More or less? Service charge budgets, shopping centres and customer facing technology

By 14th September 2017Blog, In-Store
person budgeting money

It’s at this time of the year that the fate of shopping centres in 2018 will be sealed. Centre management teams are furiously examining and proposing the budget spend for the forthcoming year ahead.

Against a back drop of continued uncertainty over Brexit, a rise in inflation and a dip in consumer confidence, we’re told many centres are yet again going to be pushed into doing more with less.


For me, “more” is a growing recognition of customer at the heart of the industry. Customer is evolving from being the hot topic of last year’s marketing buzz into the tangible challenge of actual delivery in malls. The dawning realisation that a centre management team of maybe 4-10 staff plus security and cleaning contractors will now have to be more accountable and manage directly a significant one to many relationship dynamic across many diverse touch points and channels, creating individual, personalised and positive experiences for each and every interaction. It’s no longer a B2C relationship, it’s now Bob to Celia. And does that mean your teams are now equally in the business of hospitality and retail?

For those in the management chain the keyword is surely accountability. It will no longer be acceptable not to include customer metrics within the usual reported KPI’s. Malls will need to evolve to report on metrics like “What’s my response time to a tweet?”. Equally their tenants will start to demand to know how successful their service charge contribution is to them, with questions like “How many of our retail offers and promotions did you carry this month, and who saw them?”.

The good news is of course that many security teams and operational staff have become very well drilled and good at personal face to face interactions. Indeed, each year the Revo Ace Awards showcase best in class examples.

The widening gap however, is in customer communication online and outside of face to face environments. The recent trend to centralisation and nationalisation of marketing and management has put many centres in a tricky position vis a vis the ‘boots on the ground’ local picture that centres are feeling under resourced to handle. Many centres don’t have control or the tools to manage the growing needs of their customer base and for many they still don’t have a customer management platform to identify who their customer is, beyond the headline demographic based research.

Kindness and courtesy are at the root of the customer experience

Indeed, a quick search around 50 random shopping centres websites uncovered not one single centre offered live chat, no doubt because the infrastructure to support it isn’t in place.

Certainly the desire amongst centre managers is certainly there. On a centre visit yesterday, I was delighted to see a very switched on centre manager quote Shep Hyken, the customer expert, author, and speaker. (Grab your kindle and download his best selling book, The Amazement Revolution).  The quote is simple, but highly effective and a positive mantra for customer experience.

“Kindness and courtesy are at the root of a positive customer service experience”

The challenge that the industry faces is defining what ‘less’ is.


Less for me, means smarter. Less means more efficient. Less also means investing in technology. Less means using the tools around that can do more. It’s not about the figure you spend, i’ts about how and where it gets spent.


Every day we’re being invited to speak to centres about harnessing and maximising marketing spend. When we examine budgets the first thing that leaps out of the page is the inefficiency in some areas of spend. We uncover some agencies are charging 50% of budget as service fees, which means only half the budget is reaching the shoppers themselves.


At the Revo Shopping Centre Management conference in March, I encouraged centres to spend more on customer and technology. There simply isn’t enough spend going into customer facing technology. Second rate online and social experiences are damaging to reputation and engagement. The industry needs to step out of the illusion that a social post a day is the acceptable face of interaction

customer survey responses


The mantra behind many retail and consumer brands can be delivered for much less than you’d believe. A session of customer journey mapping and discovery will lead to identifying the opportunities to collect valuable data, and then track the customer via their interactions with you, online, socially, on Wi-Fi or physically. Once you have this, then you can engage into managed one to one and relevant context.

Customers don’t think in terms of interaction channels they think in terms of context. In fact, the customer knows the context already and just wants an organisation to ‘know them’. It’s not Business to Consumer anymore or B2C, it’s Bob to Celia and Celia wants personalised service whenever and wherever she engages.


Let me give you an example of the brave new world, with one channel – the telephone.

A research piece we ran asked “How do you usually communicate with organisations when you have an enquiry?” 50% identified the telephone, 32% email, 13% website and 4.3% visited the store. However, more telling was that when that enquiry became more complex 41.3% switched to the telephone from the other channels, giving 91.3% choosing to use the phone.

But for most centres, telephony is a neglected opportunity on the budget line – you have a phone, you make calls, you accept the call costs without challenge, the phone system you have lasts years so needs no upgrade and you pay your service fee each month right?

Well, technology has moved on, significantly. New cloud based telephony unlocks so many more opportunities for a mall beyond the financial one. Move from single channel telephony to proper contact management.


  1. Save Money – Reduce telephone lines and call charges.
  2. Improve internal comms, Move more freely, direct and divert calls invisibly to when, where and how you want. No need to be tied to your desk anymore. Dect & Mobile phones translate into freedom for you and your team. Sync call traffic to align with the working patterns of your team.
  3. Identify callers and improve your service. Should a caller who has called twice already for lost property not be presented with the menu next time they call (within a suitable timeframe), and just be connected to the person they last spoke to?
  4. Unlock personal profiles and understand customer sentiment. When customers interact, they leave a digital trace. A recorded customer service call, browsing history, web or mobile app usage, transaction history, social or digital chat conversations, all providing the insights to build a more personal profile of a customer.Speech Analytics provides intelligent insights into the customer sentiment. It can provide very precise analysis of words, phrases, categories and themes in conversations, happening daily.
  5. Improve customer satisfaction and reduce call volumes for repeated calls. How many callers could self0serve directions, parking info or trading hours with a text back?
  6. Enable customers to interact with you how they want to. Handle all voice, data, social and live chat via a single platform. Let customers chat to you via text or live chat from the comfort your mobile (or enable OnBrand to provide first list support of these channels).
  7. Improve first contact resolution. Intelligently escalate customers to other channels for more immediate resolution. Create a path and journey for customer complaints or issues knowing in advance you can win on customer satisfaction.
  8. Report on key customer metrics. Instant access to caller data, options pressed and who calls you and why.
  9. Tenant management & BCP (Business Continuity Planning). Set up call management and emergency/evac contact lists and messaging by a single phone call. No reliance on computers or power in the event of an emergency. Ideal for BCP planning and tenant management.
  10. Manage your own phone system. No need for dependency on third party maintainers and charged costs for amends. Want to inform shoppers of trading hour changes – make changes in real time, simply and effectively.

As you can see, a whole world of contact management can emerge from just one channel, and this is available today, and at low cost, and often within the realms of a transfer of spend.

Our advice: Spend more time with the right people, examine what you can get for the same amount by shopping around, and let technology help you do more with less. The more you invest in customers, the more they’ll spend in your mall.

Right now, there’s never been more technology available to reduce customer effort.

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