The Client of the Future, Innovating around the Client Experience

In L.P Hartley’s lyrical book ‘The Go-Between’, the past was a foreign country, where things were indeed done differently. But today the future is an undiscovered, though certainly not unimagined country, where things will have to be seen to be believed.

My role at MAPP is to attempt to interpret what things are to come, so that we as a business can prepare accordingly. This means imagining the client of the future – what they might look like and what they will want and need.

That requires an appreciation of influences outside the real estate sector and an extensive environmental analysis that can generate an understanding of the macro factors that might have an impact on our industry. To that end, it is useful to be involved in the Alternative Events “Tech & Innovation” summits, to gain a broader insight into the wider world of key professional service sectors, including Legal, Accounting & Consultancy, as well as our own sphere of Property.

After all, focus too closely on your own sector and you risk being caught out by objects that were in the rear view mirror and are now closer than they might appear.

The common factor is that all parties generally agree that an absolute focus on the client is critical. This, however, is arguably easier for the big 4, or magic circle, than it is for those of us in Property Management. The future of Property Management rests in a focus on customers, or tenants in old parlance, and delivering their needs and wants, particularly in the office sector.

In this context, it is the Property Manager who is the go-between, balancing the needs of the occupiers (customers) with the requirements of the clients, who ultimately own the properties.

All the conversations I’ve had in the last 18 months suggest that the clients of the future will be far more aligned and attuned to this aspect, but it is a supertanker in terms of a business model, that has a wide turning circle that is not easily navigated.

So what do these clients look like? Brand will become key. Not all will become clients of choice (for occupiers), but some will – those with the agility, scale and determination to move quickly enough to deliver on their promises. It could be argued that WeWork is the current template in this space, but it remains to be seen whether this is a sustainable model which clients will be willing, or able, to adopt.

Will those clients deliver this solution in-house rather than through an outsourced intermediary? I suspect so in some cases. Those that want control over their brand proposition can and will deliver direct and this offers up the potential for large enough owners to acquire, or build, Property Management functionality.

Alternatively the relationships between client and managing agent will need to become so close that they operate in true partnership, not at arm’s length. This will ensure that occupiers receive a seamless service as they move through the clients’ solutions – from a start-up in one building to the SME in another – understanding that the knowledge of their business and delivery of service to it will be frictionless.

Those clients, like all of us, will have an enormous number of new roles that didn’t exist 12 months ago, let alone 3 years ago. Customer Experience Managers, Data Managers, Heads of Automation, IoT specialists, amongst others, where not already in place, will swell the ranks at the cost of Surveying roles. The division of roles between data personnel and customer personnel will become clearer.

They will also be paying real attention to social and environmental values as investors increasingly demand more than fundamentals before placing funds. That will continue to create roles in measuring and delivering those factors in a world which desperately requires these considerations to be placed at the forefront of long-term investment.

What do we, as agents, need to do to support that? There isn’t one answer – it’s a big market and there are different, often competing, requirements. Our answer is to be equally or more agile. This means seeking out and offering up cutting-edge technology and solutions and continuing to push for adoption of new ways of working that enhance the client’s ability to focus on adding value. We need to be flexible in our proposition and to switch solutions where better ones are available.

But ultimately, we need to find the right clients and provide them with everything we can to keep them thinking about the future, so that they can act upon it.

By Robert Stark