The world of global mobility is currently undergoing huge change, with some of the support services provided to assignees being challenged and reimagined.
While the number of globally-mobile assignees continues to increase, the type of support assignees receive during their stay in the host country has altered dramatically. How does this affect a traditional destination services provider, and how can their services be updated to remain relevant?
Back in the day….
When I started my career in global mobility, the destination services available to a long-term assignee were generally 5 days of support (a mixture of pre-assignment, home-search and, of course, settling-in) plus specialist services such as Education Consulting. This “on the road” support was absolutely necessary to ensure an assignee and family were properly settled into their new location, and the value of the 5 day programme was unquestioned.
This status-quo existed through much of the 2000’s until, around the time of the financial crash in 2007/8, companies began to gain full visibility of the costs of their global assignment programmes – which often came as an unpleasant surprise – and began to look at alternative policy types to reflect the changing nature of assignments versus business need.
The rise of the property portal, and a shortage of supply
At around the same time, in many expatriate destinations the supply of rental property began to reduce so assignees had less choice. Whereas previously a home search tour in a popular expatriate area in London would yield enough viewings for 3 or more days, filling a viewing itinerary for 2 days of viewings became increasing challenging.
Assignees also became more aware of property portals - in the UK, sites such as Rightmove, Primelocation, and Zoopla – as useful tools to research the local rental market prior to their arrival, empowering them to feel part of the search process. Whereas previously assignees were happy to be led entirely by a local expert, property portals at their best helped them to understand property sizes, styles and prices pre-arrival, making the adjustment process easier.
Fast forward to 2017
So, what has changed in the intervening years? Housing supply in many popular global cities remains challenging for expatriates, and increasingly employees are responsible for paying their own rent, rather than receiving a housing allowance. In London, this has meant assignees moving further afield from the traditionally popular expatriate areas to obtain better value housing, and accepting a longer commute as part of this trade-off.
From the perspective of the assignee experience, the look and feel of the home search service has changed very little – although welcome bags loaded with 1 kg of guide books and maps seem to be a thing of the past - with the role and value of the local area expert in interpreting a brief into a focused and relevant home search remaining essential. From a service perspective, 1 day home searches are now far more common, reflecting the reality of real estate markets in many global cities.
While relocation companies have tried to implement technology solutions to support the relocation process, often these are additions to existing legacy systems, built to provide data and reporting, not a user-friendly interface to an assignee. Apps which tell you which day your home search is taking place have limited value in my view – surely this is determined through a conversation with your friendly relocation consultant who is project managing every aspect of your move?
We have implemented Bloom Online, a state of the art technology platform, which combines our expertise and local knowledge with easy to use mobile technology, and is designed to truly enhance the assignee experience. However, Bloom Online also offers the flexibility to support unaccompanied destination services, reflecting changes in both mobility policies and assignee demographics, while ensuring a consistent and compliant level of support can be delivered to every assignee.
The future of destination services?
Changing policy types and the rise of Generation Y mean the type of support now being offered to relocating employees has changed significantly. Relocation destination services providers today have to deliver effective home search and orientation services with far less face-to-face time with the assignee - one day and half day support programmes are increasingly common – as well as accommodating shorter lead-times.
As a result, there is a clear need for providers to offer more flexible services, tailored around the assignee, and reflecting changing assignee demographics. While a large number of assignees still receive traditional home search services, the growth area is the shorter-term assignment population – destination services providers need to ask how they can develop services to add value to this sector, and whether their current model allows them to do so.
While not every assignee wants to log-in to a technology platform to take an active part in the planning of their home search, being able to access key information on-demand - rather than having to search through endless emails and attachments – is one opportunity for destination services providers to improve the assignee experience, but also opens up the possibility of more interactive and effective unaccompanied services.
When considering how technology can be harnessed to support the delivery of destination services, we should recognise that relocation is about people, helping people, to find a home in a new location with the services, network and family activities which enable them to become settled and successful quickly. Technology alone – no matter how efficient – is no substitute for the experienced professional who can empathise with a relocating family, offer expert advice in the appropriate context and provide creative solutions to problems...