ABCN WorldView Forum 2014: Talking Tech & Vanishing Acts (Day 2)

Spoon restaurant, host of ABCN's Friday night party
Spoon restaurant, host of ABCN's Friday night party

Yesterday we published a summary of Day One of the ABCN WorldView Forum 2014, held in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

As we know, change is coming to the business centre industry in a big way. Or, rather, change is happening. Constantly. It’s a challenge that workspace owners and operators must work with, whether that change comes in the form of new technology, bandwidth demands, service requirements or new mobile trends. For an industry that is shaped by its occupants – that span every conceivable sector in the business world – the business centre industry never really stands still.

The Forum focused on ‘Opportunity in a Changing Industry’ and expectedly, technology played a major role in the presentations and discussions that took place on Day Two.

Time for a marketing wake-up call

On Friday 11th April 2014, ABCN’s John Milhado welcomed attendees back to the beautifully presented conference room of Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest with a ‘Marketing Wake Up Call’.

Content marketing has become an enormously important part of any company’s online advertising campaign, and John highlighted the importance of uploading fresh, relevant content as part of a wider SEO strategy.

“Keep your website fresh and try to upload new content every week,” he said. “Use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster to measure visitor statistics and ensure you’re moving in the right direction. Is the price of SEO worth it? Yes – your business centre needs to be on page 1 for your main search terms, otherwise it’s pointless.”

However, while natural rankings and content is essential, John conceded that workspace operators shouldn’t lose sight of alternative forms of advertising including search engine PPC (Pay Per Click). Hauke Haas from MatchOffice revealed that 80% of their leads are sourced from PPC advertisements.

Getting found

Google Maps is another essential tool, and it’s free. Business centres and coworking spaces are location-based services, and as we discovered yesterday in Hauke’s presentation, a massive 86% of clients choose a business centre based on its location. Therefore operators should do everything possible to ensure their location can be ‘found’.

John then moved onto the prevalence of data in today’s digital world, and the controversial topic of gathering information from web users. He explained that it is now possible to gather information on users who have visited a website based on their IP address. This can be used to identify their company, and operators can then act proactively by getting in touch.

“Controversial? Yes,” explained John. “But this practice is being used in businesses today. It has been tried and tested, with mixed results, usually with surprise, sometimes with hostility. What’s interesting is that you can use it to get to know your potential clients – the size of their business, their industry, their locations and so on.”

John went on to explain that a more acceptable way of using visitors’ data is to tailor their online experience. You can even include a ‘welcome back’ message on your website, should they return.

Virtual assistants

John’s next point focused on the pop-up ‘chat’ messages that appear on some service or ecommerce websites. These are particularly popular in business centre circles and according to John, one-third of people who use the pop-up chat function on a business centre website go on to make an enquiry.

“It’s a great conversion tool,” he said. “But you must make sure it is staffed! It’s no use talking to an automated messaging system. The trick is not the technology – it’s about having the right people at the other end of the line.”

John went on to discuss the importance of ambassadors – particularly clients. These are the people who have used your service and have the power to send new business your way. Or not, as the case may be, depending on their experience.

Talking tech

Next up was Tony Freeth of Medusa Business and Hugo Lemmens from Penzias, who took centre stage to discuss some of the key technologies that business centre operators should be using.

Among them, Internet bandwidth is a major factor and one that operators should watch closely. Clients are more likely to expect a bigger bandwidth, perhaps even unlimited, as we move forwards. How will operators handle this change? One solution is to partner with their IT supplier, as Penzias’ Randy Williamson explained in Day One.

“What was the first thing you did when checking into the hotel? Connect to the WiFi,” said Hugo. “Most of you probably also checked the limitations of your connection. It’s becoming more important to people and especially so to business owners.”

Tony then highlighted one business center operator in London that has adapted to these new demands by charging a one-off fee to give new clients access to WiFi, which includes their team and all of their mobile devices.

Revenue opportunities through WiFi

Tony and Hugo raised an interesting point: how can workspace operators generate revenue from technology in their centres? And even beyond the building walls?

“When you offer WiFi you will invariably have people from outside of your centre who want to access it,” said Tony. “You can use that to your advantage. I visited a centre in London recently that offers WiFi at its four locations in the city. Across their portfolio we detected 3000 devices belonging to 1800 people who are not residents.”

Tony went on to explain that this is not necessarily a problem, if handled correctly. The centre could continue to offer their WiFi for free but request users’ information on sign-up, and then reach out to them. Also, many people walk into a centre for different reasons, particularly meetings. If you offer WiFi to visiting businesses, such as contractors and suppliers, you can connect with them long after they have left your building.

Another way to use WiFi is to implement a system that ‘remembers’ visitors or clients. For instance, when a person carries their smartphone into their serviced office or meeting room, a digital screen could ‘welcome’ that person, or display information or promotions tailored to them.

The question of WiFi is hotly debated, and has the potential to define the industry. To many, control is paramount, and some operators use systems that detect signals in each office to ensure it is being used properly.

Either way, the over-riding message is “Get the data, and know what’s going on in your centre”.

What’s your standard of service?

