EPMEPM: Case Studies

The Success Factor – Philip Webb

Emma Shean spoke to Sophie Lyon, General Manager – Property Management division at Philip Webb in an effort to pinpoint exactly what has generated this agency’s success.

Widely recognised as one of Australia’s industry leaders in property management, Sophie Lyon boasts an impressive professional history covering 20 years in the industry with several high profile real estate firms. Her current role as General Manager- Property Management division at Philip Webb involves working with 4700 properties and managing 40 staff within the division.

You were recently involved in a Property Management speaking panel at the Australasian Real Estate Conference in Darling Harbour. What was that experience like?
I love panels as they are such a good opportunity to listen to the feedback from other people. You know how you would answer the questions, however, it is fantastic to listen to other people on the panel and how they answer the questions. I take just as much out of the session as the audience!

As part of the discussion in the panel, you spoke of Philip Webb and its place in the market. How does the business differ to those in its marketplace?
Philip Webb differs dramatically in its market simply because of our size. We have 4700 properties under management, and a team of over 40 that work on those properties. Because of the size of our business, our operations are amplified. We see trends in the market more quickly than other businesses, because there are so many more properties to see them across.

It has been said that you understand exactly what clients want from their managing agent. How do you gain insight into your client base?
Communication is the vital element, you need to talk to your clients at any given opportunity. We hold landlord forums where we ask landlords to come into the office and sit down with us, and with that invitation we ask that they provide us with the good the bad and the ugly. We want to know what we are doing and how we can improve. With the size that Philip Webb is, there is a real danger that we will lose touch with our clients and exactly what it is that they want.

What are your tools for measuring client satisfaction?
Some of the tools include client surveys, we talk to our clients as often as possible and we use an external company that tracks our net promoter score. We put a huge amount of resources behind finding out our client satisfaction to ensure we have the most information possible in order to continue delivering what our clients want. We spare no expense when it comes to our clients.

How do you maximise the opportunities of your client’s properties?
We find out if they have other properties, and whether they are managing these properties themselves. If they are in Melbourne, they are in our catchment area. We then encourage them to bring those properties over and sometimes that might be with a reduction of fees for multiple properties, or referral rewards. For example, if it is not their property but a property of their friends or family, we offer incentives for the new business. We try to make it a win/win situation, so that everyone involved walks away with something.

You have over 110 staff within the business. How do you attract, and in turn, keep good staff?
Our reputation helps in this immensely, as we are such a large business in the market place. We are known for the quality of our training, which in turn attracts people to the business. Personally in my division I often receive referrals from property managers that know someone who is looking for a role, and recommend that person come to Philip Webb. It is nice to know that there are people within the team saying that it is a good place to work. In keeping good staff it is not an exact science, as different people want different things. Money might be important to some, training or the ability to progress within the business may be important to others. It is important to look at staff as individuals, and what they are after in their roles.

What are your secrets to staying up to date with developments and changes in the property management industry?
Being involved with the REIV helps immensely with staying up to date. Being a part of the property management chapter, we receive information regarding changes to legislation, etc. as it happens through consumer affairs or VCAT. At the moment, the REIV is also involved with the redrafting of the residential tenancies act, and with other legislative developments. Also, talking to people in the industry is a great way to stay up to date, as well as reading newspapers and industry journals.

Philip Webb is currently experiencing a major change of property management software. What was the driving factor behind the decision to change?
We are in the build up phase at the moment, and everyone is very excited and very positive about the change. With the previous software we were not seeing the delivery of functionality, and this was the main issue that drove the change. The need for time saving benefits that will make the business far more streamlined will be delivered through the new software. It will give us our lives back!

There seems to be an ‘anxiety’ linked to such a major change within a business. Is this the case with Philip Webb?
I believe there is anxiety with any major change within an organisation. The research before making the decision helps immensely to quell the anxiety, especially because it puts you in a position to know that you are making the right decision for the business. It also comes back to the people in the team who will drive this change. They need to be comfortable using the system on a daily basis. The most important aspect of the change was to have the team involved as much as possible, and once we were half way into making the decision we started telling the property managers that this is what we were thinking about. We received a huge amount of feedback as a number of them have worked on this system previously. This feedback from the property managers was quite instrumental in reducing the anxiety of the rest of the team, as they are constantly saying how “it will be better” and telling the team of the different functions it provides.

How can a business gain full ROI of their property management software?
Every business should use their software to its maximum potential. With the implementation of the new software system, we intend to use it in full. Otherwise if you are paying for something that you are not using correctly, you lose the productivity gains and the money that it could be saving your business. Training is a huge element in gaining this potential. With the implementation of the new software, we have been offered vast amounts of training and support. We were able to sit down and plan what training would be needed for our staff, as well as who will deliver the training, with positive results already evident. Our staff have been extremely responsive to the training, as they are learning how to use the software properly and the functions it holds. The company has communicated this effectively, and are telling the staff the full capabilities of the software. I keep on saying it, however, it boils down to communication, and as you can see it is so important to the work we do within property management. It is a sizeable investment for us, and it is so important that we make sure that we are gaining the full potential of our investment, otherwise it is a waste of time!

What do you love most about the property management industry?
I love that it is constantly changing, with every day differing from the last. As you are dealing with people constantly, you learn to gain knowledge from other people’s opinions. I love the relationships that you are able to build, for example I have a client that I have been dealing with for over fifteen years, and that part of the industry still appeals to me today. The opportunities property management has given to me both nationally and internationally is fantastic, and enables me to bring new light to my work. It really is an evolutionary process, the industry is certainly not the same as it was twenty years ago, and it is exciting to see what the industry will be like, both in the short and long term, and how to prepare for it.

Emma Shean is the Marketing and Events Coordinator for Rockend, the leaders in property software. Their products consist of REST Professional (property management), STRATA Master (strata management) and fileSMART (electronic document management).

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