Digital technology has paved the way for a host of dynamic property technology (PropTech) start-ups. With more established businesses, including housebuilders, now developing their own applications too, they need a workforce capable of delivering change – without losing the values that made them a household name in the first place. Contributor Nigel Smith, Group HR director – Miller Homes.
Perhaps it is down to the size of the purchase that our customers make that housebuilding has not undergone the same kind of digital transformation seen in sectors such as retail, banking or even the rental market in recent years. When entering into a legally-binding contract, and investing hundreds of thousands of pounds, it’s not surprising that people still want to physically view their chosen property, seek advice from experts and ask a trusted friend or relative for a second opinion.
While the home buying journey might look more traditional, that’s not to say it hasn’t been re-shaped by the PropTech trend. Armed with a smartphone, consumers are now sizing up rooms, arranging furniture, securing mortgages and exploring the local area, all from the comfort of their sofa. In addition, the rise of Instagram over the past few years means that many house hunters are now using the popular app for home interiors inspiration and showcasing their new home to their followers.
Digital technology has the power to improve the buying experience, making it more flexible and convenient for those whose busy lives leave them with little spare time. However, with so much innovation in PropTech down to agile start-ups, established businesses must be just as responsive to changing lifestyles and customer expectations.
As an HR director, this means we need teams that possess the right technical skills to work with and develop new platforms. It requires a change in mindset too, with staff becoming more aware of what the complete customer journey looks like today, and broadening the scope of many roles. We all have a part to play to ensure the customer journey meets our requirements and the customers’ expectations.
It’s also important that any investment in technology doesn’t cause businesses to lose sight of the customer service or communication skills that helped them build their reputation in the first place. This is a journey that we, as a company, went on when we launched an online reservations service last year.
Our aim was to make it easy for people to secure their chosen property via the website, rather than only being able to do so at the marketing suite. That said, our customers will still need to complete the purchase process in person, so the skills our sales team bring – such as empathy, communication and attention-to-detail – are as important as ever. It is our responsibility to make sure staff understand how the technology fits into their role, and whilst it adds value to their work it mustn’t detract from the important element of personal communication.
Digital tools are widely seen as the key to breaking down departmental silos which can be present in large companies where staff tend to communicate by email or phone.
Our site managers, for example, are in regular contact with internal support teams, suppliers and customers, keeping each one updated about the progress of the build and ordering the right materials at the right time. Making this process as efficient as possible led us to develop an app that allows more accurate recording of information and reduces the amount of paperwork generated on site.
From an employee experience perspective, a simple tool like this makes their working lives easier and more productive.
For Miller Homes, technology represents a real opportunity to enhance the house buying process both from the staff perspective as well as for our customers.
The property sector is currently going through some exciting changes, but there is no reason why, with the technical skills in place, large organisations can’t be as innovative as start-ups too. However, that does not mean simply discarding existing processes and introducing changes that possibly unsettle staff and customers, particularly those who are more traditionally-minded. In an industry like housebuilding, where trust, clarity and honesty are essential, new tools should be developed in line with company values, so teams feel fully supported in delivering them.