Sunday 20 October 2019

The right moves: Retailers and property agents need to perfect the 'digital experience'

Paul McNeive
Paul McNeive

Paul McNeive

Every day, I'm being pushed more and more 'online' by retailers and service providers. High street retailing in Ireland is under serious threat from the online sector, with implications for the property industry as retailers move to rebalance their high street and online mix, and distribution systems. But no matter where and how you interact with your customers and clients, the customer must feel good about the experience. If they don't, they won't come back. And estate agents will have to think harder about the balance of their services.

Residential property is an emotional business, but investors, developers, and the occupiers of business premises can be emotional about their property business too. And all clients are different. Millennials are immersed in the digital world and probably prefer to enquire about properties online, make appointments, view plans and videos, and conduct negotiations online. So, a marketing campaign for a block of 'first-time-buyer' apartments should be heavily weighted towards digital to attract the right interest. Equally, a young developer client is probably happier to track online sales reports.

But what if your client is in their sixties and you are selling or leasing a property likely to be occupied by a professional firm? The key decision makers will be the managing director and the financial controller, and they are likely to be in their fifties or sixties. I suspect that they will want to make their enquiries to a human being and will place a higher value on face-to-face meetings. Many clients will prefer a phone conversation or a meeting to e-mails.

I'm not sure that younger agents have an appreciation of this and many firms, caught up in the rush to go digital, are forgetting the power of the personal touch. Also, just because you have a good website, its doesn't mean you are providing a good service in your premises (e.g. banks), or that your 'mobile' experience is good. I see too many agents who don't have their phone number prominently on their website and who think that bombarding social media with advertisements for properties is good digital practice.

I think many companies are struggling with getting this 'digital experience' right and I was interested to see that The CX Company is holding a free breakfast seminar in the National Concert Hall on May 16 next. CEO Michael Killeen told me that experts from Google, Ikea and others will address topics such as humanising the customer experience on digital platforms and will examine customer behaviours in Ireland.

Ω Travel broadens views of the skyline

Last weekend was spent in the southern Spanish city of Malaga, which is hiding in plain sight as one of the great European cities to visit. The highlight is Malaga Cathedral, dating from the 16th century.

Observing the skyline, it struck me how the views of the cathedral seem to fit in with a lot of plain apartment buildings - typically 16 stories high. The same thought has troubled me in the context of the refusal by An Bord Pleanala of Johnny Ronan's proposed 22-storey tower on Tara Street, opposite the Custom House. Despite the board's senior planning inspector recommending approval, and despite its complying with all planning legislation, permission was refused on the grounds that the proposed building would seriously detract from the setting and character of the Custom House, and would have a significant and detrimental effect on important city views.

This, to my mind, is a very subjective reason for refusal, and the more cities I see, the more baffling this decision looks. Last year I visited both Montreal in Canada and Boston in the US.

Montreal has an 'old city', and the jewel here is another beautiful cathedral, the Notre-Dame Basilica. Towering over it is the ugly Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and other unattractive office blocks. However, when you are in the plazas around the cathedral, you are not aware of them. We took a boat trip and marvelled at the Montreal skyline.

In Boston, historic landmark buildings such as the Old State House and Old City Hall are dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers. The effect at street level is both stimulating and attractive. The tour guide on the boat emphasised the modernity of the stunning skyline by pointing out that JFK would only have recognised one tall building.

Apart from the economic imperative, the point is that new buildings and old buildings work together and Dublin needs attractive, high-quality landmarks. An Bord Pleanala really need to get out more. I hope Johnny Ronan re-applies.

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