In the Bollywood movie Bachna Ae Haseeno, the lead actor Ranbir Kapoor pursues several women with vigour and strategy. Once the woman gets interested and reciprocates, he ignores and abandons them to find another woman to chase.
I happened to see the movie a few weeks ago and in an uncanny way found a similarity to the after-sales aspect that is commonly followed in the real estate business.
An unfortunate real estate analogy
Here the developer chases prospective homebuyers with relentless energy. Until the booking or sale has not materialised, the homebuyer has the entire machinery at his beck and call. Once the prospective buyer is interested and closes the deal, the builder typically ignores the customer to find another prospect to chase.
Everyone who has booked an apartment in an under-construction project will attest to this experience. There is negligible engagement in the phase between booking an apartment until the delivery of the apartment.
The only time there is an interaction is when the builder asks the homebuyer for a further disbursal of funds. Customer Relationship Management staff, the backbone of companies in several industries, are primarily glorified collection agents in the real estate business. That’s because most promoters think it is only a brick-and-mortar business instead of a service industry.
Why does a homebuyer who purchases an apartment of Rs 2 crore gets inferior treatment compared to a buyer who purchases a car of Rs 30 lakh?
It’s been a mystery to me that while the industry has upgraded in several ways in recent years, in the customer relationship aspect there has been negligible improvement. Given the numerous touch-points that exist for fostering a positive experience and brand-building in the period between under-construction and completion, it is an opportunity that is being wasted.
The oft-cited reasons for this are:
1) Homebuying is a once-in-a-lifetime move for most buyers. As there is no expectation of the buyer making a purchase again and being a repeat-buyer, there is an incentive on the part of the developer to be merely transactional.
2) As most of the industry is fragmented and consists mainly of small-time developers, it is naïve to expect them to have any organizational depth to even conceive of concepts like Customer Relationship Management.
3) Unlike other industries like automobiles in which there is revenue to be made from after-sales, in real estate there is little scope of monetization beyond the sale of the apartment. Hence there is little reason to engage beyond a point.
4) Until a few years back, there was barely any exit option for the homebuyer once he had booked the apartment. Hence it didn’t matter how badly you treated a home buyer as he was locked/trapped in the purchase.
There is merit in all the arguments. Different developers treat customers with indifference for different reasons. It is hard to point out which reason is a more dominating factor than the other.
I had been waiting to make a judgement if the trend would change given the involvement of ‘branded’ developers and the entry of the next-generation of builders. It needed patience since the full experience of a customer can be gauged only after delivery of the apartment and I was keen to hear from a large sample of buyers.
It turns out that the experience is not much better than the earlier era of developers. Yes, there is marginal improvement in matters of communication.
Simply put, most branded developers are developers with a famous surname and most of the next-gen speak fine English after studying abroad, but there is little beyond that. There are two major challenges– one at the promoter level and two, at the employee level.
A Question of piorities
At the promoter level—the common thinking is that in an era where stalled projects are common, as long as one can deliver a project without any hiccup that in itself is a major upgrade. Things like customer relationship can wait.
At the employee level it is no secret that the best and brightest talent shun the sector. Hence today’s top talent in most organizations are the ones that were groomed in an era where treating customers with disdain was common and invited no retribution. Investment in training of staff is rare.
Will this change soon? Personally, while I hope it does – I do think it will take quite some time. As long as the priority of the business sticks merely to sales and completion of the project, things like after-sales and customer relationship will remain on the backburner.
In the latter half of the movie, Ranbir Kapoor engages in amending his previous actions after a rejection by Deepika Padukone. Until developers do not face similar rejection by buyers for poor customer relationship management, the Rs 2 crore purchase of an apartment will keep getting an inferior treatment to an Rs 30 lakh purchase of a car.