Just the other night I went out and saw the new Terminator movie, Dark Fate. Going in, I was prepared to be disappointed but was actually impressed by how fun it was. As a sci-fi nerd it’s great to see the original stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reunited, but as a tech writer, the thing that stuck with me was how different the villainous Terminator model was. No spoilers, I promise, but in addition to being able to change its appearance into anyone else, this one also managed to pick up human speech, even down to human mannerisms and affectations. It’s a far cry from the robotic liquid metal assassin featured in Terminator 2, or Arnold’s villainous turn in the original film.
It doesn’t just make for good film, either. In the universe of the film, adding a human dimension to the behavior of the villain made him much more effective in his role. Sure, it’s great if your cyborg from the future looks human, but he’s not going to get very far in the real world if everyone thinks he sounds like…well, a cyborg from the future.
With that in mind, the idea that lots of buildings today spend time and effort cultivating a well-designed, easy-to-understand tenant experience but only use one of the five senses seems like it falls a little short. There’s certainly a lot more to it than just what can be seen with the eyes, and that goes for branding as well as actual tenant utility.
Let’s take it one by one. Right off the bat, every human sense has an opportunity to help build a strong tenant experience. Some of the best examples come from the hospitality world. What about taste? You need look no further than DoubleTree’s cookies, given out with every hotel room rental. It’s a small gesture, but even small gestures can add a lot of differentiation in a market otherwise full full of similar competitors. For owners of office or residential buildings, there’s a great opportunity to find some niche food item that can be offered periodically, in order to gain some of that brand distinction.
Next up, what about scent? One of my favorite childhood memories was walking through the doors of the Loews hotels at Universal Studios, where “Loews Hotels’ Bright Sunshine” was piped into the air. Even now, ten years after having ever been to the hotel, I can vividly imagine that smell. The implication for owners is similar here: identify a neutral, pleasant scent that matches your brand identity and consider piping it into common areas.
And what about the sense of touch? An underexplored element, in my opinion, but one that can add a lot of personality to spaces. Think about using different carpeting in different rooms in order to add variety, for instance, thicker carpeting in areas meant for relaxation and hard floors or stiffer carpet tiles in areas devoted to productivity.
There are other ways to find inspiration in the hospitality world, as well. In terms of senses, think about hearing. I spoke with Dana Young, founder of Virtual Concierge Service, a company that equips smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home with interactive, local information and recommendations. Dana launched the company based on experiences that he found through his own management of a vacation rental property, and now the company offers solutions in both the vacation rental space as well as for other areas of real estate. Dana told me that “There are a couple of challenges that voice is really well suited to handle. First, as a host, how do I convey knowledge I have about the property and area that my guests can use to take their vacation from good to great? I wanted to remove any potential frustrations they might have about the property, as well as provide my guests insights I have about the region. An example for on-property is how to start a fire in the fireplace without smoking up the house. For the local area, Alexa can tell groups with kids about opportunities for gold panning in the river – something you won’t find as a local activity with a Google search.”
That’s the type of information that is applicable regardless of property type. Whether it is informing tenants how to engage with on-site amenities at an office, or even informing them about local spots to grab lunch or a drink after work, the opportunity posed by interactive, voice-driven resources provides a particularly great chance to customize, and localize, effectively.
Dana added that “This is an exciting time for PropTech and how voice is having an impact. Nearly everyone we talk to acknowledges that voice will be a dominant way we interface with technology. After all, voice is the most natural way we’ve ever had to communicate with computers. It’s about machines meeting us on our terms, vs humans adapting to the interface of machines. As Mark Cuban said, “There is no future that doesn’t have ambient computing or voice activation”. Our focus is on delivering solutions that can add value now. But as we move forward, we see the opportunity to further differentiate our customers in their respective markets.”
Indeed, the opportunities to introduce voice, and all the rest of the senses, can make for an attractive proposition for property owners. In the case of Virtual Concierge Service, there are already opportunities in fields beyond hospitality, such as for homebuilders and, most intriguingly, for for-sale homes being used as short-term rentals.
That’s the same spirit of flexibility that commercial property owners should take with them as they execute their duties as landlords and managers. It need not be a hotel to absorb some of the takeaways from the hospitality world. Like the Terminator in the new film, experiences in buildings are at their best when they go deeper than what the eye can see.