What could a digitally enabled future look like for estate agents?

Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong

Chief Executive Officer at Reapit

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For years now estate agents have been on a journey from digital infancy to digital maturity. But what does the future look like for digitally enabled agents? Technology is always changing to meet the expectations and requirements of the consumer, and in estate agency the tech evolution is coming much quicker than you might think, in fact for many it is already here. From new ways to digitally engage with clients to advances in automation that will enhance your business’ operational efficiency, the digitally enabled agent of the future could be you.

All of the technology designed for the estate agency industry is rooted in addressing the needs and challenges of all the various stakeholders in the industry, from the agent, all the way to the customer. There’s no point building anything without a purpose, and there’s no point adopting technology unless it’s necessary. Being digitally enabled is also very much consumer-driven mindset, because that’s what many of your customers expect, both the younger, more digitally native demographics of Millennials, Gen Zers, and one day the Gen Alphas (give them a decade or so), and everyone else, because digital adeptness is increasingly intergenerational.

One way or another, we’re all on a journey to a digital future that will overhaul and enhance how we engage with our customers, and how they engage with us. Here’s a snapshot of what that digital future looks like and why getting ready for it today will set you up for success tomorrow.

Adapting to changes in the marketplace

Customers have become increasingly conditioned to expect extraordinary and personalised omnichannel interactions – whether through web, mobile, telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store – when buying a product or a service, and estate agencies should look to become increasing digitally enabled to meet customer expectations. This had led to a surge in technological advances in recent years, many of which can provide agencies with the tools they need to holistically upgrade their operations to boost business opportunities and growth. 

What’s that got to do with being digitally enabled? Well in a difficult race to manage enquiry volume at all hours, chase new instructions in seller’s market, and retain the business of vendors and landlords to ensure ongoing revenue, agencies need all the technology they need that can give them an edge over the competition – because if you’re not embracing technology, your competitors will be.

All of this is wrapped up in a digital future that is very present to the here and now, with other exciting stuff on the way. We’re now in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a global shift towards the use of digital technology that will drive competitive advantage, largely pushed forwards by four specific technological developments: High-Speed Mobile Internet, AI and Automation, the use of Big Data Analytics, and Cloud Technology, along with other driving force technologies include Blockchain, Fast Computer Processing, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

Technology is leaping forwards

How these technologies apply to the digitally enabled future for agents is broad, covering all angles of service delivery and customer experience. To give a brief overview of some of the highlights, the benefits really do start off from the inside in terms of empowering agency staff to serve customers and grow their careers.

Customer engagement is really at the core of what the digitally enabled future holds for agencies. Whatever industry you’re in, customers want seamless, easy access to what’s important to them, whether it’s by web or mobile. And I’m sure many here would agree, when it comes to the big financial decision of buying, selling, renting or letting a property, you want to have the best digital tools on hand to allow multiple touchpoints of engagement; from omni-channel experiences to mobile-first technologies that enhances services for agents and their customers on-the-go.

Increased automation (it’s not a scary word) is a key driver behind this. With back-end tasks and workflows steadily being streamlined with automation, from KPI reporting to sending out marketing communications to potential vendors, agents will have more time to focus on the customer with face-to-face interactions.

Increased efficiency is a familiar baseline here, with workflows to automate the mundane and save agents time, creating space so that agents can win more business and nurture relationships. But if this sounds like old hat to the many agencies, the next leap forward will be greater AI-driven experiences that go beyond the automation of workflows, with communicatory leaps such as AI-enhanced chatbots that use your data to facilitate customer engagement at any time of the day.

Having the choice to pick from a range of different solutions to build your own tech stack is at the heart of the digital platform of the future. In the technology world we’re all about building ecosystems for our customers that enable agencies to choose only the technology that’s right for their business. Having a Platform as a Service (PaaS) is central to this digital future; such a platform can offer agents and their customers a complete end-to-end journey through the various processes from enquires to transactions, payments, communication and more.

Given that the average estate agency now integrates with around 20 different PropTechs for various functions, app-centric PropTech ecosystems will be hugely important to help streamline the process of integrating all that technology within your business in one place. With many agencies relying on multi-vendor solutions for sales, lettings, and increase property management, along with all the add-on PropTech services on top, having all that technology with a digital platform ecosystem will enrich daily functions without adding to the costs of having a multitude of separate systems to integrate.

Finally in the age of increasing digital threats, cyber-security will have a big part to play in the digitally enabled future, one in which touchpoints are potentially weak points for ransomware, hacks and reputational risk that endanger both your customers’ data and your own, potentially opening agents up to high penalties for breaches. Security is table stakes for every digitally enabled industry and one in which PropTech suppliers need to ensure that they can provide comfort and protection to agents when using their services.   

Have you got a holistic digital strategy in place?

All of the aforementioned technological developments are going to become vital for businesses looking to secure future growth and competitive advantage. Reading the above, you might think, haven’t we got most of that tech already? And indeed, your business might, but not all agencies have the same level of digital maturity – according to Deloitte, while 87% of companies think digital will disrupt their industry, but only 44% are prepared for potential digital disruption.

Estate agency is not consistently regarded as an industry that has readily embraced change. The industry is making considerable progress with its digital transformation, but full-scale adoption of new technologies is still quite far out. According to KPMG’s Global PropTech Survey 2019, real estate companies are increasingly embracing digital: 58% of respondents have a digital strategy in place, up from 52% in both 2018 and 2017.

But times change, and although the investment required (time, resource, financial et al.) to embrace new technology and become more digitally enabled might seem like a lot of unnecessary leg work, it’s worth it, which is why having a holistic digital transformation strategy in place is a must if you want to ready your business to embrace the technology you need to achieve your strategic goals.

Ultimately, embracing these new technologies isn’t about changing traditional estate agency, it’s about bringing in new traditions to adapt to the evolving market. And in the evolving market, everyone can be a winner.

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