CBRE CX chief: Why the job is about remediating pain points

Customer chief at property owner, CBRE, shares her insights into customer experience management

Shelley McDowell
Shelley McDowell

Commercial real estate can be a complicated world for a CX professional.

For Shelley McDowell, director of customer experience at CBRE, some days her customer is the building owner or landlord. On others it is the building’s tenant organisation. Then there are the people who actually work in buildings.

All this leads to a huge amount of variation her day-to-day tasks.

“For one customer, it might that they haven’t done much work on brand and communication for their properties, so it is partnering with them to bring that up to speed,” McDowell tells CMO. “Or it could be looking at the actual processes and systems used, so that facilities managers can do a turnaround job faster and be able to communicate that to the client.

“Or it might be that we don’t already know what the clients are thinking, so how do we bring the voice of the customer to the front where we can see where these gaps are.”

Ultimately, however, she says it comes down to identifying and remediating pain points.

“Customer experience can touch on so many different areas, so it is about partnering with the customer to understand their customers better, and to help them,” McDowell says. “Once you identify that pain point through journey mapping or other ways, you might identify some low hanging fruit. And then you work back from there and work out who affects that pain point.

“That can direct you to which part of the business you need to work with to help them evolve that issue or take advantage of that opportunity.”

In her CX role at CBRE, McDowell leads a cross-disciplinary team of marketers, communicators, space curators and technical specialists, who run activities ranging from implementing wellness centres, childcare, and community gardens to hosting demolition parties.

“It is really important we put the customer at the heart of everything we do,” McDowell says. “It is really important that we all change our thinking. A big part of my role has been initiating cultural change, and really embedding that in how we think and how we speak.”

McDowell started her career in journalism, before moving into a corporate communications role with Telstra BigPond. From there, she went into a marketing and communications role with Telstra International, and then on to various roles in the United States, where she gained her first taste of working in CX.

“I took a role to help with a brand refresh,” McDowell says. “When you look at brand, there are three components – the visual, the verbal and the behavioural. And the behavioural was an area where they needed a lot of focus.”

The method she used to assist was through voice-of-customer surveys and measuring customer satisfaction with an NPS program.

“The company could see there was a lot of work to be done there, so then I was appointed to a permanent role as the head of customer experience,” McDowell says.

Her background in communications is something she continues to call on now she is at CBRE, especially for the discipline it taught her in listening.

“The capability to listen is extremely important, not just to the customer, but to the team,” McDowell says. “Everybody needs to feel they are heard. There is a lot of change management, so being able to listen and implement change at a pace that people are comfortable with, and taking them on the journey with you, is really important.

“You need to be able to make sure you are translating processes into something that is going to make sense to the end customer.”

McDowell has had to also ensure her role makes sense to the rest of her organisation, especially in the absence of a single CX metric she can apply in a B2B business such as CBRE.

“If it is cultural change, then you might implement an employee engagement survey and look at how that improves,” she says. “If it is work around communication channels, then you might look at the metrics for open rates and engagement. If it is serving your customer when they have an issue, then it might be the timeframes for how quickly you service them.

“And that is not necessarily a holistic approach, but there is always some way you can find to measure and track and have a benchmark.”

Sometimes it is the customers themselves that let her know she is on the right track.

“At one of the demolition parties, we gave people textas to write on the wall before the lobby was knocked down,” McDowell says. “People were writing things like ‘I love this building’, or ‘best building management team ever’. That’s from the heart, and that’s creating a community.”

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