The research phase of this feature was perfectly timed, coinciding with new insights into today’s agency challenges. Fittingly called ‘The New Normal’, the report was based on post-pandemic research carried out among 800 property professionals by TM Group, Mio and Conveyancing Data Services (CDS). In summary, estate agents have been working exceptionally hard for less returns, with reduced fees, reduced profitability, higher running costs and more time spent on getting fewer deals over the line.
What will your new normal look like?
The ‘new normal’ is intriguing. As well as the difficulties highlighted above – all playing out against a backdrop of rising inflation, rising interest rates and rising living costs – the traditional office dynamic has changed.
How, when and where agents work has always been fluid, given the assets they are trying to sell or let are located away from their desks. It’s a fact that has been acknowledged by Mark Hinkins at Rex. “Agents splitting their time between an office and on-the-road is nothing new. When building the mobile version of Rex, we found the average agent spent 60-80 per cent of their day out of their office,” says Mark. “That’s 60-80 per cent of the day when, traditionally, they don’t have access to their CRM and they can’t enter data.”
We found the average agent spent 60-80 per cent of their day out of their office… when they don’t have access to their CRM and they can’t enter data. Mark Hinkins Sales Manager, Rexlabs.
The desire to pull away from any sort of office permanency, with more homebased hours complementing on-the-road time, is colliding with costly overheads, such as business rates, rents and running costs. Perhaps the hybrid model is starting to make more business sense, maybe even online only? Even if these styles of modus operandi are too premature, working smarter, not harder – no matter where from – should be on every agent’s agenda.
Keep control in the clouds
Now is when a buzz phrase to rival ‘hybrid working’ is earning its place – the decentralised business. Having your staff scattered in different locations that you don’t pay for – at home, in coffee shops or hot desking in a hub – is kind to bottom line figures but there are challenges when this becomes a long-term arrangement. Collaboration, consistency and control can slip but cloud-based, mobile-friendly CRM software is an agent’s secret weapon.
Working smarter, not harder – no matter where from – should be on every agent’s agenda.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, working ‘in the cloud’ means your software and all its data is held on remote servers. Still bamboozled? Remote servers (computers held in a central location away from your office) replace local servers (usually a hulking machine with a tower-style hard drive based in your office), allowing staff to access their CRM software without logging into an office-based PC.
“Cloud-based software runs totally on a web browser,” comments Apex27’s James Wright. “This means agents have access to all of their data and software functionality through any web-connected device, including phones, tablets and laptops, as well as desktop computers.”
It’s the real-time syncing, mobile compatibility and app integrations that remove the need for agents to scurry back to the office after every appointment. To illustrate, Apex27 users enjoy a cloud-based floorplan and EPC generator, can create window displays and brochures from home, and devise custom workflows using nothing more than a mobile phone.
Agents have access to all of their data and software functionality through any web-connected device, including phones, tablets and laptops. James Wright Co-Founder, Apex27.
Designed with mobile in mind
Mobile-first – the art of designing software and apps so they run best on mobile phones over a desktop – is a phrase you’ll hear over at Reapit, with the company’s Mark Armstrong explaining how its powerful CRM software has transitioned into the decentralised space.
“Our powerful AgencyCloud Mobile is designed for the agent on-the-go. It offers all the fundamental features of their core AgencyCloud CRM with full, unfettered, real-time access to their database, enabling agents to update records from their phone,” comments Mark.
AgencyCloud Mobile offers full, unfettered, real-time access to their database, enabling agents to update records from their phone. Mark Armstrong Group CEO, Reapit.
This function includes the mobile ‘power organiser’, for an overview of every key activity agents need to track outside of the office, and ‘mobile search’, which gives agents the ability to search through their entire Agency Cloud Sales and Lettings CRM database, anywhere, on any device.
Apps have never been more apt
App integration is another big deal at Reapit and you only have to dip into its AppsMarket to see the importance. It has even developed an app specifically for an ‘on-the-road’ style of agency, called Geo Diary. Marks says this enables agents to access their AgencyCloud diary appointments from anywhere, via their mobile phone.
Taking the apps and integrations that desktop users easily flit between and seamlessly embedding them into mobile-optimised CRM software makes running an agency using a mobile phone or tablet much easier, as seen at DezRez.
Rezi Meet, part of its fully cloud-based CRM software, is the perfect example. This in-built video conferencing software avoids having to close one app down in order to access another, such as Zoom or FaceTime. Agents can instantly connect with colleagues, hold meetings with clients, share desktops and record sessions all from within the Rezi platform. It also allows you to instantly send out text messages with active links to video conferences to clients.
There’s also Rezi Anytime, which DezRez’s Richard Price described as a fully mobile, 24/7 online client portal, designed with online and hybrid agents in mind. “Rezi Anytime allows agents to reinvent customer service with a focus on giving control to their customers,” says Richard. “There is a secure client login area, live sales progression updates, digital document signing and an appointment management system.”
Rezi Anytime offers a secure client login area, live sales progression updates, digital document signing and an appointment management system. Richard Price Managing Director, DezRez.
