EPMEPM: Technology & Social

Cautionary Tales in Technology

Technology is ultimately about improving the customer experience as opposed to causing angst. However, in some cases, when used improperly, it has been known to do just that. Brock Fisher explains the pitfalls of three scenarios from his previous experiences that you may wish to consider in your own technology setup.

As Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards toward the technology – not the other way around”.

Technology is an enabler, not a solution.
Online tenant booking software is probably my single favourite industry development of the past decade, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that systems like this are still built by people and for people to deal with people. How the tremendous power of these systems is used ultimately determines their impact, either positively or negatively, on a customer’s perception of your business.

Over the years I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with people who have experienced the flippant use of one of these systems when looking for a rental property. One such example was a professional colleague of mine who wanted to look at four different properties through four different agencies. On each occasion, the appointment was changed between three and six times, sometimes with as little as 30 minutes’ notice. They gave up trying to look at two of the properties altogether because, in their words, it was “just too hard”. On each occasion, they had restructured their work day in advance to be able to view the property, including making arrangements for picking up their kids, and each time these arrangements were made in vain.

This is a classic example of the initial advantages and positivity of being able to choose a time to inspect the property being exponentially outdone by the way the system was subsequently used by property managers, and creating a negative experience for the prospective tenants.

The impersonal effect of a set of details in a database, not a voice on the end of the phone or someone standing in reception, seems to lead us to deal with people in ways we normally wouldn’t – and ways which I am sure we wouldn’t tolerate ourselves if the situation were reversed.

If you wouldn’t want to call a prospective client on six different occasions and explain to them why you have to shift their viewing appointment to another time, don’t be tempted to just click a few buttons and do it anyway. Don’t let the system take the bullets for you.

First, think of the customer experience, and then set up your system to deliver the service that your customer expects. This should include clear guidelines in your office around what is acceptable and what is not regarding cancellation and rescheduling of appointments, and how these need to be communicated to the prospective tenant.

Break it to make it
It’s really important to know how to break things, so you can avoid doing it. Entry, exit and routine inspections have been revolutionised by the use of apps on mobile devices to record details and photos of a property in an integrated fashion, sometimes even by dictating to Siri, so Siri can just fill the inspection form out for you.

I work with a really big team, and in many ways, we’re the ultimate crash test dummies for this type of product. I have been fascinated by new and inventive ways that people have found to lose data, which not only upsets them but also creates agitation with a tenant if you need to redo an inspection, or agitation with an owner if you are left with nothing but a blank report to give them.
There are a surprising number of variables that can affect the performance of an app, from how it is used and when you press ‘save’, to the operating version of the software on the device using it, to the network where an upload or download of information occurs. Perhaps an interruption during the process could affect the data, or what about if a battery goes flat?

After the warm and fuzzy feeling of amazingness about your new app has passed, make sure you have a proper conversation with your provider about any vulnerabilities that you need to be aware of, and what sorts of things you would have to do to the app to lose your information. It’s incredibly important to understand where the information actually is, and at what point during the process it is not recoverable. This education should also form part of any new staff induction process.

I’ve seen instances where multiple days’ worth of routine inspection data was lost because a user had issues with syncing when they returned to the office and the app was constantly crashing on their device. Instead of seeking technical advice, they simply deleted the app on their device and re-installed it, as that is what they did with their other apps if they crashed and wouldn’t open. This simple reflex action subsequently lost a massive amount of information, as of course, all their inspection data was still on the app; it had not yet gone anywhere. But after they deleted the app there was no hope of recovering any of the data.

Experience your own systems
Template correspondence in property management is hardly new news, or cutting edge. But don’t underestimate the number of templates in your business and the ongoing impression they create with your customers. Think more broadly than just your letters. What about things like owners’ statements and all the messages and communications that technology such as your online booking software is sending out constantly?

I enquire on our rental properties all the time, just so I can check ‘what happens next’ and see from the customer’s perspective what correspondence we’re sending out. I am also an owner in our system so that I can use all our apps and portals, and experience our correspondence from the same point of view.

It’s really important, I believe, to experience your own products from the front end, client-facing perspective, and not always just be fiddling around in the back end.
If you have had an owner for five years, are they still getting an emailed statement each month ‘welcoming them to the convenience of email statements’? How about their routine inspection letters or copies of their lease agreements? Is this still the ‘same old same old’ every time so that your customer sees the same thing over and over and over again?

The hallmark of a good system is that it doesn’t look like a system to the client. When was the last time that you refreshed or updated your everyday correspondence?

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