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Robotics, It's All About People

Posted by Matthew Burnham in: Real Estate, robotic process automation, Automation, Artificial Intelligence

In a recent blog post, I wrote a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek introduction to your new colleague, the one that was always up for the boring, mundane and repetitive work, because, at Open Box, we’ve always believed that machines will add most value when they work alongside humans. And increasingly, I’m hearing the wider conversation shift away from talk of the “rise of the machines” and robots taking all our jobs, to how machines and people will work together, and that the combination will enable things that neither could achieve alone.

Machines will add most value when they work alongside humans

Interestingly, this mashup plays out by giving you the capabilities to treat your two most important stakeholder groups – your occupiers and your employees – more like people, meeting their evolving needs, keeping them happier, and more loyal.

Let’s look at your occupiers first. To stay relevant, twenty-first century landlords are starting thinking of their occupiers as customers. And, looking to the retail world for inspiration, CRE organisations have the potential to tap into consumer trends, such as personalized engagement, and harness technology to better position their assets as the go-to CRE provider for the next generation of businesses.

This could include any of the following trends:

  • Talk to me. Consumers are increasingly comfortable talking to their technology, look at Siri, Alexa and the increasing use of chatbots. Why should they make a phone call, send a fax, or even an email to get a piece of information that should be quite literally be at their beck and call?
  • Know me. Despite the furore over the GDPR and the protection of personal information, many consumers, especially millennials, are comfortable sharing information if they get something of value for it.
  • Make it quick. Things just work, and work fast, in consumers’ digital worlds, and they expect the same from organisations. Systems, processes and responses need to be joined up. For instance, calling a helpdesk (or probably engaging with a chatbot, see point 1) shouldn’t require multiple identification checks, repeating the details, or reminding the service provider about the history of a transaction.
  • Easy and value for money. Millennials are often accused of wanting something for nothing, which is not entirely fair. But they do want value and a greater reward at a lower cost. Take WeWork’s flexible pricing: at a fraction of the cost of kitting out and running an independent office, a small startup team can get all the trappings of a full-service office, with additional benefits.
  • Engagement. Do you still address communications to occupiers with “Dear Valued Tenant” or something similar? Please stop, and tap into the many digital ways of personalizing and tailoring your communications, and then start looking at how you can tailor other engagements.

Twenty-first century landlords are starting thinking of their occupiers as customers

Did you notice something about these trends? Not only will they improve your customers’ experience, they will save you time and money, and make you more efficient in the long run. Take chatbots: if customers can quickly get the information they need on the go, the pressure on your support staff will be reduced and they can spend more time keeping customers happy in other ways. Happier customers all round, who become loyal customers and brand ambassadors for you, ultimately increasing the value of your assets into the future.

But, you need to put the foundations in place to be able to act in a more customer-centric way. From joined up systems and processes, to digital-everything, to automating tasks that are still unnecessarily manual.

And this is where the other significant stakeholder group comes into play: your employees. The workforce of the future is changing fast and demanding companies work in better ways. While different generations in the workplace have always rubbed each other up the wrong way, something else is going on today, thanks to the rapid pace of change. Think about it, senior members of staff still probably remember when a desk-top computer was a novelty, and getting a laptop was only for the selected few. Then think about people entering the workplace today: they’ve worked with laptops with keyboards, tablets with touchscreens, and are now getting comfortable using voice commands to drive technology. And technology itself is part of the fabric of life, and is fairly unremarkable to this generation.

The workforce of the future is changing fast and demanding companies work in better ways

These new workplace entrants, and especially the top talent among them, don’t want to do mundane, repetitive work. Firstly, because it’s boring, and the rest of their life is fast-paced and on-demand. But also, because they know there is a better way to do things, which would free them up to do the more meaningful, impactful work that keeps them interested and engaged. So, it’s going to be very difficult, and expensive, to attract and keep top talent, if you expect humans to do these dull and repetitive, but essential tasks.

So, it looks like there are two trends, one external and one internal, resulting in the same challenge: how to do repetitive tasks more efficiently and cost-effectively, with a view to being a future-looking organisation. In the past, offshore business process outsourcing (BPO) may have been the go-to solution, but this is changing for many Real Estate companies.

Instead, welcoming the machines into your teams, working hand-in-hand with them, with each playing to their strengths, solves this challenge. Automating non-value added, but necessary, services frees up your team to do more strategic, customer-facing work. This keeps your team happy and allows them to do the things that make your organisation a customer-centric one. It also builds the foundations of a better, technology driven service for your customers.

As I said: robotics, it’s all about people.

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