Customer Experience in the Private Rented Sector
February 26, 2014
On Tuesday, I was in the audience at the BPF Residential Conference and was particularly struck by the post-session feedback and comment prompted by the panel session entitled “Winning Customers’ Hearts and Minds”. The session certainly seemed to capture the attention – and imagination – of the delegates that I caught up with in the programme breaks. So I thought it worth penning a précis…
Michela Hancock of Bozzuto brought a US perspective to the panel highlighting the base level services which are commonplace in North America and which should be firmly embedded into our own Private Rented Sector (PRS) – as well as the opportunities that PRS owners and operators can create through enhanced services.
CEO of Young Group, Neil Young, was quick to point out that some PRS operators in the UK, such as Young London and Get Living London, are already investing heavily in understanding their customers and delivering an experience that precisely matches their specific needs.
Obviously there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach in the PRS but four common themes flow through all customer groups:
Essentially, PRS companies are retailers and should be using all of the items in a retail business’ toolkit to match potential renters to their homes. The tenets of great customer experience are well practised in the retail sector – as well as the hospitality industry – and Young Group believes:
John Lewis is a great example – not only because it’s recognised for delivering customer service – but also because it combines fantastic, efficient behind the scenes processes to deliver:
Flexibility: You can choose to shop instore or online. You can collect from a store or choose from a range of delivery options.
Consistency: The quality control of product (and service) is closely monitored and maintained.
Responsiveness: Instore, footfall and queue length are monitored and modelled to ensure wait times are low while online, stock levels are checked in real-time and orders confirmed and processed immediately.
Communication: Instore, John Lewis advisors are well informed and on hand to assist and for click and collect or delivered items, automated progress updates are accurate and timely.
As a PRS-specific example, at our operational business, Young London, prospective residents have a choice about how they’d like to interact with us. For instance they can physically sign a copy of their AST in the office, they can receive it by post to sign and return or they can sign their AST electronically, so we can provide it by email, via Facebook messenger or direct tweet.
Our preference may be for online signing (because of the audit trail and speed and efficiency), however we must recognise that different customers will have different preferences or circumstances that mean we need to be flexible enough to offer an option that suits them. Our job is to ensure that our internal procedures make the delivery of that element of the process completely seamless, irrespective of the customer’s choice.
Having the ability to anticipate a customer’s need, and the flexibility to evolve the service offerings to meet that need (and to shape it in some instances), is key to staying ahead in the PRS. Insight is critical and the huge advances being made in access to, and interpretation of, ‘Big Data’ will definitely separate the PRS wheat from the chaff.
PRS investors require the right people operating their assets to deliver the vision, the insight, technology and processes to provide the best customer experience and the best returns.