I asked Diarmid Sloan of Rentpro a series of questions:
How much focus do you place on enabling a seamless user experience for your software with maximised automation?
Our product users generally aren’t concerned about software or the latest technology per se; they have busy agencies to run, tasks to complete, and they just want to get on with it as quickly and efficiently as possible, all the while with minimal disruption to their processes. A hallmark of good software is that it just works, little thought required on the user’s behalf, and that is effectively the seamless experience we strive to provide our customers. Contrast this with bad software which is akin to using the wrong tool for the job – it slows you down, frustrates you and makes you curse the tool at hand which may in turn engender mistrust of other more suitable tools in future. If there are gaps, disjoints or inadequacies in the workflow, the user becomes aware of the tool when they should be focused on the productive experience.
We engage continuously with a core set of our customers, spanning the spectrum from technophobes to power users, to analyse how they use our products in real-time, helping to identify and improve the parts of the user experience which don’t flow well and ultimately slow them down. We need to fully understand agents’ daily lives, the tasks they perform, the insights they require, the bottlenecks which frustrate them, and their dreams of what their ideal work day would be like. Only then can we hope to deliver remarkable products to really transform their businesses. We use a lot of third party software-as-a-service products ourselves and I always find it interesting to compare the promises with the reality of what they deliver. Some fall way short of their sales promises, while others are a dream to use. We try to learn from the best of these and emulate their clean, simple workflows in our own products. What sets the best ones apart is their smooth operation, the way that they work as we expect them to, and the hidden gems which make us realise that they actually care about improving our business. That is the experience what we aim to deliver to our users.
Do you think that delivering property updates to social media is just as important as placing them on agents websites?
House-hunters don’t necessarily spend all day on estate or letting agent websites, no matter how fervently they are looking for a home to buy or rent, but like lots of people (too many!) they do spend a considerable amount of time (too much!) on social media, particularly on their mobiles. Whether they are casually browsing, proactively hunting for relevant posts, or reacting to those which are shared by friends or followers, this is where people hang out so it makes sense to target a proportionate amount of your marketing there. But, as immediate and far-reaching as social media posts are, remember that there’s more to it than just nice property photos.
Like it or loath it, social media permeates every waking moment of most of our lives, and this affords agents with an opportunity like never before to promote their available properties. The trick that I think many agents are missing, however, is focusing too much on the properties, and not enough on the people. Encourage reviews and comments from delighted tenants, vendors and purchasers – make it part of your closing processes. Encourage followers and readers to tag and share your property listings and people stories. Your exposure will grow and your brand will strengthen – all else will fall into place along with that.
It’s most likely not your properties that make your agency stand out from the crowd (though if it is you’ve certainly got an advantage); it’s the relationships with your clients, and this is more likely to catch attention in the crazy sea of social media than yet another “attractive modern residence in highly sought-after location”.The real power of these new channels is in their reach across your entire social circle and the ability to boost and actively extend that reach to target interested individuals using their marketing tool kits. While you may not spot that ideal flat or house to buy, your friend may just notice it and share it with you. It’s not just important to list on social media as well as websites – you can’t afford not to be marketing on there, and remember to link your social media posts back to your website so that you can track where traffic is originating. Just make sure that your social media marketing, as with any other form, is part of an overall campaign with a clear strategy which you monitor regularly, otherwise it will appear disorganised and haphazard and the results will be no different. Do it well and you will reap more rewards than you’ll ever get from your website alone.
Innovation in the property industry is fast moving, how does your company keep on top of both advancements in technology and the changing needs of estate / letting agents to include the growing popularity of hybrid and online only estate agents?
Our responsibility as software providers is to act as enablers for our customers, be that traditional high-street agents, those whose presence is exclusively online, and agents bridging that gap. That role encompasses educating these customers about the efficiency, productivity and cost savings which the appropriate technology can bring to their businesses. At the same time, as experts in that technology field, we have a duty to filter out all the “latest technology trends” which prove to be nothing other than distractions, crazes and fads, and only adopt and share those innovations which are actually relevant to agents in their business. We actively listen to our customers, engaging directly with them as well as listening to their voices in other media, to stay abreast of what their core challenges and problems are. Hopefully somewhere in the middle our passion for technology will intersect with our genuine understanding of customer requirements to allow us to deliver new innovations in our software products.
There is a powerful temptation in techie circles to introduce new technology “just because we can”, with no regard for its suitability or ultimate usefulness for the end user. That’s ineffective, wasteful and dangerous in that it clouds people’s perceptions of technology that is supposed to empower them. Nowhere is that more obvious in the current market than the craze surrounding the Internet of Things, a headlong rush to make every home device “smart” and get it hooked onto the network so that you can access or control it from your phone. Why?! We are always aware that people don’t want technology, they want solutions to their real problems. If new technology can help us deliver that, great; if not, then we’ll keep watching for the opportunities where the correct pieces will fit together in future.
Is mobile important to your software? An app on your phone can run many businesses these days, is this the case for estate and letting agencies too?
Of course we all know that whatever your problem, “there’s an app for that”. However, I’ve also noticed along the way that the amount of time people spend with their heads buried in their phones can be inversely proportional to their productivity, and that goes for business and personal life in equal measure. For that reason, I remain sceptical (maybe controversially?) when it comes to extravagant claims about how efficiently and comprehensively people run their entire businesses from their mobiles. I don’t think it’s accurate to say you can run your agency completely from your phone, or indeed a tablet.
However, of course there’s absolutely no disputing that for agents who spend a significant portion of their day on the move, recording and updating viewings, offers and inspections, as well as having property information at their fingertips affords a definite and immediate advantage. A dedicated app, or a mobile-friendly version of their cloud software, can be invaluable. But property management is a complex area, and we continuously find that our agents tend to only use a subset of the product’s functionality when they are on the move. I think that will remain the case for some time. When was the last time you saw someone reconciling their accounts on the bus?
That said, we do continually monitor usage patterns for our products, and through our customer service channels we listen to how, when and where our clients use the various features in the product. Rather than trying to ensure that clients can do absolutely everything on the move, we make sure that they can focus on the most common tasks for their current device and location. As feedback from our users evolves, so will our products to match their requirements.
Author: Christopher Walkey
Founder of Estate Agent Networking and an internationally invited speaker on how to build online target audiences using Twitter and LinkedIn.