Never miss a lead
If your biggest worry about a decentralised style is leads falling into a black hole or not being distributed to the right agents, you’ll be pleased to know today’s CRM software is automatically sorting, storing and matching on a mobile basis. Born out of this is an opportunity for agents to use the back-end software that’s normally hidden from view to impress vendors during valuations.
Users of Rex Mobile can access all their CRM data via a mobile or tablet and the magic happens when its Reverse Buyers Match is used in front of clients. “This allows agents to bring up a list of all buyers in their database that match with the property they are appraising on a real time basis,” says Rex’s Mark. “This gives the agent a powerful tool to help close an instruction.”
This function is being powered in the background by fully automated lead-capture that makes today’s mobile CRM software so powerful and intuitive, says Mark. “Rex’s Leads Inbox will grab all inbound enquiries from portals, the agent’s own website and from social media, and will automatically link these to the listing they are in relation to. It will also simultaneously link to the existing contact record if they already exist in Rex, or create a new contact record if not. These inbound leads can also be automatically assigned to the agent linked to the listing.”
Deal with complexities even when OOO
It’s arguable that letting staff spend even more time away from their desks than their sales counterpart, so cloud-based CRM software makes perfect sense. As well as allowing property managers to process complex issues, update files and upload images in situ, Brian Murphy at Arthur says cloud-based CRM software suits a sector that’s always under reform.
“Being able to access vital files and information from anywhere offers much more flexibility, which consequently allows property managers to adapt to change more easily,” comments Brian. “Arthur’s cloud-based system also provides the framework to scale up by making it easy to add other users and swiftly roll out the system to other branches or staff.”
Arthur’s third-party apps and portal integrations have the property management sector specifically in mind, with Xero, FixFlo and Zoopla a few examples that yield opportunities to boost efficiency, grow portfolios and foster a successful, hybrid working model. “We offer property managers a centralised infrastructure rather than a convoluted cluster of disconnected apps, so portfolios can be managed from anywhere, anytime,” adds Brian.
Nice to e-meet you…
Online-only and hybrid agency models have drawn criticism for their lack of face-to-face customer care but while that argument rang true in the past, our post-pandemic outlook means we’re far more comfortable with managing our lives online.
If passing custom is negligible and wet signatures are almost a thing of the past, we can begin to seriously question what our ‘new normal’ looks like. It’s not outrageous to say our current state of mind gives agents the confidence to reduce manned office hours, let staff work from home or switch to an online-only model.
It is the ether-based apps, integrations and plugins that providers are so keen to talk about that facilitate today’s digital journey. While some agents may lament the lack of human touch, it’s these extras that actually give clients, contactors and agency staff greater control, increase accountability and reduce the administrative workload for the ‘smarter not harder’ work ethos.
While a number of AgentOS’s apps proved pivotal during the pandemic, as they reduced the need for people to visit branches in person, their legacy is one that fits perfectly with today’s decentralised, streamlined approach.
“The most frequent visitors to a property management office is not tenants or landlords but contractors,” says AgentOS’s Glyn Trott. “We have developed a contractor app that can handle work orders, contractor invoices and payments. Other than key collections, there should be no need for impromptu or time consuming face-to-face meetings between manager and contractors.”
Our contractor app can handle work orders, contractor invoices and payments. Other than key collections, there should be no need for face-to-face meetings. Glyn Trott CEO, AgentOS.
There’s also an AgentOS landlord app that gives landlords access to rent statements and real-time account snapshots whenever they like. “Agents can give landlords control over their account with an app tool that takes the heavy lifting out of communication,” adds Glyn.
Managing staff from afar
If you suspect your agents are akin to Boris Johnson, who recently admitted his home working pattern involved “an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing,” setting targets and reviewing performance is critical in the decentralised space, especially if you suspect staff are chowing down on Cheddar while sprawled on the sofa.
Apps such as Veco’s Insights allows branch managers and MDs to continually monitor the performance of staff whenever and from wherever. This style of analysis cut its teeth in franchise and network business models but its value is rising as the hybrid and home working approach gains traction. “With Insights, targets can be set on an office-by-office basis for each of the KPI’s, and they can be appraised by day or by month,” says Veco’s Richard Murray. “Managers can drill down into the details for each one and look at, for example, individual deals transacted that day.”
Leaders can set, track and work towards office and departmental targets, KPI performance and acknowledge successes of individual team members. Richard Murray CEO, Veco (Eurolink).
Nothing new, you might think, but having access to this analysis from the cloud is essential, especially if it’s the boss who is taking the most decentralised approach of all. “The scenario of picking up your iPad in the evening, or on the beach, and being able to see your business KPIs, by office, in real time, is a great advantage,” adds Richard. “Leaders can set, track and work towards office and departmental targets, compare office KPI performance within their network and acknowledge successes of individual team members, all without being in the office and logging onto a desktop PC.”
It’s good to end here with an admission. Hybrid agency and home working isn’t for everyone but even traditional agencies who have worked hard to get everyone back behind their desks will have staff who spend large tranches of the day on the road. Having the ability to whip out a mobile phone and access CRM software to update, order, amend and progress while on a valuation or viewing is slick. It’s a time saver and a lead generator too, and that can’t be ignored in our new normal.