There are only a few industries left in which automation isn’t threatening job roles. That’s a pretty scary thought, right? Well, don’t panic just yet.
According to The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, it is jobs that are highly reliant on social and negotiation skills that are less threatened by automation.
Good news for real estate agents!
BUT! If you and your team are too busy performing mundane repeatable tasks while your competitors are the ones who are face-to-face with clients and prospects, delivering a better customer experience, your chances of being disrupted are highly likely.
On this episode of Real Estate Pros, we interview Ian Campbell, founder and CEO of Aire – a software company focusing on solving big problems for the real estate industry. Ian and his team have built the first ever digital assistant for real estate, Rita, who can outperform a human counterpart at a range of tasks and deliver an amazing customer experience across digital channels. Ian shares his background in the industry and we look at how artificial intelligence is shaping the future of real estate.
About Ian Campbell
Ian Campbell has over 15 years experience in the property industry and has worked for some of the biggest brands in real estate. Ian established Aire. in 2017 with a goal to push the boundaries of how technology is applied in the real estate industry.
As well as building some cool stuff, Ian has consulted to some of the biggest brands in real estate, including Ray White Group, CoreLogic, Pricefinder, homesales.com.au, onthehouse.com.au, Console and Excel Group. Ian has held senior executive positions for the Ray White Group and Onthehouse Group in the areas of product development, sales, marketing and strategy.
Josh Cobb: Ian, thanks for joining us.
Ian Campbell: No problem Mr. Cobb. Great to be here.
Josh Cobb: Now full disclosure to all our listeners that we’ve known each other for quite some time and for those of you … For those of our listeners who don’t know where that connection makes sense, both Ian and I grew up cutting out teeth playing in bands. Ian was quite a famous lead singer and rhythm guitarist. And I was fortunate enough that I got to spend most of my time at the back of the stage as a drummer, so called musician. It’s a …
Ian Campbell: Needless to say, neither of our professional music careers turned out as we had hoped.
Josh Cobb: Well it turns out you need a little bit of talent to be a muse so …
Ian Campbell: A lot. And you got to be prepared to get paid in beer and chips for twenty years.
Josh Cobb: That’s it. Right? So we moved into the real estate industry, which I think there’s a lot of musicians in the marketing space specifically in real estate I’ve found, I don’t know if you’ve noticed that yourself?
Ian Campbell: Yeah, I have actually. Yeah it’s quite odd isn’t it? Marketing and technology, a lot of wannabe muses who just realise that they didn’t have enough talent.
Josh Cobb: Yes, moving into an industry where you do need a lot of talent, which is real estate sales, real estate marketing, and all of the above. Ian, for those of our listeners who don’t know who you are, they’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, gives us a background. Start right at the start of how you started in real estate and how you got to where you are today.
Ian Campbell: I did it by accident actually. I come from a technical background of back in the day we were dealing with SQL Server and funny enough, trust accounting solutions for the legal industry, I actually landed a job with the Ray White head office back in 2003. My brief or the role that I had to fill there was really to start to look at ways that they could use data strategically as a group. That’s where it all started.
Josh Cobb: When was that? What year are we talking?
Ian Campbell: 2003. It was an interesting time to join the industry as well because you literally had RE/MAX come in the market with the independent contractor model, causing significant disruption to traditional franchise models particularly. It was a really good introduction. You saw what it takes to really adapt to those kinds of conditions. I think 15 years later almost you’re just starting to see other business models come in and have the same impact. For me, I drew on a lot of that experience in that time, 15 years ago and …
Josh Cobb: You started in the Ray White corporate team in software, technology, marketing?
Ian Campbell: Data basically. 102 years of history and not one property address digitised.
Josh Cobb: In 2003?
Ian Campbell: Yeah 100%. For me it was like, oh my God, how did this happen, and really led that mission. I spent a long time there and then wanted to branch out and learn. For me, I wanted to spread my wings and find out what life was like outside of the yellow brand.
I went into consultancy, which was fantastic, got exposed to a lot of different businesses and problems, not just in real estate. Had an opportunity to join a company called the On The House Group, which was a publicly listed company, who were looking to do some interesting things in tech. For me it was an opportunity to take my real estate history, my technology background and put it into a rather large company and see what would happen.
Josh Cobb: On The House Group, for people that don’t know, what are some of the products that might be familiar with the On The House Group, if they’re not familiar with the parent company. What are some of the products that they might recognise?
