According to PwC research, only 7% of real estate CEOs think that changes in general consumer behavior will affect their business – that’s an underestimate. Renata Nowakowska explains how shifting the focus from ‘designing for value’ to ‘designing for experience’ can benefit real estate.
FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out, first identified in 1996, is the disturbing feeling of not being able to participate in an awarding experience that others may be having. The phenomenon of this social anxiety shows how much people value experiences today. Back in the days of our grandparents or parents, it was typical to be jealous of what others had; a nice car, a big house or beautiful clothes. Now, we’re jealous of people going on exotic holidays, attending concerts or eating at ‘cool’ restaurants. Modern consumers appreciate experience more than owning things, which is a big behavioral shift.
If the world has changed and the need for experiences is so important, why are most buildings still designed only as something to be owned, and not to be experienced? What really creates an experience and how can this unique feeling make spaces stand out?
What does experience mean?
Experience as such, is a feeling that something has happened to us. Client Experience refers to all the feelings that clients have throughout their journey with a brand, product or service, and there is a very blurred line between when the experience really starts and when it ends. Just think about the last time you went online shopping:
Experience really starts with awareness – you simply must know about the website you typed into the browser. You might know it based on somebody’s reference, from a search result in Google, or you may not even remember how you became aware of it, but you usually already in this moment have some feelings towards the product or brand.
When you show an interest in the online shop, you will take some time to explore their website. Your feelings play a key role in your decision making – we usually take only 4 seconds to decide if we will stay on the website or move on to something else. If you stay, you explore more, maybe you’ll develop an interest in additional products that you weren’t even searching for in the first place.
If you decide to invest in the product, you then go through the purchase of it (how easy it is to complete the order online), including the delivery, which is a very fragile part when it comes to experience (we have probably all had at least one terrible experience with lost or damaged packages).
And finally it arrives and you get to use it! If the whole path goes smooth, you are a satisfied customer. But…
Some of the experiences pass by without us paying too much attention to them and others we will remember forever. When we have an extreme experience – we either love something or we hate it, we create a special bond with that moment. That’s why there are 3 basic truths about customer experiences:
- Amazing experiences create loyal customers (example: just read this story and judge for yourself if you would not become an ambassador for this airline)
- Bad experiences can significantly undermine the PR of a product or the brand (example: in 2005 an unhappy customer of Dell wrote a blog post, which became famous enough to be ranked as a top google search result for “dell” – just under their corporate website)
- One amazing experience throughout the customer journey can cover up many small mistakes (example: Zalando, an ecommerce fashion company, has such an easy return process that even customers who did not like the product or the website itself became loyal Zalando customers)
How can we relate customer experience to the real estate industry?
Real estate traditionally focuses very much on getting as much value as possible for each square meter or square foot based on the plot’s feasibility. Every inch matters. What we can see in buildings that stand out is a focus on better design and an investment in the experience of using the property, sometimes this means sacrificing precious space.
Take for example the new HQ of Bloomberg. This amazing building in London, designed by Foster + Partners, was just awarded a Stirling Prize. I had a chance to visit it this summer and I truly agree with the jury, who called it “once-in-the-lifetime”. A giant staircase that cuts through all the floors delivers Bloomberg’s employees and visitors a real experience of integration, mobility and openness. They have lost lots of space to do it, but they have gained new value. You can see more pictures and read the case study here.
Taking into consideration the thin line between when an experience starts and when it finishes, we must look into spaces which have the ability to provide amazing experiences throughout the whole journey. Digital tools give us so many new possibilities to build the experience of a property before people even set foot in its grounds.
Take for example, Virtual Reception, a functionality of Connected by Skanska, an operating system for office buildings, allows us to connect with visitors way ahead of their arrival to the building. It works in a very simple way: the host of the meeting creates a virtual invite, which arrives to the visitor in the form of a mobile pass. It provides guests with a full set of information about the meeting and about the building itself. Not only do the guests now know how to get to the building and how to move around it, they can also book their own parking spaces in 2 clicks, without any additional planning, requesting or anxiety wondering if they will find a space.
Food for thought
I believe real estate should look more for inspiration outside of its industry. One inspiration for me personally, while working on the Connected by Skanska concept, was aviation. How this business has changed over time, embraced virtual passes and built the passenger experience beyond comfort of the airline seat and taste of the meal aboard.
Now, since I was given a unique chance to take a break from my regular job, I am going to spend the next year gathering new experiences and inspirations while working with a Skanska Commercial Development team in Washington, DC.
Renata Nowakowska is a development associate at Skanska