Data. Is it still a hot topic? Not setting your world on fire? Well, it should be.
Not the data itself, necessarily, but what it can do for your business. The information you hold about your clients can transform your lettings agency’s fortunes, for better or for worse. So, it’s about time that we put aside our preconceptions about data being a boring subject and realised how exciting – and scary – data really is and more importantly, how it can be used to make lettings agencies better.
The double-edged sword
Data’s a lot like a house. An asset if you own it outright, but a liability if you have a mortgage. Obviously, it gets more complicated if you then rent out the mortgaged house, but for the purpose of this metaphor, fundamentally for many agencies their data is an untapped asset.
Unless a lettings firm is using a platform-based solution like PropCo, their people are not going to be able to pull out the correct, timely information they need. It’s as simple as that. Our clients often ask us to create intelligent dashboards for them so that they can see exactly the information they need as a business, to make the right decisions, both strategically and tactically.
But what happens if data is not managed well? Not only do agencies not get the information they need to be able to make well-informed decisions, but they also face falling foul of GDPR and the slew of regulatory changes introduced over the past few years, not to mention potential data breaches. At TBL we are fully aware of our duty of care when it comes to processing our clients’ data with robust security and full compliance with GDPR and all the other necessary legislation. The cost of our insurance premiums as a data processor is evidence enough of how important looking after your data is!
Diamonds in the rough
Stellar customer service is now a necessity, not a nice to have. In a highly competitive marketplace and with much higher expectations on the part of clients, amazing customer service needs to come as standard. If you use the data you hold well, then pro-active rather than reactive customer service becomes the norm.
How do you achieve that? You need to have a single view. You need to be able to see a list of all current tenants in one place, as a simple example. It’s too time-consuming and not practical to have to interrogate 10 different pieces of software and 50 records to put together the one list that you need. Siloed data, where information is gathered in lots of different places and there’s no easy way of getting what you need out, is the biggest barrier to tapping into the value hidden away in your information. That’s why lettings agencies that want to scale need to have a platform-based system like PropCo. There’s one, consolidated, source of data for everything and that means all the information that you need, can be found in a mouse click or two.
What does harnessing the opportunities created by data look like in reality? Once you have all your data in one place, then you can start to slice it in different ways to get different insights. In PropCo we already have automatic reminders for things like EPCs, property licenses and gas safety certificates.
But the real magic happens when agency come together to work with their tech platform provider. Working together in this way can lead to ground-breaking collaborations that can, say, forecast and plan – with automated scheduling and reminders – for when a dishwasher in a rental property is likely to fail, or when the house will need re-painting. On the people side, the data could be used to keep an eye on tenant sentiment, flagging up to agents when tenants might be unhappy because of the tone of their emails or if a maintenance request hasn’t been actioned within a certain timeframe. That frees up agents to concentrate their time where it is most effectively spent, rather than guessing what’s going on and getting a nasty shock when tenants just doesn’t renew their contract.
The level of insight that’s possible into anticipating landlords and tenants needs, all enabled, and the resulting processes automated by tech, is staggering. Whichever aspects of your customer service you want to improve, harnessing the power of platform technology can be transformational. If you’re working with a platform tech provider and you have questions about aspects of your business that you want answered, sit down with that provider and ask them how you can access those answers. As data technologists, they’ll be able to work with your team to make that happen.
Managing the risks
As data processors on a massive scale, with our PropCo platform handling some £2bn of rental transactions annually, the TBL team is obsessive about keeping data safe and secure. We ensure that we only process data for our clients that is essential. Data can become a liability not just through major issues like data breaches or GDPR or other legislative missteps, but from simple everyday errors like entering the tenant’s name incorrectly into the system and then handling a request to fix that. Using an intelligent platform solution with a tenant portal removes those daily, low-level issues that create admin hassle for agents and irritation for customers.
Coming back to GDPR, when the regulations were introduced in 2018, TBL introduced a raft of measures into the PropCo platform to ensure that the highest standards of custodianship were met by us, as data processors. Then we turned our attention to making sure we enabled our customers to be good data custodians too.
It’s only too easy for lettings agencies to hold onto landlords’ or tenants’ personal information for too long. Automating that process and auto-erasing redundant data through your tech platform is a complete game-changer, saving agents time, money, and hassle. Right To Rent has been another data problem for lettings agencies, requiring them to hold very sensitive personal data, but only while it’s needed. That’s another area where great platform tech can almost completely remove that liability from lettings agencies, automatically.
Data is crucial to lettings agency success
There are a few important points to finish up with. First, if you’re looking for a new tech provider, make sure they are diligent about data protection. If you have any doubts or questions about how your precious data is going to be managed, talk to your provider until you’re convinced that they will keep it safe. Any serious tech firm will be all over data management. Look out for ISO 27001 certification, the information security standard, when you’re considering different suppliers.
Agencies need to build a long-term relationship with their tech supplier. A relationship based on trust and an understanding of the agency’s goals and vulnerabilities. Without this level of partnership, the tech firm can’t focus all their knowledge and experience into solving the agency’s problems and enabling their growth. Agencies also need to invest in their own people who understand data analysis and data management, to do the best job in partnership with their tech supplier.
The other thing to hold on to is the importance of data for today’s lettings agencies. Data holds the key to unlocking almost unimaginable opportunity, in every area of a business. But it also brings significant risks that demand diligent management. So, what is data for your lettings business? An asset or a liability?
About Adam Blaxter Paliwala
Bringing a pragmatic approach to the deployment of next-generation technology, Adam combines a technical and analytical academic background with a passion for futurism, social systems, and data analysis. Technology Blueprint innovation committee chair and head of programs, Adam attends to the fast-moving global PropTech marketplace and its relationship to the broader tech landscape.
Chief Executive Officer
Bringing a pragmatic approach to the deployment of next-generation technology, Adam combines a technical and analytical academic background with a passion for futurism, social systems, and data analysis. Technology Blueprint innovation committee chair and head of programs, Adam attends to the fast-moving global PropTech marketplace and its relationship to the broader tech landscape.View all posts by Adam Blaxter Paliwala