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Alto Q&A - how changes made during lockdown set this agent up for success

What estate agency is going to look like in the post-pandemic world, and what the role of the physical branch will be, continues to split opinions.

However, with the UK housing market currently moving twice as fast as it was in 2016, is a more flexible way of working helping agents to cope with an increasingly busy workload? Or is it back to the office and a return to ‘business as usual’?

A couple of months after the easing of government restrictions, Zoopla sat down with Jonny Roberts, director at Kimmitt and Roberts, to find out. He talks them through the changes the business had to make during lockdown, and how this helped prepare his agency to deal with one of the busiest sales markets in over a decade.

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Tell us a bit about Kimmitt and Roberts. Where are your staff currently working?

We’re a family-run firm of two generations, with three branches based in the North East of England. Since myself and David Kimmitt took over the directorship from our respective fathers, Les Roberts and Bill Kimmitt, we’ve been looking at ways to modernise the way we do things - but with the same principles that the company had when it was started back in 1993.

All of our staff members are now working back at the office unless they test positive for coronavirus, or if they suspect they have it prior to a test. In those circumstances, most of our staff are now able to work remotely since our switch over to Alto, which means they can log in to the property management system from anywhere.

How have your working patterns and work environment changed in the last 18 months?

We’ve taken on extra members of staff to cope with demand and also restructured how our calls are handled. All calls now go through a central hub of staff and if all of those team members are busy, they overflow to the individual branches to make sure they all get answered. Alto has also helped in this respect too, as staff can answer queries about any property no matter which branch they’re working from.

Has your work-life balance got better or worse? Did restrictions make things easier or harder?

Our work-life balance has probably improved in a sense that we’re working more efficiently now, which means less nights staying behind to catch up on admin or post.

We also now work a lot more remotely when out on the road and between appointments. For example, the transfer of property imagery is now done via cloud-based solutions, meaning that we don’t have to be in the office as much.

Initially, I think restrictions made things more difficult with communication between members of staff taking slightly longer. But since we reconfigured how we did a lot of our daily tasks, things have become a lot easier, even when staff members work from home.

What has been the most challenging aspect from a work-life point of view?

The most challenging aspect has probably been the sheer surge in demand for homes, which has increased the number of transactions we’re dealing with on a monthly basis.

During the busiest times our staff took less annual leave so they could help out, and ended up carrying some holidays over to the following year as a result.

We also decided to conduct video walkthroughs on all our properties to help reduce the number of ‘tire kicker’ viewings, so that we can be more focused and efficient with our time and efforts.

How is your agency coping with such a busy market, and how has Alto supported your business in the process?

As well as recruiting extra staff, Alto has helped us deal with the increased demand and ever-changing restrictions. It’s given us the flexibility to make remote working a success because everything is completely cloud-based, meaning the software doesn’t have to be downloaded to specific workstations.

We’ve also been better prepared to deal with all the extra admin because of all the handy email features in Alto, such as read-receipt notifications and group email options. And the fact that property records automatically update as changes are made has saved us a huge amount of time compared to our previous CRM system.

The software also helped us to reduce our post by around 80%! A lot of our documents needed to be posted prior to moving over to Alto, but now pretty much every document can be sent from the system via email.

What made you move to Alto?

We moved from another provider for more flexibility, as well as the solution being very cost effective compared with our previous system.

This has allowed us to invest funds in other parts of the company,  such as the recruitment of extra staff to deal with such high levels of demand.

Do you have any productivity tips for other agents who are struggling to manage a surge in demand?

Embrace the right technology and certainly do not be afraid of change.

We were with the same CRM and telephone communications providers for 10-20 years prior to last year, when we decided to change both. And we’ve never looked back.

Investing in the right tools to maximise your staff’s output is a no-brainer, regardless of being in a pandemic or not.

And of course, recruiting the right staff is essential.

What would you do differently if you could rewind to before the pandemic?

We would make all the changes sooner and not hesitate.

How do you expect the business to look in the next 6 months or so?

We’ve already returned to the office and we’re at full steam with the number of sales we’re agreeing. We’re also seeing a steady increase in staff output now we’re more settled with our organisation’s systems and working patterns.

We hope this continues.

Want to find out more about what Alto could do for your business? Book a free, no-obligation virtual demo.

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