The corporate real estate industry has undergone rapid evolution over the past decade. Customer expectations have changed, and the role of the property marketer must adapt accordingly. Tenants have more options for premises, and skilled workers have a more extensive choice of employers.
In the past, marketing commercial properties mainly involved the task of creating eye-catching campaigns and perfecting the sales message. Once a commercial client locked into their new office space and a ten-year lease was signed, it was time to move on to the next property listing.
Nowadays, Chief Marketing Officers and their staff must take a more holistic and considered approach to corporate strategies. The customer must be at the centre of every marketing strategy, whether its at a national, regional or local level. Plus building lasting client relationships has become more important than short-term sales wins.
The importance of customer experience
According to Shelley McDowell, Director of Customer Experience Strategy at CBRE, the ‘new normal’ see's much shorter lease periods with the ten-year lease becoming increasingly rare.
Shelley explains that for her organisation, CBRE, and many like it, customer experience based marketing has been catapulted to the forefront of forward thinking property marketers' minds as they look for better ways to both maintain and foster positive relationships with their real estate clientele.
“These days, many companies know their future is not set in stone and find it difficult to plan more than a couple of years ahead,” says Shelley.
“The way people work has changed too. Employees are working from home more, and when they do frequent the office, they expect high-end facilities, like parking, bike storage, healthy snacks, showers, gyms, rest areas and wellness programs.”
Today, the landlord and tenant relationship has become more like a partnership, with customer experience making its way up high on property marketers’ agenda.
Creating better customer experiences
As a commercial property marketer, your goal is to share your brand’s message with clients including building managers, landlords and tenants.
The first step toward improving your service offering is to understand your customer, their beliefs and values. Typically the first step you'll take is to create customer personas detailing each type of client, indirect or direct with whom you support. By identifying the varying wants, needs and expectations of the people you deal with, alongside unearthing their pain points, you and your staff can craft unique building facilities and services, that better meet their needs.
Developing customer personas will also help you to provide clear and consistent marketing messages which speak more directly to an individual – delivering a more personalised, customer-friendly experience along the way.
But remember, your customer personas are not a set-and-forget document. They need to be reviewed and updated, continually evolving as your clients’ needs change.
Once you have personas, map out each customers journey. Not just the steps in which your organisation plays a part. Go beyond the initial lease signing transaction and identify where you can improve the customer experience from moving into the building to making it their corporate home.
According to Shelley, creating personas and mapping the customer journey enables you to continue the relationship with your clients once you have leased a space. “Once you have mapped their journey, stay in touch to celebrate key milestones and gain a better understanding of their business challenges and needs,” she advises.
Adding the ‘surprise and delight’ factor
With customer expectations increasing, Shelley shares how marketers have to 'up their game' on an ongoing basis in order to deliver 'memorable' experiences.
“Instead of displaying an empty office space and inviting prospective tenants to take a tour, make the experience more personal,” she suggests.
Create a welcoming environment by adding display furniture and a drinks fridge to an office, factory or retail facility that prospective tenants are coming to view. Invite your visitors to take their time when discussing layout options while taking in the view.
At CBRE, the team uses their ‘Floored’ software with open listings to help clients visualise the potential fit-out of an office or retail space in 3D.
“For a property marketer, customer experience, or CX, is all about showing that depth of understanding and showing the client how you can offer flexibility.” – Shelley McDowell
To take it a step further, look for marketing strategies which demonstrate to the client that you understand the role they play, for example as Facilities Manager, in providing a functioning and adaptable workspace. Their remit could be to look for smarter ways to attract and retain the best staff so demonstrating how you can help them do this will reaffirm your partnership.
The ‘move in’ process is another place where as marketer you can improve the customer experience. An example Shelley shares is to create a welcome package for a customer, which makes it easier for them to move into the building. “Make sure the process is smooth, help out with contractors where necessary and make sure they have all the information they need,” recommends Shelley.
Taking a holistic marketing approach
As a marketer, your day-to-day responsibilities have changed. More time and focus is put toward activities that involve interacting with and understanding key stakeholders.
As a customer experience marketer, your scope for interaction within your own workplace will widen. Taking an active approach in this regards goes beyond research and personas. You may also be required to spearhead change within your entire organisation, and help drive the organisation, its culture and staff to adopt a new way of working.
Initiatives can include:
- Collaborating with the sales team to discover even more about customer wants and needs.
- Catching up regularly with product development to share your insights and brainstorm new features of your digital and physical offerings.
- Sharing your vision of customer-focused marketing with senior management to gain their buy-in.
- Invite customers to attend forums and workshop days.
Fostering a customer-focused approach across your organisation will help you keep your organisation highly competitive. To gain buy-in from other divisions which you do not directly manage or influence, explain the benefits to them regarding better client retention, a stronger reputation and improved profits.
Gathering customer feedback
As Shelley shares, in the past customer feedback used to involve an annual or bi-annual survey with customers. Which was probably all that was required when leases were ten years long. But to maintain strong customer ties today, there needs to be constant dialogue.
“Establishing the voice of the customer has been something the industry has struggled with,” says Shelley, who mentions that part of her role involves identifying opportunities to regularly ‘hear’ customers. This should involve more regular surveys and face to face meetings.
“Add warmth and depth to the relationship by getting together to discuss challenges and future plans in detail.” – Shelley McDowell
A marketer’s job is not complete once the property listing has been taken down from the website. To ensure the benefits of ongoing relationships and word of mouth referrals, the customer relationship and the commitment to customer experience in your organisation must be active and continuous. “Keep an open dialogue,” says Shelley, “talk to your clients about their future needs, and you will find trust forms as the foundation for long-term partnerships.”
By helping your customers and responding to their needs, they will be better equipped to create workspaces and build real communities where people love coming to work. Help your clients business thrive, and your business will do the same!