier Group, acknowledges that, “while progress is being made, the notion that ‘the customer is king’ is still far from the experience of many occupiers”.

A tectonic shift

The report suggests that the success of disruptors such as WeWork is based on a number of factors. These include societal changes, with new generations entering the workplace with different requirements and expectations, and changing patterns of employment, such as the rise of the ‘gig economy’ and the growth of contracting and freelancing. An additional factor is the growing awareness of the contribution the office environment makes to the health and wellbeing of those who work there.

In order to respond to this tectonic shift, landlords need to fundamentally rethink their approach. As the report puts it: “Improving customer experience has been described as the only sustainable way to achieve long-term competitive advantage”.

Research commissioned by the BCO identified five areas that landlords should focus on in order to increase customer satisfaction:

  • Communication
  • Responsiveness
  • Understanding customers’ needs
  • Front of house service
  • Maintenance

The research also found that occupiers value ‘soft’ skills such as empathy, understanding and trustworthiness more than ‘hard’ financial factors.

Improving customer experience has been described as the only sustainable way to achieve long-term competitive advantage

All this means that, instead of viewing office space as a commodity, landlords should see it as a service. This in turn means adopting new skills and management tools more commonly found in the consumer sector, such as customer experience design and customer journey mapping, which entail understanding the needs of office occupiers (both conscious and unconscious) and the ways in which the organisation providing that office space can meet these needs at every touchpoint.

Self-assessment

To help landlords fill the customer service gap, the report includes a series of best practice checklists covering areas such as customer experience culture, customer insight and service design, and operational excellence. Landlords can use these as scorecards to assess how far they are down the path to best practice in each area.

The report concludes that “the occupiers who contributed to this research are calling for nothing less than a revolution in the way office space is managed. … The challenge for the industry is to develop a new business model for office property.” As it acknowledges, this is just the beginning of what may be a lengthy process.

BCO members can download a free copy of Office Service Standards and Customer Experience: A Best Practice Guide here

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