Critical Issues: Watson Land Co.

Dec. 29, 2004
At Issue:› Meeting Customer ExpectationsToday, customers are taking numbers to see where they line up in the long list of business priorities. While it might seem like we live and work in a time when companies have dropped their focus on who “comes first” and “is always right,” one company proves that customer service is still a profitable strategy.Strong customer relationships and quality real estate are just the kind of deliverables that the professionals at Watson Land Co. are banking on to propel them into a successful future – the kind of success that results from long lease terms; loyal tenants; and impressed, prospective customers. The gargantuan task of meeting customer expectations – although perhaps the biggest challenge of day-to-day business for this Carson, CA-based company – is viewed as less of a burden, and more of a mission. By carefully balancing what is beneficial for the company while embracing the needs of its customers, this developer of industrial and office facilities has built a solid reputation in Los Angeles County. Watson Land currently owns, leases, or manages approximately 12 million square feet of space.Keeping pace with the rapid fire of demands from tenants can cripple some organizations – but not Watson Land Co. “Years ago, in our business … you signed somebody up [and] 10 years later, you got the keys back. They took care of your real estate, you took care of cashing their rent check, and that was kind of the extent of it,” says Jeffrey R. Jennison, vice president, real estate asset management, at Watson Land Co. “Our customers don’t look to us anymore for just the building. They’re looking for us to be kind of a ‘one-stop shop’ for multiple things.” Just one example of this extraordinary service was when a new tenant inquired about moving to the area from the Midwest: Watson Land found a concierge service to help ease the company’s transition into southern California.Watson Land’s asset management team isn’t the only group of employees going above and beyond to satisfy customers: it’s a philosophy of service that is shared across the organization. Recognizing the need to provide service – not just functional, attractive, and economical real estate – has enabled the company to be a long-term owner with many long-term customers.Information-hungry tenants frequently wade through endless amounts of mediocre information, seeking hard data and specifics on topics such as deregulation and utility rate increases. Instead of turning a blind eye to customers’ quests for information, Watson Land hosts forums and breakfast meetings, bringing in consultants to help their tenants understand the business impacts of these and other issues. Broadcast e-mails and phone calls send the message that while the well-designed and well-constructed space of a Watson Land-owned building is a value, the benefits of being a tenant extend beyond the built environment.In an endless pursuit for perfection, Watson Land works toward continually improving the design and functionality of its facilities. Serving the customer through large, high-quality, master-planned industrial and office centers requires an understanding of tenants’ warehousing, distribution, and office space-related goals. “We lay out a building and then we role-play how we would use it. Then we bring in consultants [that] our customers would hire – a racking consultant or a material-handling equipment consultant,” explains Jennison. “Then we build it on paper with their input, and very rarely have we had situations where a customer comes in and can’t optimally use [the building].” On occasion, this proactive approach leads to a design feature or the installation of equipment that tenants never even knew they needed.Being a long-term owner, the company has sought out ways to ensure that the properties are maintained in accordance with the same high standards by which they were constructed. To alleviate the burden that building maintenance places on tenants, Watson Land decided to differentiate itself through the development of its Heritage Customer Service Program 10 years ago. Whereas a typical industrial lease would place the responsibility of roof maintenance, painting, and grounds-keeping on the tenant, Watson Land provides these services to tenants. “It serves us twofold: No. 1, we know that the tenant isn’t paying for any more than they’re using. And then No. 2, maybe they lease for a 5-year term, the roof fails in Year 3, and then they’re paying for something that happened 15 years before them,” says Jennison. The strategy has multiple benefits, including increased interaction between Watson Land’s managers and tenants, more consistent building maintenance, and less hassle for tenants who can concentrate on business operations instead of building operations.The day and age of customer service is not over – not as long as Watson Land Co. continues to show the industry how it’s done.Jana J. Madsen, Managing Editor ([email protected])

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