Can an organisation in a traditional industry such as real estate excel in customer excellence? The answer to that is a resounding yes. A big yes from us and from Wereldhave, the real estate player that moves from the ownership and operation of shopping centers to value creation with Full Service Centers. Step by step, a little better every day. Here’s how.
Value creation with Full Service Centers, what does that mean? In short, Wereldhave wants to make the daily lives of visitors easier and help tenants run their businesses in a smarter way. For example, by not only focusing on retail in the centers, but also on health and leisure. Or, as Head of Marketing & Customer Experience Katja Stello so eloquently puts it: “With a more diverse range, we respond more often to visitor motives and we also create new visitor alibi’s.”
Together with Marieke van den Heuvel, Group Brand Manager, Katja is committed to making Wereldhave work more customer-centric. They called in Essense’s help for this. Together with Wereldhave, we embarked on an intensive process. We have drawn up a customer-centric vision and strategy, conducted tenant research, mapped customer journeys, drafted service blueprints and organised training courses. Because, above all, the challenge is to get the organisation moving. From slide decks to all hands on deck. Katja and Marieke share their tips to get from grand plans and ambitions to workable steps that achieve customer excellence.
Tip 1: Provide a solid foundation
In order to quickly translate the business strategy into a customer experience (CX) strategy with concrete points for improvement and actions, the business strategy must be solid. If there is still discussion about this, then there is no support and that delays the decision-making process enormously. Or, in retrospect, wrong choices are made. It is then extremely difficult to achieve customer excellence. Katja: “Our business strategy, our brand values and our story were already very solid. As a result, we were able to get everyone on the same page for the CX strategy in a relatively short time.”
Tip 2: Understand the customer and its context
Make sure you know what the customer wants based on ‘actionable insights’ and don’t rely on assumptions. Wereldhave has conducted extensive research on both visitors and tenants, and studied market trends and competition. According to Katja and Marieke, thorough customer behavior and needs research is the foundation of every strategy.
Take the visitor survey for example: don’t ask what visitors think of a shopping center or what they think is important about shopping, but ask what they think is important in their daily lives. Katja: “Then you come to interesting insights. For example, we discovered that people have trouble creating a good balance between things they have to do and things they want to do. With our strategy we want to contribute to facilitating that balance. The same applies to tenants: we facilitate a location, but what problems do they encounter in their daily business? If we know that, we can provide services to support them.”
Tip 3: Don’t completely outsource the research
It is good for an organisation to not completely outsource the research, because as an organisation you have to understand what your customer wants. By actively participating, you also develop internal expertise, understanding and empathy. “Essense conducted the tenant survey, but we listened in on the interviews and played an active role after the analysis phase. The knowledge is now really ours,” says Marieke. “And that is a crucial factor in realising a customer-centric mindset within an organisation. Our goal is that the teams within Wereldhave can work independently in a customer-centric way and that they can contribute to an optimal and unique Wereldhave customer experience from their own discipline.
Tip 4: Provide concrete frameworks through CX principles
With all the research done, insights gained and the strategy, positioning and brand values in order, you can almost write a book about what customer excellence means for Wereldhave. That’s just not very practical. That is why the ambition for customer excellence (the desired customer experience that visitors, tenants and employees get at Wereldhave) has been summarised in CX principles. The principles provide concrete frameworks for the desired customer experience and the associated objectives with regard to our behavior and services. You can see them as a handle for the employees and they bridge the gap between our strategy and in-depth investigations into the daily work. “They were the missing link in concretising our Full Service Center transformation. What really makes us Wereldhave? Why should tenants and visitors choose us? What is our behavior? How do we ensure a unique, consistent customer experience? Essense guided us with their methodology to get to the principles together with all important stakeholders,” says Katja.
Tip 5: Make customer centricity accessible to everyone
Some employees are familiar with terms such as service blueprints, customer journeys and customer centricity from their position. For others, it’s just abracadabra and the jargon deters. The challenge is to make customer excellence understandable and accessible for the entire organisation. CX principles should be clear to everyone within an organisation. Katja: “Whether you are a leasing or asset manager or you receive people at the reception: everyone contributes to the unique and consistent customer experience of Wereldhave… In this way we ensure that our customers walk away with the feeling that we want to give and how we distinguish ourselves.”
Tip 6: Look for internal ambassadors
From the very first minute, Wereldhave has been looking for internal ambassadors: people who believe in our strategy and customer-centric vision. “In this way it is not a marketing trick, but a shared vision and really from everyone in the organisation. These colleagues already unconsciously did many things according to the CX principles, but now we have made it explicit.” Enthusiasts have been found in all layers of the organisation who are committed to customer focus. This ensures that the ideas are spread through the organisation and that customer-centric working is not imposed from the management, but develops bottom-up.
Tip 7: Involve all disciplines
The ambassadors play an important role in embracing a customer-centric mindset throughout the organisation, but more is needed. Marieke: “We involved the various disciplines within our organisation as much as possible in the development and validation process. For example, we organised workshops in which we tested the knowledge gained from the studies and we did exercises to see whether the CX principles are sufficiently concrete and inspired teams to improve existing services and processes, for example.” Ultimately, it is the people in the daily operation who make our Full Service Center promise really tangible for our visitors and entrepreneurs.
And just as important: departmental boundaries are broken in this way. Marieke continues: “Sometimes departments think very much in their own domain. This is no longer possible by taking the customer journeys of our tenants and visitors as a starting point. You look at the customer journey as a whole and you contribute to that from your discipline and department.”
Tip 8: Give people space and responsibility
The CX principles are not fixed instructions. Marieke sees the principles as a tool with which Wereldhave makes the CX strategy concrete. “We are not going to tell every employee what to do, but we will make sure that they can determine that themselves within the defined frameworks. This way they can come up with ideas and initiatives themselves to contribute to our customer-centric organisation.”
Katja adds: “One of our principles is about ‘making everyday life as easy as possible’ and our objective is ‘just well organised’. Does that include valet parking? No, probably not. It is easier, but it is not ‘just well organised’. Valet parking fits well with a five star, high-end concept. But a service such as refrigerated lockers so that you can continue shopping or have lunch without wasting your groceries, that is something that does suit us.” The CX principles provide answers to what you do or don’t do as a company and it offers employees concrete tools to get started themselves. They do not prescribe anything, but give space and responsibility to everyone within the organisation.
Tip 9: Future-proof in small steps
It is always a challenge to both keep the organisation running and looking to the future at the same time. However, the pressure to innovate can also paralyse an organisation. With the emphasis on can, because sitting still is not an option for Wereldhave. The focus is always outward and on the future. “Tools such as CX principles, customer journeys, dashboards and Miro help us enormously to collaborate in a truly customer-centric way, to make our Full Service Center strategy concrete for the center teams and at the same time to be able to innovate to remain relevant in the long term. This way we get the right balance between ‘running the business’ and ‘building the business’, says Marieke. There is therefore never an end signal for customer excellence. It’s never finished. Working in a truly customer-centric way means continuously discovering small and large opportunities to optimise the customer experience with Wereldhave! Marieke and Katja are ready – and so are we.