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Creating customer-first communities

The focus on meeting the growing demand for more customer-centric design has never been more important for the residential property sector.

In our last article, we explored the relationship between development design and customer priorities and how rapidly-evolving requirements are influencing the look and feel of existing and new sites.

These needs can come from multiple sources – investors, developers, residents and more. It’s for managing agents to interpret, influence and deliver on these requirements and, where possible, exceed them.

Putting the customer journey at the heart of everything is central to this and can be achieved in so many ways. Here, Business Development Manager, Kelly Fox, shares some best practice examples of what this looks like from a property management perspective:

Understanding new community living

Our clients’ property portfolios have always been varied, and nothing has changed there. There are still opportunities to be found within the UK’s biggest cities, however clients have also been approaching us about regional schemes, which include new communities, such as Wichelstowe in Swindon.

These developments often require on-site management services, but each is so different to the next and comes with a different set of requirements. Take Royal Haslar for instance, which is a great example of intergenerational living and multiple tenures.

Key takeaway – understanding the many different needs across a new community from the outset and the importance of customer engagement are essential. Managing agents who can advise developers and help shape their vision for customers beyond the point of sale can potentially add greater value and help create engagement-driven developments.

Championing community and commercial hubs

Both community buildings and commercial hubs frequently form part of developers’ plans. These types of developments incorporate all sorts of aspects, such as commercial squares that appeal to residents as well as the wider community, whilst supporting the local economy.

As a result, there’s no longer a sole focus on homes, but amenities too, such as coffee shops, convenience stores, nurseries, dry cleaners, etc. The aim is then to make sure they are widely used, commercially viable and well imbedded in the community. For instance, at Wembley Park, the local coffee shop recently provided promotional offers for a community event, which were really well received.

Key takeaway – from the developer, managing agent and the residents, to the local authorities, commercial business owners and community groups – it’s essential that all key stakeholders across a development work in synergy with each other. Establishing regular communication across these groups is crucial as well as cross-promoting one another’s services to the wider community.

Looking through the eyes of the customer

Carefully considering the way a resident or visitor navigates their way through a development, i.e. the customer journey, should be at the heart of development design. And the insight that managing agents can provide here is key.

We have a two-tier approach when considering the customer journey. First of all, we put ourselves in the shoes of the customer, considering their daily touch points and what they will see. We then look at what we can do to support this from a management perspective. We do this by ensuring that on-site teams are easily identifiable and look professional, entrances are bright and welcoming and signage is clear. We also make sure practical considerations have been made to the design and location of the bin stores, car parks, lobbies and lifts, for example.

Key takeaway – the insight that managing agents can provide to developers and architects cannot be underestimated. Every element of the customer journey needs to be considered, including the experience of any visitors to the development.

Focusing on the finer details

It’s sometimes the little things a managing agent can do that make a big difference and add day-to-day value for their clients and customers. For example, by helping determine when logistic vehicles are scheduled to deliver to on-site commercial premises with minimum disruption to residents. Or creating waste management strategies that consider details such as how the refuse vehicles will navigate through the development, where they can turn, and the ease with which they can access the bin stores.

There are also environmental and social considerations to factor in too, such as making sure there are enough electric vehicle charging points for the long-term, installing attenuation systems that reduce water wastage when maintaining the grounds, or promoting cycle clubs and car share schemes that help residents reduce their own environmental impact.

Key takeaway – property management has significantly evolved to meet customer demand. This involves looking at and advising on the bigger operational picture in relation to how entire sites function from a customer-first perspective.

Embracing flexible living and intelligent design

It’s inevitable that more customers will value adaptable space post-Covid-19. This means any new build development, whether apartments or houses, should design-in some form of flexible space within each home or within the shared areas, such as creating flexible amenities and working spaces. Consideration for how customers use amenities will also be important. For example, designing mail collection and storage areas that reduce the need for physical contact by using technology instead.

Developers and architects can’t be too rigid and prescriptive in their design – this applies to outdoor space too. Customers will already be more mindful of the value of gardens (their own or communal), greenways and parks where they can relax, socialise or exercise in. Other spaces that support health and wellbeing will also need to be considered, such as allotments where residents can get involved in community planting programmes, or nature trails that allow them to explore the local wildlife.

Key takeaway – in this new world, people will be looking to do more in their home. Intelligent design will play an important role in making sure they’re comfortable and connected and these considerations will need to incorporate the surrounding infrastructure too. Developers and managing agents will have a greater responsibility to make sure customers love where they live and that it works for them on both a social and professional level.

With change comes great opportunity; opportunity for developers and managing agents to enable the property sector to realise customers’ evolving expectations.