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From Platform to Partnership | Driving Success Through Supplier Engagement

On March 18, 2021, Dwellworks Living hosted an important conversation on corporate housing supplier engagement and how to evolve the partnership between suppliers and global platform administrators to improve the client and customer experience overall. The session was sponsored by the  Corporate Housing Providers Association and hosted by  Andria Lamantia, Vice President, Sales at Dwellworks Living. The panel of industry experts included James Higgins, Founder/Senior Partner at  Revalant, a consulting firm based in the New York City area specializing in developing value and differentiation for corporate housing operators, Selina Wakeling, Global Head of Sales for  Cheval Collection, headquartered in London, Rob Walter, President of Chicago-based  Manilow Suites, and  Vidak Glavinic, Manager, EMEA Supply Chain for Dwellworks Living, based in Prague.

Andria Lamantia confirmed the three expected goals of the 60-minute session for attendees and panelists alike, which were: 1. to discuss establishing equal value and parity among all involved in the corporate housing ecosystem (client, platform administrator, and supplier/operator); 2. to provide supplier-validated insights of best practices and their expectations of platform partnership; and 3. to take-away an understanding of focus and goals for 2021 and beyond. The conversation yielded several essential observations and opportunities for suppliers and platforms, in the interest of an improved value proposition overall.

2021 Supplier Key Priorities

As an industry consultant engaged with corporate housing owners/operators across the country, James Higgins laid out the key priorities suppliers have shared with him. These include first and foremost investing in and being ready for the expected return to business travel later this year, particularly in the US, as vaccination distribution and immunity become more widespread. Additionally, having made multiple investments in their businesses and environmental health and safety sustainability over the past year, suppliers are looking to become more efficient and more profitable through more volume. Most importantly, suppliers seek to present themselves as strategic, innovative, and creative solution providers (and not simply low-cost options) for their customers. He cited surveys indicating the millennial business traveler, approaching age 40 and representing a majority, of the professional travel demographic, has high expectations, for choice and experience, which should create an ideal market opportunity for the corporate housing industry as a preferred alternative accommodations option.

As to a supplier’s definition of an ideal platform partnership, Higgins shared the following insights. Consistent with an interest in running their businesses efficiently and profitably, suppliers are looking for simplified platforms from partners. Complex requirements that do not promote property value or differentiation only add cost through time-consuming efforts to complete. Suppliers are looking for a more complete engagement from the platform operator, specifically in the form of analytics and feedback around drivers of client selection. Too often the process is a one-way ‘data in’ contribution on the part of the supplier, without a closed feedback loop from the platform. As a result, other than assuming the choice was price-driven, the supplier has no information to apply to their offering to increase their success ratio going forward. Additionally, he noted that platform administrators should be actively invested in the success of their supply chain: the better the partnership, the clearer the goals, and the more insightful the communication, the better-served clients and guests will be.

Supply Chain Management

What is the obligation and the strategic investment of a platform manager in ensuring the health and success of its supply chain partners? Vidak Glavinic commented on the evolution of supplier engagement over time. The platform administrator, a company such as Dwellworks Living, for example, has the statutory, contractual, and logistical accountability to onboard well-vetted, compliant suppliers and educate them in the use of the system to assist in providing property options that match client specifications and support a positive outcome for the supplier and customer. Additionally, the supply-chain manager organizes regular feedback sessions with suppliers (typically every quarter) to analyze bid proposals submitted in the time period, provide win/loss feedback, and share market information about client volumes and changing expectations. While this level of communication is not universally practiced among platforms and partners (or clients and platforms), the commitment of the partner to engage in this feedback is a marker for the quality of partnership a supplier can expect, and an indicator to them of which platforms are the best investment of their time and effort.

Supplier Expectations: communication, feedback, and platform engagement

That perspective was expanded upon by Selina Wakeling in response to a question about supplier expectations from platform administrators. Clear and complete communication of requirements is the ‘table stakes’ expectation. Platforms tend to lead with price requirements and proximity (admittedly key criteria for any client) and often do not provide the details which would allow the provider to create a more customized solution and increase the likelihood of an award of business that is both competitively priced and differentiated. Oftentimes the supplier itself defines these personalized deliverables closer to the guest arrival date; this knowledge improves the guest experience, but the supplier experience would be enhanced if they had more information in advance to better prepare their initial response.

