"Why stop when the building is finished?"
Ten years or so ago, the concept of digital customer experiences in real estate wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. Nowadays however, it’s alive and kicking. Offering a customer platform where homebuyers can follow up on the building process of their purchase is the new website…it’s becoming the standard. A must-have, if you will. Or how Yobo’s COO Thomas de Oliveira puts it: “If you’re not thinking about a digital experience for homebuyers by now, your business won’t be relevant anymore within the next ten years.” Sounds harsh? Maybe, but his managing director Jonathan Schraepen and Ziggu’s CEO Yannick Bontinckx couldn’t agree more.
A conversation about the past, present and future of digital customer experiences in real estate isn’t one you can finish in under an hour. There’s a lot to say about the evolution of this trend. According to Yannick, Jonathan and Thomas the first steps of this idea could be spotted a decade ago, when digitalization really started to take over our society. But the biggest and most impactful changes are those in recent years. Consumers, in general, have become more and more accustomed to digital experiences when purchasing something; as a result, they compare one experience with the other.
"I don’t get why I can follow my €15 pizza from order to delivery, but I can’t do the same with my €300.000 apartment"
Yannick gives an example: “We did a survey a few years ago, asking new homeowners about their satisfaction regarding their property developer. They were happy with the result of their home, but one lady put it this way: ‘I don’t get why I can follow my €15 pizza from order to delivery, but I can’t do the same with my €300.000 apartment’. You could say that it doesn’t make any sense that she’s comparing a pizza delivery to an apartment, but that’s not even the point. The point is: she expects the same kind of experience, period.”
As property developers, Jonathan and Thomas understand this all too well. “A house or apartment is often the biggest purchase a person will make in their lifetime. It’s normal there’s a basic level of customer care”, says Thomas. “Sadly, until a few years ago property developers closed a deal with a customer and wouldn’t talk to them again until the home was finished. But as Yannick says, the longing for experiences has infiltrated our way of living in such a way that the real estate sector can’t ignore it anymore.”
Giving homebuyers the silent treatment is a no-go these days. Customer experience in real estate means keeping homebuyers in the loop, offering transparency, giving regular updates,… To do that you need more than just a great customer support team, according to Yobo. “Look”, Jonathan says, “At Yobo, we put a lot of effort in creating a story when we’re developing a new apartment building. It can’t just be a building, it has to be a concept. Like our project Max in Wezemaal, where you get the feeling you’re in the South of France. We go to great lengths to create this building experience and put the same effort into our customer experience. To give it our all, we go for hybrid customer service. Meaning: we combine people with digital.”
"Emails get lost, sheets get complicated. You need a digital platform where every document and piece of information is centralized"
Tools like email and spreadsheets are not enough anymore, Yannick, Thomas and Jonathan agree. “Emails get lost, sheets get complicated”, Thomas sums it up short but sweet. “You need a digital platform where every document and piece of information is centralized, where repetitive tasks are automated and you can communicate with homebuyers more easily. Sharing photos or videos and continuing the story of the apartment building through news updates has become a must.”
Combine all this with a customer advisor who now has enough time to actually advise people — automations, remember?— and you get something powerful. Efficiency for the customer advisor, experience for the homebuyer. The combination of human and digital is essential, Yannick emphasizes. “Even as a tech company, we at Ziggu will never believe that a digital tool is a be-all and end-all. Understanding the homebuyer’s needs and being sympathetic to his worries, is something only a human can do.”
So what will the future bring for digital customer experiences, according to the men? “In a few years, digital customer experiences in real estate won’t just be offered during the building period”, says Yannick. “It’ll start from the moment a person shows interest in a home until… well, does there even need to be ‘an until’? We’ll evolve to a digital experience where homebuyers can use our digital platform for the rest of their lives whenever they have a home-related question, want to buy new furniture or switch internet providers, for example.”
"While many other sectors are in the middle of their digitalization process, the real estate sector is still taking its first steps. In other words: everything is still possible"
Jonathan and Thomas agree with Yannick’s vision for the future. “The sky is the limit”, they say. This makes working in real estate so fascinating, according to Jonathan. “While many other sectors are in the middle of their digitalization process, the real estate sector is still taking its first steps. In other words: everything is still possible. It’s up to us to shake up this archaic sector and cause some disruption to make it future proof. We’re up for the challenge, and I’m sure Ziggu is too.” Yannick laughs: “Already on it!”
Matching the level of customer experience to the high-end homes GLAM Living offers has always been important for Chris Carmichael. “We don’t want to sell you a £750,000 house and then leave you out in the cold,” he says.
Will Newett, founder of Newett Homes, explains why an exquisite home in a great location isn’t enough anymore. Homebuyers in the UK are more demanding than ever and expect a smooth customer journey from beginning to end. Digital tools to offer a better experience have become the way to differentiate as a home builder.