Six Questions Buyers Should Ask their Corporate Housing Providers

trust fall is a team-building exercise in which a person deliberately falls, trusting the members of a group (spotters) to catch them.

Have you ever done one? Closed your eyes, crossed your arms, and leaned backward. It’s a funny thing, a trust fall. The numerous details to consider in the person catching you, let alone one’s insecurities that surface just before gravity does its thing.

Will they drop me? Will I hurt them? Are they harboring ill-feeling towards me? Are they hiding an injury? Should I hold back?

Trust in any relationship is key to its future stability. Energy is wasted, and progress grinds to a standstill without trust. But how do you know—really know—you can fall backward and trust the proper stability, resources, performance, service, and execution will be there to catch you?

In a recent CHPA webinar titled, Rebuilding Buyer Confidence, Synergy’s VP of Sales, Claire Barrie, and VP of Global Supply Chain, Joan Mack, discussed the steps required to rebuild buyer confidence. A critical component of that equation was trust. Both buyers echoed the same sentiment—you must have trust before you can even consider buyer confidence.

So, what is it going to take to build trust between a buyer and supplier? The serviced apartment industry learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from the resilience of our space, we learned trust is not one-dimensional nor straightforward. We learned that reputation could get you in the door, but it does not guarantee results. We also learned the need to understand a provider’s leverage. But most importantly, we learned the value of asking the right questions to understand the organizations we partner with better.

Below are six questions any supplier should be able to answer without hesitation. Regardless of those answers, these questions should act as a trail map to help guide buyers and suppliers through the uncertainty and evolution of our space to more stable, trustworthy ground.

Stability | the quality, state, or degree of being stable: such as the strength to stand or endure disruption.

Is your organization financially stable? And what does that mean to your organization? 

Of the six, this question seems the most obvious. Yet, it is also the most nuanced.

Financial stability can mean three years of strong EBITDAs. But EBITDAs don’t tell the whole story buyers and suppliers need to know.

When investigating financial stability, buyers should ask about supplier backing (i.e., parent entities, investment stakeholders, shareholders, etc.). They should also seek to understand the nature of that relationship as well. Is there freedom to act independently? Or will it take six months to sign a lease partnership agreement? Do they have a healthy client acquisition funnel? Is 60 percent of their revenue lumped into two-to-three clients? Where are they investing time and capital resources (e.g., technology, advertising, customer service, etc.)? Are they a buyer or a builder? What is their risk tolerance?

Synergy is backed by the powerful combination of The Ascott Limited and CapitaLand, one of the largest serviced apartment/hospitality providers and diversified real estate groups in Asia, respectively. Not only is this partnership mutually beneficial—providing Synergy clients access to 122,000 owned/managed units worldwide—it aligns world-class intellectual capital and resources in the single pursuit of exceptional, future-forward client and guest service.

We are not backed by private equity on a three-five-year investment window. We are not in a pressure cooker to deliver attractive press releases and investment returns at all costs. We are backed by hospitality-minded people who have the necessary insight to understand the serviced accommodation industry, its speed, and the need to take on risk to deliver on client expectations and need.

The true beauty of our partnership with Ascott and CapitaLand is it grants Synergy the freedom to maintain our own identity while enhancing our ability to innovate and move fast. You can trust us when we say we are not going anywhere.

Does your organization have healthy relationships/partnerships with your suppliers/vendors/stakeholders?

Healthy relationships and partnerships are critical to meeting expectations and delivering high levels of service.

When the pandemic went global in early March of last year, suppliers, vendors, and buyers were forced into tough conversations. For some, business solvency was on the table. For others, it was hundreds of millions of dollars in lease obligations. Regardless of the content of those discussions, they put the trust and health of a myriad of relationships and partnerships to the test. And those conversations weren’t one-dimensional, nor did they happen in a vacuum. Each tough decision created cascading effects across the industry.

When considering a future business relationship, it is essential to ask about the tactics, strategies, and actions taken to preserve the health of relationships and partnerships during the early stages of the pandemic—from both sides of the table. The adage is true; there is no such thing as a momentary lapse of integrity.

It is essential to understand—were actions motivated by a need to guard returns? Solvency? Or were they motivated to preserve client relationships? And if so, how healthy are property management relationships? Did you lose access to inventory you held pre-pandemic?

Furthermore, how did the pandemic affect your contract philosophy? And what about your growth philosophy? Are you expanding in rhythm with client demand or to achieve an arbitrary number that will look good on a PowerPoint slide?  

At Synergy, we believe in the value of partnerships. It is a mentality we engrain in every relationship we establish. Whether it is a client, vendor, or supplier, each relationship starts with the end game in mind. Strict vetting, philosophical alignment, credit checks, and references drive the engagement decision. The partnership must be mutually beneficial, so each party has adequate skin in the game to ensure the appropriate balance of leverage. At Synergy, our partnerships become a part of our overall ecosystem of success. Each relationship and partnership becomes interconnected and plays a vital role in the health of our service ecosystem.