Rob Walter, at Manilow Suites, commented on this idea when discussing how a premier local provider engages with a platform to expand their global opportunities. Locally, an operator like Manilow Suites will be well-known and valued by local clients, who are familiar with their expertise, knowledge, and flexibility. In determining which platform engagements bring the most value to their business, a supplier looks at the extent to which the platform allows the provider to tell their story. Rob compared two business models: an OTA like bid system which was clearly presented as ’bid and book’, with choice based on price and availability, and an administrative platform, which theoretically is built to provide choice to the customer/buyer, but too often the presentation template limits the extent of content that can be provided. As a result, a provider must analyze, both qualitatively and quantitatively, which platforms are worth their time and effort, since the formats are complex, and yet often only produce bookings based on price. Operationally, suppliers need both streamlined and high-impact system interfaces if they are to respond to hundreds of bid requests annually from multiple platforms. Strategically, Rob commented, it makes more sense for platforms to identify key partners in a market, manage their performance, and work as true supply chain managers providing the feedback and direction that would ensure continuous improvement and investment, based on a better understanding of the opportunity.

James Higgins shared the perspective that “suppliers and platforms are not aligned,” meaning they were not aligned as part of a larger ecosystem for success. He cited the example of Carvana, where the used-auto platform expertly connects buyers and sellers. The platform adds value by creating a great customer user interface and a trustworthy exchange of information between the parties. Both sides have access to the data they need to make informed decisions. In the Carvana example, the platform brings value beyond aggregating orders. This, Higgins noted, is the real opportunity for platform managers: to differentiate themselves by providing valuable, quantifiable services to both clients and suppliers, primarily through the deeper, more consistent, and more frequent provision of actionable data and analytics.

Standing Out in a Sourcing Platform

Vidak Glavinic at Dwellworks Living expanded on this idea, stating the objective of his supply chain practice was in fact to allow for the differentiation that the other panelists felt was lacking in many platforms. While acknowledging the responsibility of the supply chain manager to provide feedback and support, Glavinic also noted that on epictm, the Dwellworks Living platform, providers were encouraged to provide customized comments based on the detailed instructions provided in the request. “We encourage providers to mention they look forward to welcoming the family dog if that is part of the request.” Similarly, he noted that while it seems obvious in our visual-media obsessed age, suppliers should remember the value of good quality interior images. He and his team are gathering anecdotal feedback, to be confirmed by more systemic review and an informational update with supplier partners, that the personal touch does indeed make a difference in the buyer’s choice.  So far, the indications are such differentiation has a positive impact on uptake.

Rob Walter confirmed that the level of quality engagement was a key factor in a supplier determining which platform added value to a supplier’s overall business. He noted that there were always times when a supplier is looking to fill units, but that was not the same as strategic engagement. He reiterated that it made sense for platforms to take a more formal supply chain approach to their suppliers: issue competitive bids once every 3-5 years to secure partners whose further status is dependent on performance (cost + service + innovation). A structure of commitment and dialogue between two parties, each with expertise to bring to the client, makes more economic sense than a perpetual ‘race to the bottom’ bid machine, for the same properties, in the same market. In that environment, the supplier has little incentive to ‘go the extra mile.’ That incentive shifts if the provider has a greater likelihood of earning a confirmed booking, provided they continuously meet agreed service level agreement terms and are responsive to a continuous influx of guidance from the global platform manager.

Technology and Data to Enhance User and Guest Experience

The themes of the webinar were confirmed as the discussion moved to technology and an assessment of the next steps and opportunities. James Higgins made the insightful statement that “It’s the platform administrator’s responsibility to make the supplier better,” building on the theme that the platform had the client data to share and the capability to evolve their platform technology to create better experiences for clients, suppliers, internal users, and guests. Specifically, he noted, platforms need to enable the opportunity for suppliers to provide the information customers want about their local experience. Where platforms now are mostly concentrated on the speed of response, the number of options, and price, they need to broaden the focus to reflect how customers (whether direct buyers or key influencers) are increasingly making decisions: by evaluating their entire customer experience, from software interface to the quality of local content. As Higgins noted, ‘it’s not about a map that shows me where the nearest Applebee’s is; it’s about an insightful comment from a local expert telling me that a hot new chef has opened a place close by the property.’

