Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Residents Speak: Prokofy Neva

If you haven't noticed, the real estate business in Second Life is pretty big.

Sure, it's dominated by a fairly small group of people--Anshe Chung, Adam Zaius and Nexus Nash, Dana Bergson and others.

But as with any segment of the SL economy, there's still room for newcomers who have the right approach.

When it comes to SL real estate, there's one key ingredient to success that seems to be overlooked by many of the outfits trying to make a buck. And that is the concept of community building, of giving people a place to live their second lives that is what they want, and helping them get to that point if things aren't quite right.

To Prokofy Neva--a vocal critic of my book and this blog, who is also the successful manager of Ravenglass, a pretty sizable SL land management business--providing value add to your customers is just about the most crucial thing you can do, both for your bottom line and for the wellbeing of your customers, and SL in general.

As Prok--who has studied what has worked for Anshe Chung--puts it, "Most people in the land business want to scorch and burn, make a killing and never look back at the people who bought from them....Anshe figured out that it is not a land business. It's a customer service business and a development business."

I am loathe to try to put words in Prok's mouth, but my take on this point is that Second Life residents want and need a lot of hand-holding and a lot done for them. They need to have the option of renting or buying land that is already developed, and which was developed with a sense of community and neighborhood. They want someone who can be a firm and strong manager who will set down rules (the covenant) about behavior and who will enforce those rules.

All together, the idea is to let those who are not yet ready to do it themselves come in, and buy or rent a piece of property on an established estate that meets their needs and that nourishes their sense of place and home.

Whether or not the place you provide meets someone's specific need is not the issue. Because no one can provide for everyone's needs and desires. Well, maybe Anshe can. But when you establish a relationship with a customer, you want to be able to offer that person the best experience you can--within reasonable boundaries of course.

And, to be sure, that customer needs to be willing to play within the boundaries as well, and as manager of an estate, you must try to assure, to the best of your ability, all your other customers that when someone new arrives, they are going to be a good neighbor.

But the reason there is so much potential pay-off in being a proactive provider of a value-added customer experience is that most land owners and estate managers aren't doing that. Most don't have the first clue what it means, or how to do it.

For those that do, word of mouth will reward your efforts. For those that don't, word of mouth may well be your undoing.

And while Prokofy will surely quibble with my interpretation of his words, and my explanation of his ideas, I hope that what you take away from this is a better understanding that if you want to be a player in the SL land business, you will have much better success if you make community building a very high priority. Because the truth is, there is no end to poorly managed land in SL, and customers have a lot of choice. Which do you think they will choose?


Justine said...

I think that white glove customer care will always win hearts and mind and loyal customers.

dyerbrookME said...

You would think that if you had a section called "Residents Speak" that you wouldn't use half of it to put words in their mouth, but I'm learning that you're a real piece of work, Daniel.

Customer service is important, and it's important to have rules that bind not only the tenant but the landlord, to make him fair. It's not at all about this "value-add" that I've explained is really an insidious take on SL:

Just as the Lindens decided to make the mainland unzoned and not overly police it, it's important even for those running communities with some kind of basic zoning concepts ("no spinning purple pulsating particle-spewing junk in the sky, please") to enable flexibility and chose for customers.

In my business, the object isn't at all to drive them into manicured little gardens with row houses and picket fences, though they can have that experience elsewhere and even on a few of my townhouse sims. The objective is to give them a range of style and sizes and prices so they can pick -- to put them on self-service so they save money and I save labour.

If they want a blank 4096 to put down their own house they can do that -- there's nothing worse than coming in a clothing store in RL and having the manager be too cloying and obsequious and hang around you excessively.

So much of SL is about making people dependent -- making people queue up for invitations to be invited to groups to lay down prims.

I overthrew that by maintaining an open group that people can join any time. That means occasionally it's griefed, but I remain dedicated to this principle.

I could go on and explain much more of my philosphy but I imagine just as words were put in my mouth, so fingers might be put in your ears. You hear what you wish, and you wished to stereotype landlords and overlords; it's hard to talk you out of that.