In this article, we feature an interview with Dimitri Huygen, the Director of Transformation & Integration at Xior Student Housing, one of the largest European student housing owner-operator. Throughout the interview, Huygen underlines the importance of bringing young residents and technology together to address their demands, facilitate their lives, and win their hearts and minds.
The student housing market is welcoming a new wave of tenants: Gen Z, the generation of technology.
What do we know about Gen Z so far? To begin with, the majority of this generation is either studying at university or getting prepared for it. This translates into the fact that almost none of them have grown up without the internet. They are always digitally connected to socialize, learn, and manage their day-to-day duties with several clicks. In all parts of their lives, they enjoy technology solutions that make their lives easier.
We can be sure that it is a crucial time for property operators to get to know who the Gen Z renter is, and what they look for in a place to live, so that they can better accommodate the next dominators of the market. Those student housing operators who understand and address the needs of their residents, like Xior Student Housing, will be the change-makers in the competitive student housing market.
'“We live in a digital world, we work with a digital generation. One can't achieve tenant satisfaction without a digital roadmap today,” says Dimitri Huygen from Xior. His words are echoed through the new partnership between Xior and Spaceflow, the first rollout of which will include 158 buildings and 9,463 units in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. With its recent acquisition of a unique 939M EUR portfolio, comprising 5,341 units by Basecamp Student, Xior enlarges their operations to Germany, Denmark and Sweden and accelerates growth in Poland. Behind these exciting developments lies a truly customer-centric and progressive business model, by which we can all be inspired.
How would you describe living in Xior as a student, if you were one of them? What do students appreciate the most about living in Xior?
I would describe it as living in a smart community where people feel involved thanks to the way we facilitate great services. What students appreciate the most is that we go the extra mile. We do everything to ensure that students have a comfortable living environment that gives them an authentic family feeling, and a second home when they are away from home.
How is Xior making a change in the student housing market?
I would address this question by touching on two elements: Smart living with a human touch, and offering services to elevate wellbeing and social connectivity. We provide a living environment that is digitally connected, so that students can easily focus on their studies. What makes us different from other businesses that accommodate students is the human touch. Xior property managers do their best to create a community feeling in every city we operate in, and try to help students in every problem they face or by bringing their ideas and initiatives to the building. The property managers are more easily able to do that thanks to digitized operations.
Another important thing is having the perspective of creating valuable services for students, rather than the perspective of creating new revenue sources. For example, through a comprehensive research project we carried out with our students, we found out about the significant demand for extra services relating to wellbeing and social connectivity.
To address these demands, we brought in partners to offer healthy food, and got help from student ambassadors to organize events and community building activities such as movie nights and yoga classes.
For new students, we organize city tours, offer guides for subjects such as getting a student job, renting a bike, finding the best coffee in the city, or getting a new phone number. We take whatever action needed to help students feel safe and supported. These translate into high tenant satisfaction and loyalty, as well as elevated brand awareness.
What needs do you plan to address by bringing a digital tenant experience solution as Spaceflow to your operations?
The expectations of the new generation are continuously changing in terms of customer service. Addressing these expectations will only be possible with a digital customer success strategy. Our tenants are students and young professionals, and we want to standardize and optimize their property processes to make life easier for them. Based on the pilot project that we executed with Spaceflow, we believe that Spaceflow is the ideal partner with a scalable solution and straightforward customer success journey. The app helps us bring a stronger sustainability value to the business and increase the community feeling, which will help us communicate with end users in a much faster and more efficient way.
What are some of the ways that student housing properties can utilize their summer downtime?
By creating meaningful summer time opportunities for students, such as offering skill-development courses, language classes, sports activities, inviting inspiring people to give workshops, organizing events and trips, matchmaking between the students and employers for internships and so on. The key is to simply bring an added value to their lives – by caring about their lives as a whole, and preparing them for the next milestones in their lives. Opportunities are endless, creating them is not. Of course, achieving these especially in terms of planning and sharing gets easier by digitizing operations.
What are the challenges that you are facing when it comes to making your business more ESG-friendly?
We are growing extremely fast. The process of digitalization is a huge demand on customer service and satisfaction. It is challenging for many to get this into operation. Choosing the right software and implementing it through a strong customer success team help us overcome this challenge.
Thinking about the environmental part of ESG, it is difficult to hit sustainability goals in old buildings. Making new buildings' operations environmentally friendly is easier. This is a general problem in all real estate segments.
When it comes to the social aspect – we put huge effort into that, therefore we are not greatly challenged. We invest in big survey processes to ask meaningful questions that would help us understand how our operations are working at the end-user level. In the end, this brings us the biggest value to improve our operations.
The governance layer: Implementing the right procedures, standardization, getting things scaled, offering the same level of quality in every building comes with challenges, but again, digitization helps especially in ticketing, issue reporting, and documentation.
Xior's progressive vision in elevating tenant satisfaction, by rolling out their first 10,000 units (and counting!) with Spaceflow is truly inspiring. Looking for more insights about how a digital tenant experience platform can help property operators future-proof their operations? Take a look at the client stories on our website.