Elite AgentOPINION

Tiffany Bowtell: How the human touch solves office headaches

Automation can help run your real estate office but if not handled with care it can create more problems than it solves. Tech training and office outsourcing expert Tiffany Bowtell explains why it is important to maintain the human touch in managing customer relations.

Automatic communications are becoming standard practice in business but sometimes we really miss the nuances that come with talking to real, live humans.

In this age of instant communication, it is so easy for a misunderstanding to occur through messaging.

One anecdote I heard was from someone in the industry about their experience as a renter.

The first communication they received about renewing their rental was an automated message which said, “You have seven days to decide to renew, push 1 for yes and 2 for no”. And that was it.

There was no mention that their rent was paid before the due date for the past year, or that property inspections found no problems. Let alone something to say that well, yes, you have been a good tenant who looked after the place on behalf of the owner.

There was zero human touch.

If that’s the level of interaction with the property manager, no wonder that good tenants, and no doubt some valued clients who have chosen to trust you with managing their properties, would rather take their business elsewhere.

I come from a background in training in property tech and the reason for setting up my business was that there was – and still is – a gap between what the technology can do and what the real estate industry needs to prosper and grow.

So you can probably guess my thoughts on automation: of course it is useful but only if you understand that many parts of a successful business are still about the human interactions rather than the software you choose.

If you spend some time at a real estate conference, or maybe just have a coffee with some colleagues, one of the common complaints you will hear is that automation seems to be killing the client experience rather than enhancing it.

We have all heard the promises that technology is going to take over and solve our problems.

Remember how the self-checkout was going to improve the shopping experience at the supermarket?

And how many times are you left standing with your hand in the air waiting for a human to come and find out what went wrong?

The same thing happens in real estate, where you hear many complaints about tech companies dictating the terms, saying this is how the software works and you have to bend your client experience to suit.

I hear from many real estate businesses struggling to bridge that gap between the tech and what they need to serve their customers.

When we bring new clients onboard we find that many property managers use standard templates written by the tech companies. We have identified a number of gaps that some of the available software just can’t handle.

These can include completion of maintenance requests, being unable to detect exceptions in arrears for payments into a payment plan, and being unable to take special conditions or current pet information in an existing lease to a renewal lease.

Some agencies with multiple properties in a dwelling, such as an apartment block, do inspections by property rather than tenancy, and find there is no way to automate the next routine inspection date.

Property managers should be focusing on the client experience, but we know that many of them instead are worried about hitting deadlines, meeting targets, filling in admin or chasing around to fill in those gaps left by the technology.

For our clients we complete a full health check on office technology and processes.

New clients will have what we call a tech stack with their core property management software, plus a number of add-ons stacked on top of each other such as software for maintenance, software for inspections, software for marketing.

Each of those can cost the client a lot of money. We review that tech stack to see if it is relevant, how it is being used, identify the core problems and provide a blueprint with the best solutions.

Automation works well with all those repetitive milestones in the property journey for a tenant or landlord. You can oversee hundreds of properties, it gives you great awareness of where everyone is within the cycle.

What automation can’t do is make decisions. What it doesn’t do well is move from milestone to milestone, from process to process. That needs a human to start that next step in the process.

For example, when a tenant moves in there is no program that will say, now we should check with the new tenant about any maintenance required. It needs a human to do that.  

That’s why we use virtual assistants working from our office in the Philippines to complement the technology and support your staff on the ground, to give them enough hours in the day to focus on their primary roles rather than clerical duties.

The virtual assistant picks up the slack where the tech is falling short and takes that load from the property manager.

The VA is like a personal assistant to the property manager who tells them, these are the red flags today, this is what you need to do today, this person really needs your help.

Being a property manager is a demanding job, and that human support in real time can make their life simpler and their office run more efficiently.

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Tiffany Bowtell

Tiffany Bowtell is the Founder and CEO of Property Management Virtual Assistant.

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