With more and more emphasis being put on the customer journey in retail, we sat down with Managing Director Ben Tucker to discuss what this means for Focus Experiential and the new homes market as a whole.
By 2020, customer experience is set to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator to the customer*. What does this mean for Focus Experiential and why is this important?
For us, working in the new homes property sector, this is a really interesting statement. Ultimately purchasing a house is not the same as buying a TV and so we need to understand the statement’s implications for the irregular one-off, high-value purchases, compared to more regular FMCG purchases. The high-value stakes involved in buying a home means customer experience is even more important because customers are investing in so much more than a TV, and therefore we should make the buying and customer journey the very best it could be.
"high-value stakes involved in buying a home means customer experience is even more important"
The real challenge is changing the mentality of an industry which has traditionally a very sales focused mantra into offering a better experience to potential purchasers – and having the confidence the sale will happen if the experience is the best it could be. For FocusXP, this means we need to think further and deeper than sales desks, house types, and floor plan displays.
We need to embrace new technology and rethink the traditional on-site sales experience so that it is a more customer-centric and immersive one.
Within the property industry, what makes you stand out from your competitors when it comes to providing a unique experience?
We always try to challenge the traditional and offer new ideas; whether that be in design, materials and finish, or in layout, setup, and technology. We take inspiration from retail design and we use the extensive research and development undertaken in retail – in regards to customer and sales environments – to inform our ideas and plans within the property industry. Combined with the 20 years of property marketing experience we have, we can align our proposals with expertise from all angles.
How have you evolved the traditional marketing suite to be focused around the customer experience?
From our inception in 2014 and our first marketing suite, we put the customer first by introducing the customer journey as standard into the marketing suite sector. By zoning areas that align themselves to touchpoints the customer needs in order to progress into a purchase, we defined each space they move through. No plans are drawn or layouts created without first understanding the customer journey through the space; this then dictates where we place furniture, touch points, technology, and product display.
How do you personalise the marketing suite experience to meet user’s needs?
We use our property marketing experience to get under the skin of who will be visiting. For instance what’s their social demographic profile, what do they like and dislike, what brands do they engage with, where do they eat out? All of this informs us of what we need to do within a marketing suite to tailor the experience to them. We align this with the sales strategy and aspirations of the development to ensure we get both maximum customer satisfaction and the best chance of a purchase.
Giving customers a memorable experience is super important. How do you tailor your designs to leave a lasting impression?
We try to be different, that’s the best way of leaving a lasting impression, and in a competitive new homes industry – especially in London – we know customers won’t just visit us, they will visit our competitors too.
How can you attract the right customers to your suite? What research do you carry out?
We have a team with agency-side property marketing experience, and that brings marketing communication skills. We know the marketing suite must be aligned with the overarching marketing communications strategy, encompassing digital and offline techniques, and we immerse ourselves within that information from the outset.
Where does the customer journey begin for people looking to purchase a home?
It begins with them deciding to buy one – there’s no trigger for that other than a personal choice. A marketing suite is the end of that journey; it’s the place where you have to make that purchase. You can’t buy a house online, you have to visit to purchase. Our job is to understand every touchpoint, starting with that decision to buy, to the moment they walk into a marketing suite. By knowing that we give the developer the best chance of converting them into a customer.
How can you ensure the visitor experiences the brand?
By working hand-in-hand with the branding and creative agency. We don’t want to receive a set of brand assets on a download link and simply paste them across the walls of a sales environment. We need to get into the heads of the branding agency designers to understand why the brand is what it is, why it looks that way, the story behind it and the rationale for it. It is imperative for us to work in collaboration with the branding and creative agency. The customer needs confidence and consistency from the brand in a sales environment by ensuring it matches anything they have seen or engaged with before they have visited.
"We know the marketing suite must be aligned with the overarching marketing communications strategy, encompassing digital and offline techniques, and we immerse ourselves within that information from the outset"
Do you incorporate features for the digitally-minded consumer?
We have no choice, we live in a digital age whereby customers are 60% of their way into a purchasing decision before they set foot into a sales environment. We have to be digitally savvy but also pragmatic and practical; ensuring that any technology suits both the customer and the sales team operating it. VR, for example, may be the latest digital trend but if it’s uncomfortable for a purchaser to use and managed by a sales team who don’t understand how it works, then it will only be counterproductive. In some schemes we know iPads or tablets will suffice, in others, 3D printing and IFID tag recognition triggering content on digital displays would work. Immersive, experiential displays such as touchscreens and projection walls with conductive ink all could be an option. The key is not to let the desire to try a technology for vanity’s sake override the rationale of whether it brings a benefit to the customer experience and sales aspirations of the developer.
How do you make the experience in marketing suites fun?
I’m not sure buying a house is fun for anybody! We give customers an environment they feel comfortable in, a space where they can engage with the product and feel relaxed; it’s the best way to make it easy for them. Incorporating kids’ areas such as Lego walls, colouring tables, and tablets which helps parents and makes the experience more fun for the children. Adults are much easier to keep happy! Having a place to charge their phones, make a nice drink and just offer them convenience – it’s us asking them to make a big commitment to us, so we need to make it easy for them. Immersing customers in the experiential elements also makes the whole process a lot more fun. Engaging with the interactive tables and tablets brings the regular brochures to life, and complements the physical collateral perfectly.
In a digital world, how do you ensure there’s still a personal touch?
Going back to an earlier answer I gave, you can’t buy a house online – yet! Whilst this is still the case, the personal touch will always come from the sales teams engaging with the customers. Our job is to ensure the sales team have all the tools they need to operate and the customer doesn’t feel as if they are in an oppressed sales environment. By making the seating areas feel homely, using tactile materials and finishes to bring warmth to a space and by avoiding bombarding them with information overload – all these add a personal touch and detaches the customer from a harsh sales space It’s important not to replicate your website and brochure into your sales environment; give customers a different experience so they don’t feel like another sale number.
What does the future hold for sales spaces?
I think the future means more power to the customer and as an industry, we need to move our proposition to be more customer-centric. Sales spaces need to be convenient as people lead busy lives, and they will no doubt include more tech as more technology is developed and our customers’ lives are more digitally led.
I believe in an industry where there is no other choice of where to make the purchase other than in a physical sales space. They will become even more important and integral to the marketing communications and branding strategy of developers from the very beginning. This is something that hasn’t yet been achieved. It’s more often than not considered too late and thus compromises have to be made which in turn makes it difficult to offer the best customer journey and maximise the sales aspirations of the developer.
If you’d like to find more out about how Focus Experiential can maximise your customer’s journey and improve their retail experience, get in touch.