November 2013 | Servcorp - Published in SME Advisor Magazine

Every aspect of your company's success depends on how well you respond to – and anticipate – customer needs. Using an office environment that gives you the right platform for customer liaison and is well-suited to client visits gives you a powerful competitive edge, regardless of your sector or specialization. The question is, how you can achieve the necessary results in a cost-effective and straightforward way? To find the right answers, we spoke to Servcorp, the world leader in serviced office provision, about the key factors that are the hallmarks of a client-friendly premises…

“In the 1970s, companies were obsessed with their organizational structure; in the ‘80s, it was all about quality; and in the ‘90s it was all about distribution strategies. But in reality, none of these elements matter. Only one thing matters – the customer.”
- Tom Peters, business guru and author of ‘In Search of Excellence'

You might think that in the ongoing quest to give clients value, service and a share of your USP, the actual office space in which you conduct client meetings (and which projects your value-set to the customer) is something relatively trivial. You might think that – and you would be wrong.

A survey conducted in 2010 by the UK's Federation of Small Businesses – the world's largest SME organisation, with more than 220,000 active members – showed that up to 22 per cent of businesses believed that a poor office environment had been a key factor in client attrition. What's more, it hit hardest in relation to their big, valued clients. Here, it was felt to be a factor in up to 37 per cent of lost accounts.

The picture is equally clear on the other side of the fence – from the clients' own perspectives. The global design and branding group Fitch conducted a five-year customer research survey between 2004- 2009, and it showed categorically that both location and quality of office space were key factors in retaining and developing profitable client business. This was especially the case when younger middle managers were involved in visiting service providers. If the offices were amenable and made for an enjoyable visit, they were 32 per cent more likely to report back to their directors that the company was doing a good job. More chillingly, if the offices weren't up to par, 64 per cent would give the business a potentially fatal ‘thumbs down'.

Getting value

The challenge is that buying suitable luxury office space – or signing a lease for an extended period – can be an expensive option, and there is the danger that the business is put into the same position as a Risk Manager who spends US$50,000 on limiting a risk that at worst will only cost the organisation US$20,000. So, if an SME is going to veer away from that commitment, does it make sense to look at a Serviced Office solution?

Certainly, from the standpoint of pure flexibility, yes it does. This is especially true in terms of being able to access the very best locations, which are guaranteed to make a vivid, highly positive impact on the client. Let's take an extreme example. Doha's Tornado Tower offers the pre-eminent office space in the Middle East, and it's no accident that from the earliest planning stages, Servcorp ensured that it would be able to offer customers truly stunning suites in this ‘masterpiece' setting. Suites that by any other standard would be exceptionally hard to get and command the highest international premiums. A similar example is the office space currently available in Dubai's highly-acclaimed Boulevard Plaza, a stone's throw from Burj Khalifa and the myriad attractions of the Dubai Mall.

Come down just a couple of notches and, again, you will find that the serviced office route gives you high quality office space in bustling, prestige city-centre settings. You won't have to travel out to distant suburbs – and more to the point, nor will your clients.

Another factor is that office space in A Grade buildings in prime locations has held its value throughout the global financial crisis; as a result, in many cases it remains beyond the budgets of even larger businesses. Serviced office space gives access to this standard of accommodation at a preferential rate – and indeed, saves valuable time with all the logistical arrangements as well. There's no time wasted on electrical bulls, telecoms and IT payments, cleaning services – or even arranging the staff visa allocation. Everything is completed on the client business' behalf, with one simple bill at the end of the month.

Making an impact

The Fitch survey showed categorically that when it comes to client meetings, ‘first impressions are lasting impressions'. Offices that appear cheap, thrown together or just plain unappealing aren't the way to a client's heart. So if we take the example of a Servcorp office floor, it's likely to have cost somewhere in the region of US$1.5 million to US$2 million to build and furnish. You'll find the very finest materials – rich mahoganies, solid cold-forged stainless steel and expanses of toughened float glass. These all cost significant sums which are likely to be out of the reach of the majority of businesses faced with furnishing their own office space. It's no surprise that they play a major role in leveraging client approval once you access them via the served office route. The client experience is totally one of a 5-star, ‘A'-grade premises.

Similarly, because the reception area is your clients' first ‘point of encounter' with the business, you'll find large receptions that are often complemented by an exceptional view – great for giving clients an impressive, engaging experience right from the get-go (it's worth noting that the reception area is often equal to the size of an additional office – that's the kind of ‘breathing space' it gives your visitors).

Going the extra mile: meeting your clients in their own backyard

Accessing premium quality office space so that your clients feel good about visiting you is only half the story. You can also work with a serviced office provider that has a global network – one that allows you to arrange client meetings in prestige settings wherever your client happens to be. This can be a key strategy for cementing relations on a high-end account or cross-selling upscale services to an existing, favoured client. For example, in the case of Servcorp, clients are able to book office space, boardrooms and select their conference settings via their mobile phones, ipads or laptops through Servcorp Online, an exclusive online portal for Servcorp clients. The My Meetings app, which was created to make the Servcorp Online experience easier for mobile phones, displays strong, clear images of all the options and then book meeting rooms online instantly. Simple as that – and you can even specify if you want secretarial or PA support.

This aspect of staffing support is again significant in that it means you have a permanent team of facilitators at your disposal. Highly trained, professional staff who will answer calls, handle mail, organise hotel bookings and provide the full spectrum of admin support. They complete the professional image of your business from the all-important point of view of the client.

Because the right facilities matter...

The role of technology has never been more vital – especially in terms of facilitating and cementing client relations. So you'll find that the serviced office route can give you a good deal of competitive edge here, too. Take the example of Servcorp – where every suite has 24-hour IT support, coming with a firm undertaking that for any solution, an expert will be back to you in less than 24 hours. Videoconferencing and teleconferencing are also standard features, with conference rooms available to seat up to 16 people. There are also customised cabling solutions to suit diverse technology needs, with sub-floor routing to the highest professional standards. Everything to ensure that the client simply sits back and enjoys what you have to say – rather than listen to excuses as to why the right presentation isn't available today.

It's not only technology that makes an impact on the client: sheer convenience makes it mark as well. So, for example, another benefit with a good quality serviced office solution is that there is a strong premium on providing visitor parking wherever possible.

The time factor

Of course, all of the above can be achieved with your own office space – if you have sufficient budgets, and, perhaps even more importantly, enough time. Because the key factor here is that all of this is already done; you don't have to waste precious time with fitting-out and complex IT installation, because the provider has already invested all that time and effort themselves.

It's also the case that if you want changes over and above the existing office layout, the service solution can be highly flexible, with the potential to re-configure layouts to meet your precise needs. Consider the following:

• You may not want meetings rooms too deep inside the office, because you're concerned that visiting clients might see your team ‘at work' and your brand loses mystique and value as a result. No problem – meetings cabins can be configured accordingly.

• You have frequent client visits but also don't want to lose meetings facilities for your own teams. Again, not a problem, because a bespoke configuration can be discussed and put in place.

All of means that you're no longer dependent purely on what your team says and does in front of the client, because the actual architecture of the premises is also working on your behalf. Or perhaps you would like to keep on doing things the hard way?