By Meghan Hall
As the pandemic hit, some businesses in the real estate industry noticed a decline in activity and required companies to innovate. For Chicago-based Cornerstone Permit, this meant creating a new digital roadmap. This year, the firm partnered with Moxtra, a digital portal, to launch its virtual branch. The Registry spoke with Ashish Shah, president and CEO of Cornerstone Permit, and Leena Iyar, chief brand officer at Moxtra, on adapting to new tech in the industry and its implications for the future.
Investment slowly increased during the third quarter after several months of instability. From your perspective, what is the commercial real estate market like today?
Shah: The commercial real estate industry as a whole includes office buildings, retail space and restaurants which have all taken a big dip in the last few months. With stores and restaurants closing and office use significantly down, the commercial real estate industry is doing everything they can to connect with their customers in meaningful ways to continue driving business forward. We’ve seen some signs of life lately as we start to prepare for 2021 and take on new construction projects for businesses, like grocery stores, which have only expanded their business in 2020.
The pandemic has driven all of these trends in the commercial real estate space, but we don’t see this downturn in business lasting beyond the pandemic. People are itching to get back to the office, back to in-store shopping and eating out. The digital tools we’ve gained over the pandemic to maintain human interaction remotely have helped immensely, and will continue to be an essential part of our business
For Moxtra, what steps did you take to make sure that you developed an effective technology?
Iyar: When creating the Moxtra platform, we designed all functionalities with the end-user in mind. Whether looking into buying commercial property or an investment property, clients want personalized service when evaluating commercial real estate and working with permit consulting firms. With many moving parts, from permit and zoning requirements, disclosures, contracts, and transactions, managing a real estate business requires coordinated organizational oversight.
In order to deliver a smooth experience for all parties in the commercial real estate realm, Moxtra prioritized security and the implementation of a variety of features within the platform such as voice, video and text messaging, digital signatures, scheduling and task management to deliver a convenient one-stop portal that acts as a digital branch for firms to engage with their clients. Moxtra’s management portal maintains an auditable, persistent record of client interactions, while helping firms extend existing business processes for digital. With Moxtra, real estate agents and commercial permit consultants can maintain a continuous connection with their clients and manage agency and staff from anywhere.
Moxtra also developed the platform with bank grade security. Since the pandemic, there has been a major shift to virtual operations within the commercial real estate industry. In turn, more agencies are depending on virtual platforms, such as Moxtra, to deliver personalized experiences to clients, and navigate how to deliver on high-touch expectations on par with their traditional in-person experiences. Due to the highly personal nature of the information involved in commercial real estate transactions, agents and consultants must prove to clients that their security and privacy are top notch and of the highest priority. A lack of well-thought-out functionalities can present risks for clients and agencies.
For Cornerstone, how have you implemented the technology? How does this partnership fit into Cornerstone’s existing digital transformation roadmap?
Shah: Prior to the pandemic, we had no digital transformation roadmap and had to think quickly about how we were going to help our business continue to survive and thrive. We were searching for a client portal that would enable more transparency about permits and processes to make sure our clients always knew what stage of the process we were in. Transparency has been lost in our industry and we wanted to change that. The digital extension of our business through a mobile app has improved our customer engagement and enabled us to meet the needs of today’s on-the-go customer while we’re so spread out.
A mobile app in our industry is revolutionary and getting a head start will only help us expand and grow more once the pandemic has ended. Cornerstone is a nationwide company and with Moxtra, we are able to keep constant communication across our offices, with our customers and with other parties involved in the permit and licensing process.
Throughout this partnership, what have you learned when it comes to leveraging technology within the CRE industry? What are some of the benefits to technological integration?
Shah: Leveraging this type of integrated, modern technology in an industry like commercial real estate has been game-changing. Technology is key to any business and going through the integration with Moxtra has been great. Every business needs something like Moxtra where a web portal and mobile app allow you to connect with your customers at any time, from anywhere. Before the pandemic, everyone was always on the go, so having a place for quick replies and chats goes a long way.
Since implementing Moxtra, our business has been elevated. We’re moving away from emails and traditional phone calls to maintain connection with our clients and keep our business more streamlined and organized. Moxtra’s chat keeps all communications documented and secure. When dealing with such an involved process like permits and licensing on a nationwide scale, having all business interactions in one place gives our customers the peace of mind that we are on their side.
Moving forward, this technology will only increase business opportunities for us. As technology offers more freedom for office locations, Cornerstone will be able to engage new customers in smaller cities and provide the same level of service as our customers in our home base. The pandemic has been a short-term setback and we’re so excited about the future of this industry and the ways technology like Moxtra will continue revolutionizing the way we do business, and what is possible.
Where do you see technological innovation within the commercial real estate industry doing within the next 12 to 24 months? Why?
Iyar: The challenges of 2020 only accelerated and expedited the transition to digital tools across industries, and commercial real estate was no exception. During the restraints of the pandemic, companies in the commercial real estate space, like Cornerstone Permit, rapidly evolved to meet the needs of their customers and work within the confines of local and federal restrictions. When we look to the next 12 to 24 months, we predict the industry will continue to lean on digital reliance.
Once in person showings and meetings start back up, companies will need to find ways to blend their digital experiences with in person. In the case of Cornerstone, collaboration through digital platforms will allow their permit consultants to engage with their customers on a more consistent and personal level. Following the initial consultation, permit consultants will be able to answer follow up questions through direct messaging, and securely share, collaborate, and sign documents. The digitization of the commercial real estate industry will lead to more engaged clients and stronger customer relationships.
Is there anything you would like to add that The Registry did not ask or mention?
Iyar: Although the technology available for the commercial real estate industry is continuously evolving, businesses within this industry are still behind the implementation of a strong digital strategy. The absence of a collaborative, one stop mobile app can ultimately hinder an organization’s presence and engagement within the industry, as well as customer loyalty and consumer convenience.
By allowing easy access points for human interaction to customers as well as employees, it expedites a smoother and faster process, increasing convenience for both parties. In today’s world, providing a digital branch of one’s business is crucial in order to deliver premiere service to their customers – without one, it will be difficult to stay competitive in this digital era.