Staff go out of the way to anticipate residents' needs, meet their requests and make changes to make their stay special, writes John Cremer
Anyone who opts for a serviced apartment rather than a long-term stay in a hotel is looking for something more than just extra space. What is expected is the same high level of service and convenience, but also a genuine sense of a home away from home.
For the management, resident services and housekeeping teams involved, this presents a consistent challenge. It is up to them to "personalise" each standard apartment by anticipating needs, meeting requests and making changes, so that every resident feels their stay is something special.
In the case of Swire Properties' Pacific Place Apartments, three things help to provide this personal touch. Leasing manager Jeremy Lamburn said it all came down to the design of the apartments, a customer relationship system that records individual preferences, and having a meticulously trained team capable of recognising and respecting each tenant's specific likes and dislikes.
"We are equipped with the latest technology to help us match apartments with residents' special requirements," said Mr Lamburn. "These include preferred view, apartment category, layout, colour scheme and other special requests."
New or returning residents can choose between units with either a contemporary or oriental design theme. The guiding design principle has been to create an environment which reflects a simple elegance and an overall sense of calm.
However, it takes something extra to transform an apartment into a home. In this respect, the alterations most often requested by new tenants range from switching rugs and artwork to changing the furniture to accommodate a baby's cot or children's beds.
With an increasing number of residents wanting the convenience of a "home office", guest bedrooms deliberately feature an interchangeable design. This allows one area to be used either as a fully connected workstation or, if preferred, as extra closet space.
"Behind the advanced system, our overall objective is to create the perfect home comforts for each of our individual residents," Mr Lamburn said.
In recent years, the changes in tenants' requirements had been most noticeable in two specific areas - telecommunications technology and in the kitchen. For the former, residents expect such items as cordless phones, voicemail services and broadband connections to be available at no additional charge and with no formal application.
For the latter, there has been a clear trend towards more residents preferring to entertain at home. Therefore, every kitchen now comes fully equipped with an extensive range of the latest utensils and appliances. This includes everything from microwaves and cookers to fridge-freezers and washer-driers.
When faced with unexpected requests or unfamiliar challenges, Mr Lamburn and his team adhere to one guiding principle. They try not to use the word "no" and make every possible effort to comply.
For example, one tenant asked for a traction swing machine to be installed for a handicapped child to use. Although this was a first which required careful planning, everything was set up as requested.
"Happily, after some detailed measuring and furniture rearranging, we were able to comply," Mr Lamburn said.
To avoid possible misunderstandings about specific requests, tenancy agreements are standardised and put together in a bound format.
"We find that placing all inclusions and exclusions in clear view of the tenant is the best method," Mr Lamburn said. "No tenant likes to discover hidden clauses after moving in, so we make our agreements as clear and easy to understand as possible."
In terms of day-to-day assistance, which is such an important part of making people feel at home, a multilingual resident services team is on hand to provide personalised attention. They oversee housekeeping details and the arrangement of suites, and make a point of remembering special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries, which they mark with small surprises.
"As a result of this exemplary service, some of our staff have established long-lasting friendships with residents, who often stay in touch even after they have left our apartments or Hong Kong," Mr Lamburn said.
Commenting on the overall market, he said the leasing activity in Hong Kong's serviced apartment sector was strong.
"In general, demand for quality, family-sized residences has seen continued improvement since 2006 and has remained consistent," he said. The main contributory factors were the strength of Hong Kong's economy and continuing growth on the mainland. This had a direct impact on the number of high-ranking executives and expatriates looking for luxury serviced accommodation.
"Market demand continues to keep us on our toes to ensure that we have an adequate supply of immediately available apartments," Mr Lamburn said.