EPMEPM: ProductivityOpinion

The opposing challenges of differentiation and automation: Brock Fisher

When your business looks the same from the outside as your competitors, you are failing to establish a unique value proposition and a point of difference. This is a problem, and often misused automation tools are to blame. Brock Fisher explains how to use proptech to stand out in the crowd.

It’s probably a bit weird to read about a proptech guy critiquing automation, and not outright celebrating its virtues.

So, let me be clear from the outset, I am definitely not ‘anti-automation’.

Having spent the past decade in operational roles in property management businesses, topics like efficiency and reducing operational expenses are some of my favourite things.

But customer experience and differentiation are also things I am really passionate about, and the reality is there is an important balancing act needed when deploying automation in your business.

I sometimes joke that I have been in property management for so long, that I predate GST. Given I started in 1998, that is actually a true statement.

But, for as long as I can recall, through various property management, business development, and management type roles, everywhere I have worked has always struggled to look noticeably ‘different’ to their competitors in the marketplace. This is an industry-wide challenge.

This stems from the process of managing properties largely requiring the same general steps, regardless of who is performing those steps.

Many property owners are not immersed in the granular detail that would equip them to identify great execution and service from an average offering.

If there isn’t a pre-existing relationship or third party recommendation from someone they trust, owners often retreat to the selection criteria that makes the most sense to them, and that is price.

“If everyone looks more or less the same, then I will just go with the cheapest.”

Overcoming prospective clients shopping on price is a challenge as old as the industry itself, and in a skinny profit margin industry with downward pressure on fees, it certainly becomes an ever more critical one.

As a property manager and a BDM, there is the perpetual challenge of establishing value to secure the business.

One of the ways this objection can be countered is to acknowledge that, on the surface, the service offerings of many businesses can look quite similar, but to assure the prospective customer that it is how we do it that makes all the difference.

“It’s not what we all do, it’s how we do it that makes the difference, Mr and Mrs Owner.”

With that in mind, is automation complementing, or making it more difficult, for businesses to establish a unique value proposition and a point of difference?

As a further point, is automation killing customer experience?

The unintended consequence of really high levels of automation can be that, while property manager efficiency soars, customer experience can suffer, impacting organic growth opportunities and online reputation. And that’s before factors like job satisfaction are taken into account.

These questions always need to be asked:

  • What is the experience really like for the customer on the receiving end of your automation?
  • Have you tested and experienced it from their perspective?
  • Are bad habits surfacing in your team, with a tendency to “let the system do the work”?

My view is that great automation complements what you do by ensuring efficiency and reducing unnecessary labour, while still giving you time to shine, to add value and improve relationships with your customers.

Great automation should also be configurable, so that you can customise how you offer services in your business.

Your system should not rigidly dictate how you perform a process. You should have flexibility. Otherwise, everyone using the same product really does start to look the same, rather than having the opportunity to show their flair and expertise.

The operational efficiencies created by automation cannot be overlooked.

However, always be sure to consider customer experience, and the ability to inject yourself and your staff at the right moment to provide value, offer expertise and soft skill services that machines cannot match. This is the key to differentiating yourself.

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Brock Fisher

Brock Fisher is Head of Strategy at Kolmeo, a property management software business focused on solving for all the people in property – the renters, the owners and the property managers.