Founder & CEO of Sojourn Companies. Building solutions for the modern day digital nomad. Living a life untethered.
“If there is one thing that Amazon.com is about it’s an obsessive attention to the customer experience.” Over two decades ago, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, gave what is now a famous interview to CNBC where he stressed that Amazon would win by obsessing over the customer experience. Bezos knew that what really matters is how the end-user feels, and that understanding has propelled Amazon to become one of the largest companies in the world.
During the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, two of the hottest IPOs of the year were proptech companies Opendoor and Airbnb. Both of these companies were able to achieve monumental success by likewise obsessing over the customer experience. Despite the challenges of the last year, real estate continues to be a highly desired asset class. To remain competitive, real estate investors are realizing how important it is to focus on customer experience.
Why Customer Experience (CX) Matters In Real Estate
No investor, large or small, can succeed without thinking about who they exist to serve. Real estate investors that buy and hold properties for decades, without taking an active, value-seeking approach, will find themselves in for a surprise. This is something that proved true in 2020, across many different industries. As Scott Rechler, CEO of RXR Realty said, “The future of real estate is no longer about delivering four walls to tenants. Instead, it’s about creating a unique, personalized customer experience that fosters meaningful interactions, collaboration, productivity. Delivering this will require a unique combination of capabilities that seamlessly integrate across the physical and digital realms.”
Thinking about the customer experience can help real estate investors develop stronger relationships with their end-users and increase their value proposition and NOI. A new outlook will better position investors for a successful road to recovery. What does this road to recovery look like? For now, focus on safety and belonging.
Real estate investors across all sectors are making an active effort to ensure their properties are clean and Covid-free. Solutions such as routine cleaning and hand sanitizer stations are standard across most CRE at this point.
Another area to focus on is indoor air quality. This is a critical area that should be addressed. A recent study found that enhancing indoor air quality can be as effective in reducing aerosol transmission of influenzas as a vaccine coverage of 50-60%. Although air purifiers alone are not enough to protect people from Covid-19, according to the CDC and the EPA, they have been shown to decrease risk when used alongside other preventative measures.
Using high-quality air purification systems adds customer value by not only reducing the actual risk of infection but also reducing the fear felt by the customer at risk of infection. When evaluating air purifiers, key features to look for are:
We use Sans purifiers at our properties to ensure our guests breathe the cleanest air. One of our favorite features unique to Sans is its three-color lighting notification system — red = bad, yellow = caution and blue = you can breathe easy. We’ve found that this gives our guests peace of mind as the visual cue of safety when the light is blue does a lot to help everyone feel safe.
Another area that has exploded during the pandemic is contactless technology. Several technology companies have emerged with solutions for real estate investors/operators. The key winners in this space will be companies who figure out how to digitize the in-store experience, ensuring maximum safety, without dehumanizing it. We all need to feel human connection. We need to feel we belong.
When it comes to belonging, real estate investors/operators will find success by carefully merging the physical and digital worlds. Training staff to focus on delivering customer happiness, and anchoring their purpose to customer happiness will not only delight your customers but will also reinvigorate your staff with purpose, in a time when so many are questioning the point of anything. It’s easy to see why focusing on CX is so important —many people are fatigued and lonely as a result of Covid and are looking for new opportunities to interact with others safely and directly.
A focus on these key principles can guide the delivery of happiness:
• Make customers feel heard
• Make customers feel valued
• Make customers feel that their problem has been solved
Many digital solutions can help onsite staff deliver happiness. One exciting area is the emergence of CX management platforms that help investors/operators capture critical customer feedback and data. Plenty of niche CX management platforms are emerging within the proptech sector. An ideal CX platform will enable you to capture data on every customer-facing touchpoint that matters to your business. It will help you by organizing, automating and syncing data, allowing you to effectively serve all of your existing customers, react quickly to problems and use what you learn to retain current customers and gain more business.
Whether you are the property owner, an owner/operator, or the tenant, placing an emphasis on CX will help you reap excess returns on your investment over the long run.
Though things are beginning to look much better, the road to recovery is still long. Real estate investors — particularly in the office, hospitality and retail spaces — certainly have a lot of thinking and planning to do. However, with a focus on the values of safety and belonging, and a commitment to deliver the best customer experience, success remains within reach.
The real estate industry has undoubtedly changed. Even still, the need to think about the “end-user” remains strong as ever.