Developing industry-ready virtual assistants

After working with dozens of virtual assistants during her 15-year career in real estate, Louise Schofield understands the value good outsourcing can provide to a business.

With the unprecedented challenges facing property managers in today’s ever-changing environment, including constantly evolving legislation, increased competition and rising costs, outside help is more important than ever – but it’s also difficult to find.

Earlier this year, Ms Schofield took up a new role as a training consultant with Property Management Virtual Assistant (PMVA) to help further develop the skills of the virtual assistants and in the process improve the lives of property managers across the country.

“A real estate agent’s success is our success,” Ms Schofield says.

“Our success in helping them means that they can grow and be more successful.”

Ms Schofield was recently named industry educator of the year by the Leading Property Managers Association (LPMA) for the second time – an award that highlights her passion for the industry.

“I back what I say and it took me many years to have that confidence and I’ve spent a lot of personal time understanding the pain points for property managers and trying to come up with solutions and how to fix it,” she says.

In her role, Ms Schofield is focused on improving the virtual assistants administrative skills, improving processes and upskilling the entire team, which is based at PMVA’s Philippines’ headquarters in the Clark Global City business hub.

PMVA has always focused on not just hiring virtual assistants, but developing them so they have all the skills required to immediately step into the Australian real estate industry on day one – something that other outsourcing companies don’t provide.

Typically, when property managers hire a virtual assistant on their own, they have to train them like they would with their internal staff, a process that is both time consuming and delays the benefit of having a virtual assistant.

PMVA also focuses on having a team of virtual assistants at the ready, to act as a backup and ensure that daily work routines are always taken care of.

Ms Schofield will also be working with current clients to review their current processes and find ways to make their operations even more efficient.

Improved skills

One of Ms Schofield’s key focuses is making sure the Philippines team is skilled in all of the technology and software required in the industry.

“We’ve got a lot of technology in our industry, but it’s not the answer to everything,” she says.

“You’ve still got to drive it and you need that human element and there’s still a lot of boxes that you need to tick.”

Ms Schofield also aims to make sure every virtual assistant is well versed in the different legislative changes that vary from state to state. 

It’s an area of the industry that has changed rapidly in recent years and causes many issues for property managers.

“This is an area that other outsourcing companies are not able to keep up with,” she explains.

Being a purely real estate-focused company also allows PMVA to put more time into training and that only benefits clients, Ms Schofield says.

“It also means staff aren’t interrupted by the landlord or tenant enquiries through the day and can work far more efficiently,” she says.

Ms Schofield is also helping to improve the processes and workflows virtual assistants use for their clients.

“If a VA makes an error, we don’t just accept that there was a mistake, we examine whether the processes are still current or if there something that can be changed to prevent this happening again,” she says.

Ms Schofield is also looking at ways clients are able to use automation to improve efficiency within their businesses even further.

Quality training

PMVA, Chief Executive Officer, Tiffany Bowtell says training and job readiness are some of the major factors that differentiate PMVA from its competitors, which was why she was excited to get Ms Schofield on board.

“The biggest impact for me, and our biggest point of difference in the market is that we offer a done-for-you service,” she says.

“We provide the training to the virtual assistant in collaboration with the client, but the mechanism by which that happens is our unique best practice blueprints.

“So as a company, what that means is we work with every client to customise their best practice blueprint for every task they outsource with our company.”

According to Ms Bowtell, the legislative compliance across each state will be a key focus going forward.

“With Louise coming on board, we now have 4500 best practice blueprints and she’s really taken it upon herself to become the master of blueprints,” she says.

“We now have the resources to go state-by-state and integrate more of the nuances in the legislation updates and ensure that every client is getting the most efficient process blueprint created for them based on their technology stack and the most compliant process.

“Meaning all the boxes regarding legislation changes, no matter what state you’re located in, will be incorporated into our system.”

Ms Schofield is also examining ways to improve the overall client experience to make sure when a property manager or sales agent needs something done, it will be handled by the dedicated virtual assistant with a cascade effect going to one of the two backup virtual assistants assigned to the client account, should the main virtual assistant be either sick or on annual leave.

This way the service remains consistent.

Helping agents

Ms Schofield will travel to the Philippines to start doing in-person training and will also focus on helping the virtual assistant better understand the role of a property manager and how they fit into the workflow of the business.

“We get to showcase to our clients the life of a virtual assistant, but no one gets to showcase to them the life of a property manager,” she says.

She believes moulding a job-ready virtual assistant is something that takes time, but the result for clients is far better.

“My job there is to work to find solutions for real estate agents,” she explains.

“I’ve worked with dozens of virtual assistants and it makes your job so much more enjoyable.

“It frees up time to talk to your clients, because talking to your tenants and landlords should be the crux of the business.

“Real estate is not about the houses, it’s about those human interactions.”

“But with all the paperwork we’ve got to do, property managers are so tied up that they’re scared to talk to anyone anymore.”

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.

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