We are proud to state that we met all 2020 rent and lease obligations and did not miss a single vendor payment nor break a contract. We sat at the table and had the hard conversations. We reached terms that worked for all parties. In the end, we saved our clients over a hundred million dollars while maintaining our integrity and reputation for collaboration with our property management partners.

What does this mean? Synergy’s relationships are intact and ready for any pent-up travel and relocation demand.

To what future are you building—yours, your clients, or the global traveler?

Grasping what motivates a supplier’s worldview is critical to understanding how they plan to evolve within a dynamic business environment.

This question aims to reveal the true character of an organization. We’ve stated it before; the serviced accommodation industry is on the precipice of an evolution. The pandemic proved the preference, flexibility, and value of serviced accommodations. Guests from both the business travel and leisure communities made it clear—they desire space, a kitchen, washer, and dryer, and the Wi-Fi must handle two remote working adults with a child in distanced learning.

As buyers and suppliers seek to align their partnerships to innovative solutions, it is crucial to understand the philosophy behind each innovation and equally important to understand their traveler worldview. What are they doing to understand the guest, their needs, and their preferences? How are they adapting their services to meet the needs of four diverse generations of travelers currently in the marketplace?

Furthermore, how are you, the supplier, engaging in collaborative discussions with clients to better understand their future needs? How are you honoring and encouraging transparency amongst your client base? Are you building the appropriate data tracking, measurement, and analysis tools to understand guest preferences adequately? And how are you gathering and processing guest feedback?

Future forward—together. At Synergy, we believe it is our job to anticipate, understand, and build the global traveler’s future. At the heart of this mindset is a restless, creative, and curious organizational spirit. We aim not to compete with others but with ourselves. In our humble opinion, the future accommodation model doesn’t exist yet—let alone in our competitor’s solutions. We believe it exists beyond expectations. And it begs for bold, collaborative, and imaginative solutions.

Did you know Ascott introduced robotics to their service delivery? Check it out here. 

Meet Ascott’s Service Robot, Xiao Ya!

To that end, Synergy believes in choice and optionality. We want our clients and guests (i.e., the global traveler) to feel seen, heard, and validated by the very nature of the products and solutions we offer. Very much how the genius of the iPhone ushered in a new era, Synergy believes it is incumbent upon ourselves—as leaders in our space—to build the future of serviced accommodations.

How are you contributing to the betterment of the serviced apartment industry as a whole?

Correlated to building for the future of the guest experience, understanding how your partner contributes to the betterment of the serviced accommodation industry is essential to understanding their motives and the factors driving their decision-making process.

Without stewardship, the potential of industry will become stagnant ultimately impacting the guest experience.

Gaining insight into their industry experience, industry board collaboration, certification, industry awards, and thought leadership (via webinar, surveys, and general research) says a lot about who and what your partners value. But most importantly, you will gain insight into who and what the building they do serves.

Resource investment is critically important to Synergy. We believe our people are our greatest asset. From day one, we’ve operated from a simple yet profound philosophy: “If we take care of our people, they will take care of us, and together we will take care of our clients and guests.”

In response, Synergy staff reinvests themselves into the industry. To date, Synergy leaders sit on ten different global and regional organizations involved with or representing the serviced accommodation sector and the mobility and business travel industries. In 2021 alone, Synergy leaders developed and moderated three different webinars with our industry partners at Corporate Housing Providers of America (CHPA) and Bay Area Mobility Management (BAMM), discussing trends in hospitality, buyer confidence, and mobility.

We also released a comprehensive survey detailing client sentiment around internship programs recently. Not to mention, we are in the final stages of launching an industry-wide survey to help collate and analyze industry sentiment around the “return to work” topic.

As the global leader in our sector, we believe we must shepherd the industry forward. When service providers and clients alike value industry contribution, the entire industry benefits. The best part of this mentality is the dividends of industry stewardship and contribution cascade into a better guest experience. A better guest experience will then further propel and expand the service scope of our industry. And with a more extensive scope comes quicker and more efficient technology and hospitality evolutions—which further feeds the flywheel. The ultimate benefit being a more expansive, diverse client and guest pool for all to serve.

Equally essential and not to be overlooked is the investment in training. What are suppliers doing to better prepare staff to meet the challenges of serving a diverse guest and client demographic? Understanding how a supplier treats their employees (i.e., their internal culture) is a good indication of how they will treat your employees while under their care as guests. What are suppliers doing to integrate their service into their client’s culture? Synergy believes this integration is critical to delivering service in line with our client’s preferred method, tone, and style.  

A flawless guest experience backed by seamless and integrated client support is critical to the sector’s evolution and service potential.

What is your diversification strategy?

The condition of having or being composed of differing elements.

A bit on the nose, but nonetheless, diversity isn’t just good for the ranks. It is healthy to bake it into every aspect of one’s business. The implementation and attributed actions required of a diverse operation is one thing, but most important is the strategy behind the diversification.

Understanding where your partners are leveraged and where and how they are hedging their investments and revenue sources are necessary forms of insight into their ability to weather unforeseen events and shifts in client and guest behavior/sentiment.

