There are those who embrace email, and there are those who don’t. And stuck in the middle between these groups are property managers. Mail was an early casualty in the digital revolution, and yet debate over when and to whom it should be sent persists. Why?
It’s about customer preferences versus business processes. The question, in other words, goes like this: if you have 250 properties in your portfolio, and one or two owners prefer to receive mail with a postage stamp on it rather than email, is it better to communicate with everyone via one system and send 250 letters? Or is it better to adapt your systems to cater for the two owners, meaning you can send two letters and just email the remaining 248?
We’ve made it sound simple, but we understand it’s not. Change is time-consuming, sometimes costly, and often stressful. Nonetheless, the future of communication is about meeting the customer where they want to be met. So if 248 people don’t particularly want to receive a physical letter, it might be time to contact them the way they want to be contacted.
In terms of legal weight, we've now reached the stage where electronic and paper transactions are basically equivalent. While wording varies, Australia’s States and Territories, and New Zealand all have electronic transactions laws in place (most of which are called The Electronic Transactions Act). Signatures, written approval, contracts—all of these are now validly in the electronic realm.
And they have been for nearly twenty years. So while mail and paper-based transactions have long ceased to be a legal necessity, it hasn't signalled the end for them either.
Paper's endurance is, in part at least, a customer preference thing. So many real estate agencies still have at least one client who loathes email and insists on paying by cheque. Insofar as those customers prefer to receive mail, real estate agencies will be obliged to send it.
But also in part, the legal status of electronic transactions took a long time to gain trust in the real estate industry. Ten years ago, that seemed like a pretty reasonable position to take, given the high value of contracts property managers deal with day in, day out. But digital is ready to be trusted. And indeed, the time is ripe for more change.
It’s time, in other words, to ditch the one-size-fits-all approach to communication.
Currently, property managers are communicating with contacts via email, mail, and SMS. So what's next? And what will be the first change?
The next frontiers are increasingly likely to be portals, apps, and other purpose-built means of communication. What we can say decisively is that the future is digital, and that sometime soon, snail mail will no longer be used to communicate with existing customers. But customers will continue to expect better and better services, and that will have an impact on how they communicate with property managers. So the end of snail mail does not necessarily mean a flat migration to a new system.
As more options emerge for contact, you’ll likely need to offer more channels to customers: not fewer. It’s time, in other words, to ditch the one-size-fits-all approach to communication. Trying to reach every customer through only one channel, like email or paid postage, is a fool's errand. Because we're calling it: there is not ever again going to be one communication system to rule them all.
In 2011, the first Kindle was released, and it caused a stir among book lovers. The fear was that a digital book spelled a mass extinction event for all physical books. Option A (the e-book) would totally and utterly replace option B (the physical book).
It turned out that some people preferred physical books, and others preferred e-books. Customer preferences dictated the outcome, and now we have more options, not fewer.
The same goes for communication channels today, and into the future. Digital evolution means moving from having only option A (letters), to having that and options B (email), and C (portals), and D (apps), and so on. And some customers are going to prefer different options. So where email makes sense? Send email. Where mail makes sense: use mail. And where other channels make sense? You get the idea.
With more smartphone apps, online portals, cloud-based communications and an avalanche of alternatives rising up to replace email, the chances of communicating with your entire customer base through one medium is looking less and less likely. So why keep trying to do it that way?
The best way to ensure the long-term sustainability of your business is to embrace change. You’re sick of hearing it, but finding a way to meet rising customer expectations is how you can stay competitive. Because if you’re the last one to change, you’ll be the first one to fail.
As Thomas Edison is famed to have said, “There’s a way to do it better—find it.”
Wondering what to read next? Learn about the five qualities of highly effective real estate software migrations, or read about our new Console Cloud permissions and rent roll insights tools.