Following the panel discussion was Balazs Csidei, Director of Hospitality Training at Kempinski Hotel Group. Balazs delivered a fascinating insight into the enormously high standards to which Kempinski strives – and, usually, achieves.

Central to this objective is a clear understanding of their customers’ attitudes towards service, and the wide-reaching impact they can have on the hotel’s reputation.

Take a look at the results of Kempinski’s customer research from 2012:

  • 86% are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.
  • 89% will switch to your brand for a better customer experience.
  • A dissatisfied customer will tell 9-15 people about their experience, and 13% tell more than 20 people.
  • 86% of consumers stop doing business with you because of bad customer service.
  • For every customer complaint there will be 26 others who have remained silent.
  • 73% are loyal to a brand because of great customer experience.

The hotel and business centre industries are becoming ever more closely aligned. It’s certainly worth taking note of this research. Who knows, that one dissatisfied client could cause a devastating ripple effect.

Read more about Balazs Csidei’s presentation here.

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How will the agile workplace affect your centre?

Ferenc Furulyas of Jones Lang LaSalle kicked off the afternoon with an information-rich presentation on the European commercial property market, and how employment and migration trends may impact the business centre market.

In conventional office space, the City of London topped the list for office take-up in 2013 vs 2012, followed by Madrid and Lyon. This may come as no surprise to some business centre operators, who are well aware of the ongoing positive performance that surrounds London’s financial core. This area is highly attractive to financial firms as well as other industries that supply that market – such as telecoms, IT and media – and reports regularly point to high workspace occupancy and low availability.

On the subject of quality, Ferenc went on to present compelling stats relating to Grade A office space, and how it tends to outperform that of Grade B or Grade C office space by a considerable margin. However, he conceded that availability of Grade A office space remains scarce across Europe, and the stock which is available is usually acquired rapidly.

Vanishing act

Wrapping up the afternoon was Frank Cottle, who recounted 7 elements of the business centre industry that he thinks are going to disappear over the next 3 years.

Do you agree?

  • 1. Telecoms: At least, in its traditional sense. Classic handsets and desk-bound phones will be replaced by mobile devices and Internet-based soft phones. According to Frank, the ‘tipping point’ is coming. If you haven’t already, get a BYOD policy in place and be prepared to change the way you supply and charge for your telecoms.
  • 2. Cabling: In place of endless cabling will be WiFi, personal hotspots and managed systems. Frank advised operators to get a technology partner rather than investing in their own infrastructure.
  • 3. Bandwidth revenue: As we saw with Tony and Hugo’s panel discussion, clients are demanding more bandwidth and less Internet limitations. Operators should start to ‘package’ or ‘bundle’ their bandwidth offering now. Start by establishing a benchmark of how much you’re including as standard. Those deemed ‘super users’, such as media production companies, should have a special high usage bundle. In the not too distant future we may not be able to charge for Internet at all, as customers can get it free in too many places. Operators should differentiate themselves and demonstrate that their clients get a dedicated line with a high bandwidth that they can’t get in Starbucks.
  • 4. Video conferencing: Many clients don’t need business centre video conferencing equipment anymore, as they already have their own devices with systems like webex, gotomeeting and Google Hangouts. As companies like Sococo encourage homebuilt video conferencing systems, this trend is only set to accelerate.
  • 5. Service staff: Frank predicts that full-time service staff may be replaced by a more centralised system, with contractors and service partners.
  • 6. Web marketing as we know it: As we have already seen, web marketing continues to evolve. Frank believes that more leads will be sourced by 3rd party groups such as web brokers, agents and directories.
  • 7. Mail: Gradually, snail mail will be phased out. While it may never disappear altogether, there are now digital solutions such as Earth Class Mail and Mail Gapp. This will place the spotlight on location based services. Could it depreciate the value of business address services and virtual offices? Time will tell.

An interesting point raised by Frank’s presentation was the use of virtual tours. At VIP Offices in Belgium, Kristel de Prins and her team use a video function via their iPads to ‘show’ remote prospective clients around their centre. Approximately 1 tour per week is carried out in this way and around 65% go on to take an office in the centre.

And what’s heading our way?

Now that we know what will vanish, what about the new things we should look out for?

Frank believes we are heading for a “growth explosion” over the next 5 years with a massive increase in new clients.

“You must find ways to get in the way of these new clients,” he said. “We are talking about a global workforce. The ‘people as a product’ model is expanding, bringing more freelancers and contractors to our industry. You need to differentiate – think of everything those clients need and everything they’re buying from someone else already, and provide it yourself. Outsource it, create partnerships, look for opportunities. That’s where the revenue lies.”

And that’s it!

Having concluded the 2014 ABCN WorldView Forum, attendees then set off to the superb floating restaurant of Spoon, moored on the banks of the Danube with spectacular views across the water, to the Hungarian Parliament Building, the bridges, and the lofty Buda Castle. If you want to have a good laugh at the dancing efforts of ABCN members and guests, keep an eye on the ABCN Facebook page as we publish the evidence!

And don’t forget to keep an eye on OT over the next few weeks as we delve into more discussions from the ABCN WorldView Forum 2014. Let us know what YOU thought of the conference below or via our social media channels. We’d love to know!

Thanks to Spoon Restaurant for the above image.

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