Thrive or Die: How Digital Transformation is Changing the Student Accommodation Market

In the year 2000, when digital transformation was emerging, the former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco was approached by Reed Hastings who wanted to sell the company he founded – Netflix. He was asking for $50 million and with Blockbusters increasing profits at the time, the established industry giant refused his offer.

But Netflix introduced a new way of shopping and watching movies without leaving the comfort of your home. No queues. No disappointments. And in 2010 this led to Blockbuster filing for bankruptcy with Netflix gaining an eight-figure market value. However, transitioning a company into the digital age is a daunting task – but what drives this digital transformation?

Digital transformation has the opportunity to improve the overall customer experience whilst drastically simplifying purchasing processes. Generation Z are now entering the marketplace and have been brought up with technology from an early age, shifting behaviors into a greater acceptance of digital technology. This drives companies, such as student accommodation providers, to adapt their innovation strategies to keep up with market demands. For students of today, use of the internet is imbedded in their lifestyles.

CityBlock is a national student accommodation provider that continuously seeks innovative ways to enhance the booking experience for residents. 360-degree virtual tours of all CityBlock sites are carried out via interactive online interfaces which allows students to view bedroom offerings and communal areas, such as gyms, study areas and external gardens, before booking their ideal room – again, online.

Online platforms like, who have listed CityBlock within their website, offers an intuitive process of finding relevant student accommodation all over the world – an extremely helpful tool especially for international students where selecting accommodation can be quite daunting. Just like Rightmove or Zoopla, this platform operates in a similar way but for student operators – allowing students to compare locations, prices and facilities to find exactly what they want. But this digital capability does not stop when they move in.

Other systems like TCAS have allowed CityBlock to step into this digital era with ease – completely streamlining the way student lettings are handled. The students booking with CityBlock enjoy a hassle-free way of living – from online portals where appointments are made and tenancy agreements can be signed with smartphones instead of the ‘outdated’ pen and paper. This system is currently being used to report maintenance issues within accommodation blocks, and there is even the ability to check washing machine availability through LaundryView. What a life.

The CityBlock operations team are benefiting too. TCAS helps keep track of room availability and alerts the team to any gaps within the lettings process – ensuring all loops are closed. This helps with transparency throughout the business, allowing different team members to pick up the process seamlessly. If that isn’t enough for you, the whole process is entirely paperless.

Without adopting some of these digital enhancements, many student operators run the risk of falling behind – much like Blockbuster.

However, many of these technological advances run the risk of isolating residents by losing that ‘human’ touch to customer service. CityBlock, as well as implementing digital advancement, are committed to ensure that residents can still interact, face to face, with members of staff regarding problems or issues they are facing – they may simply what someone to talk to.

University can be an intimidating place – where a lot of students may find it difficult to create new friendship groups. CityBlock takes this type of pressure from students by providing genuine, friendly support and hosting a range of welcome meetings and termly socials to encourage positive interactions between residents. Even the process where students collect their countless parcels has been designed where engagement with on-site team members is inevitable – this allows the team to ensure satisfaction levels are maintained and students are enjoying university life. To enhance this level of customer care, CityBlock also continue to invest within their team ensuring that staff members are trained in mental health awareness so that potential well-being issues can be identified early on, and valuable advice can be shared with students.

Maintaining a competitive edge within the student accommodation industry has become extremely challenging. Student living has become much more than just bricks and mortar. Balancing technology with good old-fashioned face to face communication is a challenge, but we must not forget the importance of the human element of interaction as well.