Selina Wakeling from Cheval Collection provided the real-time insight that Cheval had remained in continuous operation throughout the pandemic. Clients are asking about resilience and readiness and she stated their operation is stable and well-prepared; additionally, Selina noted that the circumstances of the last year drove multiple investments in innovation which guests are likely to continue to ask for: keyless check-in and enhanced sanitation protocols, but also services such as an app to simplify ordering groceries and even organize meditation sessions in the stressful, disruptive environment that has become the new normal. The request for more space will continue to be an expectation as will the need for a higher grade, high-speed internet. More work will be done directly from the corporate housing residence, so the expectation is for service similar to that enjoyed in high-performance ‘work from home’ environments. Rob Walter noticed similar trends in his market, adding that while location, price, and turn time were current key metrics, the success of the service experience often came down to meeting customized requests: whether for a Peloton bike or for a small-building, neighborhood walk-up versus a busy multi-story high rise. When it comes to ensuring a good outcome for customers, per the Manilow Suites executive, ‘choice does not mean having 30 different providers [presenting the same options], it means having right providers with different choices.”

Tying the fact that suppliers prefer a platform whose interface can be modified to allow for more opportunities to define the customer experience to the ever-evolving expectations of clients, the conversation moved to sustainability and providing clients with objective, verified information about a property’s green-rating. Vidak Glavinic commented this too has been a rapidly developing requirement among clients; originally, the request came from corporate clients with high expectations for health and safety (HSSE) protocols. As the interest in environmentally sound operations has expanded, clients are asking about sustainability practices, but there is not yet a single established standard for which suppliers can apply and be certified. He noted that ISAAP, the International Serviced Accommodations Accreditation Process of  The Association of Serviced Apartment Providers was launching a program for defining a Sustainability credential for providers which would be earned similar to their Quality and Compliance credentials. Dwellworks Living is a supporter of this initiative in line with its ESG strategy: it will provide confidence to clients and will provide a universal system of validation so that suppliers do not need to engage in multiple processes and excessive cost to earn and promote their sustainability status. While a global standard is being developed, suppliers continue to note their health, safety, and sustainability protocols on their websites, and this data is shared by platform providers with corporate clients and customers via links to supplier sites.

Strengthening the Partnership

The conversation concluded with audience questions and a focus on this critical challenge: as we all build back from the impact of the pandemic, how can suppliers and platforms work better together to support clients with increased expectations for both innovation and efficiency? The collective answer was ‘partnership.’ Suppliers are the key to ensuring client and customer needs are met. As we move to an expanded return to travel and business norms, platforms have an inflection point opportunity to recognize the value that suppliers bring to clients and the impact that platforms themselves can have to manage their technology, analytics, and supply chain practices to support a stable yet continuously evolving ecosystem, grounded in transparency and producing value for all stakeholders.

Learn more about our commitment and partnership to our Global Supply Chain, read our blog "Know Your Customer, Earn More Business".


Dwellworks Living: Global Solutions for Corporate Accommodations 

Dwellworks Living is committed to providing our clients and their employees with the best possible corporate housing and serviced accommodations experience. With a global network of property partners, a tri-regional team of customer experience and supply chain professionals, and a wide range of services for global mobility and travel customers, Dwellworks Living can provide the perfect corporate housing solution for any need or budget.

Dwellworks Living is the global corporate housing solution of Dwellworks, an award-winning, business-to-business provider of global mobility and business travel services. As a global leader in corporate housing and serviced accommodations solutions, Dwellworks Living is uniquely positioned to meet the temporary living needs of businesses and their employees who are relocating or traveling on short-, medium- or extended-stays. With 60,000 high-quality professionally managed properties in over 125 countries worldwide, Dwellworks Living is the preferred housing solutions partner of many Fortune 1000 and leading relocation management companies.

Dwellworks Living's corporate housing and serviced accommodations solutions are designed to help businesses attract and retain top talent, support employee productivity, and ensure a smooth and successful relocation or business travel experience. In addition to our core global accommodations management services, Dwellworks Living, through our worldwide network of local experts, is uniquely capable of offering our clients expanded and related services, such as area orientations, group move assistance, destination services and intercultural training.

Whether you have corporate housing needs for an individual employee or a large team, Dwellworks Living can provide the serviced accommodations solutions you need anywhere in the world to ensure a safe and successful stay. Please contact us to learn more or visit our Properties page to begin your search for global corporate housing accommodations.

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