Experts Explore Link Between Stellar Service, Happy Employees

What do tenants want? Experts tackled that vital yet elusive question Monday morning at the Building Owners and Managers International’s national conference in San Diego.

What do tenants want? Experts tackled that vital yet elusive question Monday morning at the Building Owners and Managers International’s national conference in San Diego.

Leading off the discussion, London-based customer service consultant and motivational speaker Derek Williams exhorted the audience of several thousand real estate professionals at the San Diego Convention Center to examine the links between customer and employee loyalty. At one point, Williams asked his listeners to raise colored placards indicated whether they would rather have happy customers or happy employees. When a majority voted in favor of employees, Williams reminded the audience of a crucial connection: “If we can create a great place to work, we can create a great place to be a customer.”

A panel then continued the discussion about team building and first-rate service. “It is crucial to marry property quality with (high-quality) property management,” said Phil Mobley, vice present for Kingsley Associates, which recently collaborated with BOMA International on a four-nation tenant satisfaction survey. That tactic will prevent property management services or the property itself from becoming mere commodities. (For highlights of the tenant survey, see “BOMA International Special Report:: Most Office Users Plan to Expand or Stand Pat.”)

“There’s no mystery to any of this,” said David Pogue, global director of corporate social responsibility for CBRE Group Inc. First on Pogue’s short to-do list: “We need to create pride of place.” Also on the agenda are “service, service, service” and establishing a sense of community for tenants. “People want to feel that it’s not just a place to come to work,” Pogue added.  And given how much time  many people spend at the office today, creating an environment where the office feels like a home is essential, said Robert Peck, the panel’s moderator and southeast regional director of workplace consulting for Gensler.

Superb tenant service often brings an element of surprise, according to Peter Merrett, Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.’s national head of customer service for Australia. Over time, seemingly simple gestures—the unexpected delivery of dry cleaning directly to an employee’s desk, for example—gives a building staff a reputation bordering on mystique, Merrett added. Property managers should constantly raise the question: “What more can we do to really surprise and delight our customers?” More often than not, he added, “All the things that surprise people cost nothing.”

To deliver extraordinary service, Merrett said, managers must sow the seeds by motivating the team. Again, the best motivational tool—genuine appreciation—comes with no extra cost.  “We shouldn’t wait to say ‘thank you’ once a month, or once a quarter,” he said. “It should be continuous every single day.”

The panel discussion of service and team building followed a generally upbeat assessment of market conditions by Henry Chamberlain, BOMA International’s president & COO. He cited findings by CBRE Group Inc. that office properties’ values  have risen 2.5 percent globally in the past year, while rents are up 0.8 percent. Meanwhile, operating costs have declined 3.9 percent and utility costs have dropped 9 percent during the same period.

Chamberlain also urged his audience of real estate professionals to take note of lightning-fast technological advances that mark building operations today. The notion that building occupants could soon control multiple functions in their space with a car key-like nub similar to a car key could soon be commonplace.

“For all of us, this really is the time to innovate . . . and leverage some of these technological innovations,” he said. No less influential is the makeover of commercial real estate by the Millennial generation, whose members are moving into leadership positions as baby boomers retire. For those younger professionals, Chamberlain pointed out, “High-tech is high touch. If they text you, it’s like they have a conversation to your face.”