To say that the real estate industry in the UAE has had a rocky few years is no understatement. Weakened consumer sentiment, an oversupply in some locations, and a slowdown in government spending as result of lower oil prices had all combined to produce an uncertain outlook – and that was before the arrival of the pandemic earlier.
While some markets, such as Sharjah, and some developers have certainly outperformed others, the industry as a whole is undergoing something of a reset. This is important in the context of the UAE’s overall economic picture, where the housing market plays an outsized role.
In 2018, Dubai’s property segment contributed 13.6 per cent of GDP, while the figures for Abu Dhabi and Sharjah respectively were 14.4 per cent and 10.7 per cent. In other words, to paraphrase an old saying, when the UAE’s property sector sneezes, the wider economy catches a cold.
So what can be done to improve the prospects? There are plenty of areas that need reviewing, and I am a firm believer in another old saying – in every crisis there is opportunity. Right now, there is an opportunity for executives in every industry – not just property – to cast a critical eye over their processes and take time to work out how these can be optimised.
Clean up customer servicing
If we take real estate as an example, one of the areas that the sector has been criticised over in the past - perhaps with some degree of justification - is customer service. I believe that the rewards for developers who choose to prioritise this vital area are, in the long-term, considerable. They will go on to establish market-leading positions and reap the financial rewards as a result.
Unfortunately, improving customer service is not as simple as remembering to offer your customers a cup of coffee when they walk into your sales centre. In my mind, the customer experience is actually a journey that – if managed correctly – never truly ends.
It starts from the moment your client first hears about your brand from a friend, or sees it on their phone or on a billboard. It continues right through the sales, construction and handover process, and theoretically lasts for the lifetime of the property. Like any strong relationship it is built on one key commodity – trust.
In order to define the customer experience, there are thousands of questions that we, as an organisation, need to ask ourselves. These stem from smaller questions, such as how our clients should be greeted when they visit us and what is an appropriate response time to queries left on social media, to much larger ones.
Address safety concerns
How can we ensure that our customers feel safe and secure, especially in the pandemic era? How can we provide them with the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them quickly? Most of all, what can we do to ensure we that we retain that level of trust that will ensure the relationship has a positive future?
Trust stems from communication, which must be both regular and transparent. It is imperative that sales teams are trained to an exceptional standard to be able to provide accurate information to buyers, and this is just as important after the sale has been made as before it. Buyers must be provided with regular updates with regard to construction progress on their home, and they must also be coached through the often time-consuming handover and desnagging process.
Once the unit is handed over, it is imperative that developers continue to be receptive to maintain the high standards any buyer is entitled to expect in their new community. There is no right or wrong way to handle the customer journey, but one thing is for certain; it is a process that should be reviewed regularly and improved continuously to further enhance that feeling of trust between buyer and seller.
The decision to buy a new house is often the largest and most complex financial process an individual will go through in their lifetime. In tough times more than ever, all developers can do more to ensure that the process is as comfortable and transparent as possible - the trust dividend will pay off in the long run.
- Ahmed Alkhoshaibi is CEO of Arada.