Synergy has a saying: Before anything or anyone has a chance to disrupt us, we disrupt ourselves. This mindset values, reinforces, and incentivizes divergence from the status quo. And when you divert from the norm, you are forced to invest capital and resources into diversification strategies. At Synergy, we are willing to go first. Periodic failure is part of the process and required if we are to learn, adapt, and evolve the value we offer our clients and guests.

Ultimately, when you think, act, and execute with this mentality, diversification naturally becomes a part of your organizational DNA. Limiting our dependency to any one element of organizational sustenance—from clients to products to verticals—is a vital element of our success. Diversification isn’t just a buzzword; it is a way of life.

Synergy works with a kaleidoscope of client brands and verticals (61 different verticals at the time of this writing!) as well as various products and services to guard against disruption and revenue generation.

We’ve recently entered into unique lease agreements with our partners at STAY in London and City Apartments to guard seasonal fluctuations in demand while maximizing the cost savings we can deliver to our clients. Additionally, within the last 24 months, we’ve launched four innovative product and service offerings, notably SynergySpaces, a reimagined apartment floorplan that added a separate, secure private bedroom in class-A apartments providing a seamless option for guests to use while transitioning out of their corporate-sponsored housing program.

Learn more about how Synergy is developing the future of temporary living with its latest innovative product offering, SynergyWork.  

Are you proud of the way your organization handled itself during 2020? 

“What are you going to do today to invoke a sense of pride in tomorrow.” Craig Partin

There was a moment after the initial shock of COVID-19 wore off, and Synergy settled into what was to become a character-defining year. During one of our monthly vision calls (an all-staff call where executive leaders communicate, highlight, recognize, and celebrate Synergy’s values), our EVP of Sales and Marketing, Craig Partin, asked attendees to think about the actions and attitude of today that will invoke a sense of pride in tomorrow and into the future. Essentially, he asked us all to start with the desired result and work backward towards it.

In response to Craig’s call to action, Synergy looked inward and relied on our character—our people—to call forth the path forward. What emerged was nothing short of extraordinary.

Synergy team members conducted and participated in 50+ industry surveys, webinars, panels, and interviews, proactively offering the company’s expertise, experience, and industry knowledge to the sector at large. We launched numerous products and services in response to the pressures the pandemic placed on our guests and clients. Notably, SynergyCares, a wide-ranging nine-step global health and safety initiative aligned to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) health recommendations; SynergyWork, a remote work apartment package; SynergyHome, a bridge lease program, and SynergySMART, a supplier automated sanitization checklist platform.

Joan Mack, Synergy’s VP of Global Supply Chain, instituted a strict minimum 25-point cleanliness and sanitization protocol all of our global suppliers were asked to commit to and follow. We then hired an outside team to train our suppliers to uphold this standard globally.

The team created a custom front-line worker welcome package catered explicitly to healthcare workers. We donated temporary housing to front-line workers in highly impacted COVID markets (housing nearly 50 at one time during the height of the outbreak in NYC).

And in a moment of deep internal reflection across the organization, we released a statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, made election day a company-wide paid holiday and launched an internal diversity committee to educate and promote the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce.

Set against this broader context, we took the opportunity to look within and examine who we are as an organization. Division leaders across the organization elected departmental champions, 30 in all, to rethink and rework our company vision, mission, purpose, and values. As International President Stephan Hanton says, “we reinvented our soul a little bit.”

All in all, in response to all that was 2020, Synergy stayed true to our character and beliefs. We are and always have been a partner-centric organization. We believe in working with our clients and partners—not for them. And with this subtle yet significant nuance, Synergy acted with the health of the mobility and business travel industry as a whole when we approached contract and rent decisions. It was not about the other person or us; it was about the industry as a whole.

We believed in our ability to emerge from the other side intact. Therefore, our actions in the heat of the crisis reflected our character of partnership.

When You Choose Synergy, You’ll Always Have a Seat at the Table. 

You know the feeling in musical chairs when you can feel the music ending? Your eyes begin to glance around to spot your seat. Then you look up and gauge the people dancing around the chairs. Who is paying attention? Who is just having fun? Who has the look of a fighter? You know someone is going to be left out. Then the music stops, and someone ends up sitting on someone’s lap awkwardly.

This is a bit like the corporate housing sector as of late. Over the past twelve months, there have been numerous departures, exits, mergers, and acquisitions. This activity makes for great media and dopamine hits, but the truth is, it is extremely difficult to bridge culture, systems, and services. And eventually, something or someone is left without a seat.

The industry can feel the long night of the pandemic coming to an end and dawn fast approaching. All of the 2020 pent-up demand is ready to move. Everyone has heard it before; people are actually looking forward to traveling for business again.

As you consider your provider, make sure to ask them the tough questions. Look unabashedly under the hood. Request transparency. Seek collaboration. This blending and consolidating is a great time for organizations to question providers and seek the information relevant to their organization’s trajectory.

Why stick with the status quo? You and your employees want more. Frankly, clients and guests deserve more.

When the music stops and you made your decision, you want to trust your provider will not only catch you but have a seat for you. At Synergy, we’ll do one better. We’ll just keep the music playing.