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Feb 24, 2017
Automation Software: Don't always put the humans first
Tags: property management , business automation , prop tech , property automation , business management
Questions?

There has been an interesting sequence of events over the last few weeks. These combine to tell an interesting story. It’s even more interesting when you discover what we have been doing since 2009.

#1 - I read a hugely interesting article by Peter Knight of the Property Academy, which talked about getting customer service right and then implementing technology to enhance it. Putting the humans first and then enhancing their performance with technology.

#2 - David Pollock recently talked about the difficulties in recruiting the right candidate for agency. His advice was to “implement processes that compensate for the lack of qualified talent” available.

#3 - Ed Mead, published an article quoting some data that we had previously released based on research by Oxford University, that quoted an article in the Sunday Times by Nicholas Hellen. This listed 226 occupations that were ripe for automation. Third in that list, with a 97.29% chance of automation, was a ‘Real Estate Broker’.

#4 - Peter Knight was quoted on Property Industry Eye as saying of agents, “incredible how few bother to reply and of those who do, how long it takes”. As I am also moving house, I can wholly agree with this.

Now individually these articles are interesting but if you put them together you actually create something unexpectedly compelling. You may already have reached the conclusion but please read on.

My natural sense, of importance placed in customer service, would ordinarily fully agree, with #1, but we have been working hard on mindfulness and considering, what a theory, management action, or in fact a property software specification means when it arrives at the coal face and at the risk of inflaming debate I would suggest that on this occasion there is an argument for the opposite approach.

Which moves us nicely to #2. Although this may seem like a draconian reaction from David, the current quality of mainly “millennial” staff does warrant action and what David has said is actually hugely pragmatic, in providing a short-term solution and furthermore the resulting procedures will help deliver an exit event which best suits the aspirations of the business owner. 

We aren’t psychic at VTUK and certainly Russell is no direct relative of mine, but we are able to predict the future. You will have 1 of 4 outcomes for your business: 

1.    Liquidation 
2.    Work until you die
3.    Retire and take an income
4.    Sell

Our experience in over 11,000 estate agencies and letting agencies shows that each event has a likely set of most common issues or causation. 

Liquidation - failure to act on compliance, security protocols or service levels that generate repeat business. SOLUTION – to implement procedures that enable management by exception in these areas so that you have 100% efficiency. 

Die working - This presents 2 issues as you reach your dotage and when your experience is of paramount value to the business you don’t want to be “working in” the business, you want to be “working on” the business. SOLUTION -  to do this you must have defined processes that can be easily followed and monitored, so that your time can be invested where it will show the greatest returns and God forbid you die suddenly these same defined processes will enable your next of kin, staff and beneficiates to carry on the business after your passing. 

Retire - This is now often the goal of a lifestyle business owner and is prevented by the lack of control that not being present creates. If you aren’t front and centre then a property manager or exceptional staff member will be and you would not be surprised when they open their own agency 1 mile away with your clients. Add to this the massive increase in security breaches, selling landlord details, fraud and simple human error and I can’t see the time spent on a beach in Spain being at all relaxing. SOLUTION – automated security systems and processes that enable all staff to have a client facing, marketing and sales role, which is, by its nature self-policing. 

Sell - This is probably the huge carrot. Buyers want to know that an acquisition works without the principle and that due diligence wont uncover any “oddities”. SOLUTION – a process driven and automated business does both of these things and this can add 30% to the bottom line value. 

So, David Pollock’s solution to staffing issues is, in actual fact, a massive boost to the whole business and will facilitate (or prevent in the case of liquidation) any of the outcomes possible.

#3 In the research by Oxford University, it did not detail what automation would look like, but it did give some idea of time frames and we are only talking 3 years. We can maybe shed some light on this, as we have been developing this system since 1998 and since 2009 and have been pushing the boundaries of property automation software, with collaboration from our clients.

The kind of things we have operational in say lettings are:

1. Compliance being a major responsibility for an agent. The number one automation is Gas Safety compliance and this emails the landlord, X amount of days before the gas certification is due. This also adds itself to the journal and notifies the property manager, that it has been sent out. The second part of this automation, will notify the tenant(s) that the gas safety check is due and a contractor will require access, contact details are provided to both parties.  This automation rule can be manipulated to work with any other compliance area, CO2, Oil, Fix wiring etc.

2. Management Audits -  when a change to a record occurs e.g. edit of financial information, a notification is sent to a member of the management team to check that this is correct. It is often used for record deletion to ensure data is being kept safe. This is just one way the automation module can act as a kind of silent guard dog, protecting from security breaches and fraud.

3. Daily/Weekly/monthly management reports - A very powerful dynamic report, that provides a full overview of the business in a user-friendly report which is fully customizable to fit the clients’ needs. An example would be to see how many properties have been let, with a breakdown of Managed/Rent collect/Let only. Average monthly income and number of vacant properties. This is of course emailed automatically so no more chasing for KPI’s or management reports.

4. Tenant Welcome Email - The day the pre-booked tenant is added to the system, the property automation assistant will send a welcome email or text or letter, (based on a client template). If the client uses our communications portal, it can also email the tenant(s) login details to access their online account e.g. to view statements, view compliance information, make maintenance requests, or just to get connected to the agency.

5. At the end of the week contractors are emailed all outstanding jobs so they can prepare for the week ahead.  

These are all pretty mainstream but a client of ours in Scotland whose properties cover a large geographical area has actually automated temperature control in the properties by pinging each location and then turning on the heating if the property is below 3 degrees. The property management automation software even checks the diary to see where viewings are and pre-warms those properties in any event.

When we see our clients connecting the system to the “internet of everything” then the results are mind blowing.

The situation is that all of this is old news we are now working on AI profiling, that is to say we have already deployed automation as a Decision Support System we are now well on the way to creating perfect staff profiles.

#4 So when Peter quite rightly feels exasperated at the service he has received perhaps if the parts of that process that can be automated and the rest of the processes in respect of compliance, standard communications, diary management, marketing and administration were managed by exception through estate agency process management software then the agent would have had the motivation and opportunity to get into their client’s shoes and deliver a service that would keep people coming back. Oh, and by “clients” we mean every person who comes into contact with the agency – but that’s a whole other blog.

To create a process driven business, that’s fully automated according to your market edge, not standard workflow and to enable management by exception just give us a call 0800 328 0460, email info@vtuk.com or visit vtuk.com/products to find out more.