2020, among many other things, has been the year of disruption for commercial real estate. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced an industry long described as “old fashioned,” “behind the curve,” and various other terms that describe a lack of innovation to evolve more in the past year than the past decade.
To state the obvious, the way people operate and occupy real estate has changed, and tech adoption has accelerated as a result. Brokers turned to virtual meetings and tours, landlords implemented building technology to enable a seamless and safe return, and the American workforce adapted better than anticipated to the work from home environment. Productivity arguably increased, while creativity and camaraderie has suffered. While offices remain a necessity, so now too does employee flexibility. With all this considered, we’re likely to see the hybrid work model broadly adopted and the office undergo a total redesign.
Whether a momentary reaction or a permanent change, all steps taken in 2020 to keep the commercial office space alive all point to one truth—today’s tenants expect more. Buildings can no longer compete solely on price and location.Tenants want amenities, services, and experiences. There is an increasing importance of delivering a differentiated and integrated customer experience in the commercial office space. Customer experience is perhaps the most important thing for any organization to get right. Yet, responsibility for this critical element in commercial real estate has traditionally been fragmented across multiple teams.
As property owners and their teams navigate this shifting focus to customer experience heading into 2021, responsibilities and team alignment amongst property groups must also shift. And so it calls the question about who owns (or should own) the customer experience in commercial office space?
- Executive Ownership - Property owners have the opportunity to set the tone and the vision for the role customer experience can play in retaining existing clients and attracting new ones. Owners that are successfully navigating this shift are assessing their teams and the responsibilities among them. In some cases, owners are even appointing new roles to be accountable for tenant experience not just with the property and office suite, but all interactions across the office leasing lifecycle, including property amenities and community.
- Brokers - The customer experience begins during the office evaluation phase of the buyer’s journey. It is the job of the tenant and landlord brokers to understand and match tenant needs with the right office solutions. Even as much of the evaluation process moves to digital interactions, brokers can also transform from local travel guides to trusted advisors, helping tenants make the right office choices. This leads to a positive end result for all parties.
- Marketers - While property marketing teams don’t own the customer experience, marketing communications certainly impacts the buyer’s perception of the property and the teams supporting tenants within the property. The visuals and tone reinforce any perceptions the tenant has and can shape the overall customer experience throughout all stages of the leasing process—from evaluation to renewal.
- Property Managers - While executive ownership sets the vision for how customer experience might evolve, it is the job of property managers to actually implement, monitor, and adopt new protocols and tenant interactions. Traditionally, however, property managers have focused on budgets and backbone. Now, there is an essential people facing side, focused on fostering community and gathering tenant insights to shed light on how tenants currently use and desire to use office space. This can shape improvements in supporting long-term customer satisfaction and overall experience, but the skill sets required for these two functions don’t always align.
The Rise of a New Role
There is a shift from B2B to B2C happening in commercial real estate, and owners and their teams must be more accountable to end users. It’s no longer about executing a 10-year lease and focusing solely on the executives that sign it, but rather about making the office a place where people want to come everyday now that there is an alternative that has proven itself possible—remote work. Thought leaders will focus on the user experience for all employees.
For some organizations, ensuring a positive tenant experience might be a matter of simply revisiting and clarifying roles and responsibilities. For other organizations, where a focus on customer experience may be novel, a new role may be necessary—dedicated to implementing software to understand and deliver on the needs of tenants, foster community, and map out the customer experience from start to finish in order to coordinate support for each interaction across all teams. Additionally, the role could be responsible for analytics, ensuring continued tenant experience improvement over time, as well as holding teams accountable to a CX satisfaction score.
Employing software services could significantly ease this otherwise manual process. By defining a digital roadmap and utilizing proptech software, operations can be made more efficient, occupant experiences can improve, and issues or potential issues can be identified.
In 2020, we learned the importance of asking tenants what they want, rather than projecting our assumptions. The empowerment of the employee and the amplification of the voice of the tenant is not a momentary reaction, but a permanent change. We foresee tenant experience will remain a key differentiator in 2021 and beyond, and the creation of a dedicated role to these experiences is a smart strategy to ensure a positive experience.