Digital technologies and customer experience within the built environment
Customer experiences in the built environment vary – as “the customer” is in itself a broad term. A customer could be the client commissioning a building project, or the tenant in a new flat. The way the built environment is evolving digitally is causing the entire value chain to develop what they offer to their customers – and how they communicate with them.
We ran an event to look into this topic further (access the recording here), bringing together four panellists from the industry:
- James Burgess, VP Customer Success, BrightGen
- Andrew Bowles, Construction Lead, Salesforce
- Lauren Poon, Architect & Digital Strategist, CallisonRTKL
- James Dearsley, Founder, Unissu
Addressing the “R” in “CRM”
Andrew kicked off the discussion, using his historical experience of customer engagement in the built environment, along with his Salesforce expertise. Companies in the built environment didn’t have a single view of the customer before. The “R” in “CRM” had been overlooked for too long, but COVID has forced the issue to be focused on now.
The rise of digital twin technology is harmonising the physical with the digital world and will help real estate developers continuously improve the future design of ‘smart’ spaces. Ecommerce is becoming more common in the built environment, with building material suppliers paying more attention to the importance of delivering a more frictionless customer experience in response to increasing customer expectations. New entrants are disrupting the traditional world of construction and causing incumbent players to think about how they reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Companies in construction especially know that they cannot ignore this if they want to survive in a few years’ time.
A central IT function
When asking James Burgess of BrightGen whether he’d seen similar trends among BrightGen’s customers. He said he had, although maybe change is still slow. The real estate sector still has a problem with being fragmented in its organisation, with each department (such as sales, after-care and marketing) all operating with different agendas and different technologies. BrightGen works with a few real estate companies who are getting closer to joining up their view of the customer. Mount Anvil, for example, talked about how they had increased Salesforce adoption in a previous webinar with us. They had to work hard to make this happen in a company that was used to making offers on pieces of paper or adding information to spreadsheets offline. The majority of real estate companies we talk to are only at the start of that journey.
In construction, the sector is still very project-focused. As the focus changes towards productisation, which it will do more rapidly now according to McKinsey, so will the focus towards customer-centricity. In the meantime, James sees the need for the central IT function to prepare for this business transformation. The role of the Chief Digital Officer is becoming more important in the sector. This central function will enable construction companies to become more joined up as they build customer relationships.
Brand is also becoming more important in construction, especially with new real estate construction. Real estate buyers and renters expect more from their investment. Those companies who promote their brand will gain loyal customers more quickly. Commercial real estate in particular will become a more complex market post-COVID. Companies who can capitalise on the changes and work out how to promote their offerings in the right way will survive the downturn.
Provide better human experiences
Asking Lauren about the differences she’s seen in the way architects are engaging with customers throughout delivery, she responded that architecture should learn from technology. As someone who has moved into digital strategy from being an architect, she sees the areas for improvement when it comes to improving the customer experience. In technology, there is a feedback loop with end users of a product. While buildings cannot be updated in the same way as technology, the lack of feedback from those using the building results in an inability to make progress.
There has been a movement in recent years to look into what we can and should measure in order to provide better human experiences of buildings. The normal metrics around occupancy are easy to measure and track, but it should be equally important to measure information such as wellbeing and happiness. Lauren’s firm, CallisonRTKL has seen success in building relationships, where they look at solving problems together with the customer. In the same way that technology evolves, so do buildings – and so do the needs of the people living in them.
Modern methods of construction
The language around modern methods of construction is changing. Andy pointed out that the recent IKEA joint venture with Skanska shows the appetite for transformation in the industry. The notion of “flat-pack” buildings might not seem so attractive to customers. When you call it a “precision-engineered home”, quality and expertise comes to mind. Language is crucial to get right with customers in order to enable this change to take hold. The recent launch of ‘NHBC Accepts’ which enables MMC systems to be fast-tracked for NHBC warranty will help build confidence with developers, investors, lenders and homeowners
Lauren saw the need to integrate mass automation into the design process. Architects will be able to engage end users throughout, giving customers a better experience, and raising the likelihood of better quality buildings.
A member of the audience asked the panellists: “One of our challenges is consistent recording of defects in occupied properties. Do you have any good examples of tackling this?” Andy responded with the success he’d seen with Salesforce Community Cloud enabling customers to self-serve when reporting defects. Combining communities with chat bots, you can build an online service capability along with FAQ and knowledge bases to provide a faster resolution to customers’ problems. When you start using Field Service Lightning, you get the added reassurance that for more complex issues, field engineers are able to diagnose and fix problems at the first time of asking, without the need for multiple visits.
James had seen with some of our high end real estate clients that they rely more on repeat purchases. By managing all of your customer data in one place, including defect management, you can continue to communicate with customers and influence their loyalty further down the line.
Only when we start to look at innovation in tandem with process will we get a holistic view of how we surface data in the first place. This is again where the organisation structure comes in. The IT function must enable service-based design and join up all customer data in one place.
Cost of losing work
In response to a question about whether the panellists had witnessed any improvements in customer-centricity due to COVID, James pointed out that his smaller clients tended to be more customer-centric anyway. They can’t afford not to think about their customers.
Andy had seen some of his larger clients start to respond in a more customer-centric way, as the new environment has caused them to think differently. No one can afford to lose work in an uncertain world. Customer-centricity has to be at the heart of improving relationships with strategic clients.
Lauren had noticed that COVID had refocused architecture on the human experience. Building needs to stop being seen as a one-off cost and we need to collectively look at long-germ value.
James has seen an improvement in the way companies are talking about Salesforce in the sector. He’s having conversations now that he wouldn’t have expected even a year ago because construction in particular is starting to understand Salesforce’s value. There’s no more “wining and dining”, so B2B companies all need to consider how to innovate digitally and become more strategic.
The final thoughts of the group reiterated the need for a central IT function to enable a positive customer experience. Customers are expecting more in construction and real estate, whether it’s to see brand differentiation in a more competitive market, or to interact with building owners before problems arise. This will only be scalable with the right technology in place.
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