Ian Campbell: They own Console property management software plus the CRM, Residex, the data company and they also owned OnTheHouse.com.au, which was the portal. Very interesting company. It just didn’t have the legs so subsequently it got bought by Macquarie and is now de-listed and Macquarie really just focused on the Console business now moving forward.
Josh Cobb: Your role there at Console, tell us about that.
Ian Campbell: My role was director of products and sales. I kicked off the strategy and the execution of migrating to the Cloud. This was before Macquarie took over. It’s a bit of an interesting scenario. I learnt a lot about the perils of listed companies and …
Josh Cobb: Listed software companies is another … That as an additional …
Ian Campbell: Listed software companies that are trying to make it to compete against in the portal space. Talk about baptism of fire, anyone that’s trying to or has been involved in a competing portal play knows just how hard it is to get it right. The great thing about onthehouse.com.au, what they actually managed to achieve was consumer awareness. One of the few portals that was getting significant traffic. It was the third largest trafficked site.
Josh Cobb: Onthehouse.com.au?
Ian Campbell: Yes, just …
Josh Cobb: Let’s just put that in context, the third largest trafficked, did you say, real estate portal. What sort of traffic you led to the site or can you tell us the numbers, what sort of traffic?
Ian Campbell: I don’t know. It was third to realestate.com.au, domain and then OntheHouse.
Josh Cobb: Not a lot of people would know that either. Not a lot of people would remember onthehouse.com.au but …
Ian Campbell: Agents didn’t know about it. This was their problem is that they go on direct to consumers. They hoped the reason why they were getting such traction was because they were the first ones to offer the AVMs or the price valuations for free against property.
Josh Cobb: They had not opted either, it was just type your address in and here you go.
Ian Campbell: Effectively, yes. They got all the licences to pick up data and built their own AVMs and that’s effectively what drove the traffic, is that consumers all of a sudden found this site where they could and get some indication of price. It was a valuable service. They were the first ones to do that, and that’s what drove all the traffic. They didn’t spend any money on advertising, it was all word of mouth. They had an exceptional SEO strategy that …
Josh Cobb: They would with every address in the country.
Ian Campbell: That was it. Anyone that typed in an address into Google generally, On The House was number one, within the top three results. Interesting lesson and often when we talk about portals, we talk about the chicken and the egg, what do you need first, you need the content first or the audience first. I guess these guys found a way of niching in a particular very specific type content.
Josh Cobb: What’s the number one question is how much is my property worth, is the number one question any home owner wants to know at the end of the day, right?
Ian Campbell: And any buyer, what’s the price? They specialised in basically providing the content to answer that question and that’s what drove their early adoption. Where it fell down is the ability to monetize effectively. Obviously, a lot of contention with the industry around that particular piece of content, which really was probably more just education than anything around what an AVM is, what it is not and how to use it your advantage as an agent. It was a really interesting time, I learned a lot about commercialisation of technology and how to do technology at scale and also …
Josh Cobb: Project managing teams and the rest.
Ian Campbell: Yes, I had about 50 staff under me at one point and managing multiple projects. About half way through my stint at On The House, the company restructured and I go put on the Console team. Console for the very loyal customers, Console was a great brand. I didn’t know a lot about it before I joined the company, but quickly you came to appreciate the loyalty in the brand to a lot of its customers. You also quickly became acutely aware how neglected the product had been for a number of years.
This is an important lesson to any business, is don’t try and do everything, you really have to focus, you really do. If you’re going to do something as ambitious us, let’s go and compete against the major portals, you don’t need distractions. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons there was trying to do too much, certainly with Console it took a long time to refocus the business to put the energy and effort back in and all of that has had to start with the customer. Getting back out and talking with them, engaging with them and getting feedback.
Josh Cobb: I might come back to that in a little bit. I’ve got a reference to a podcast I was listening to with Gary Keller from Keller Williams, but I’ll come back to that. Fast forward to today, you’ve left Console, it was last year 2016.
Ian Campbell: Almost a year to the day.
Josh Cobb: Yes. Now, AIRE, tell us a little bit about that for our listeners who haven’t heard about it and what you’re working on and what’s getting you fired up.
Ian Campbell: It was a sabbatical for a long time. When I went into On The House, I knew I wanted to effectively just use that as a platform to go on and do my own thing once I figured out what that was. To be honest, it still took me quite some to time to figure that out. I had a couple of stabs at some products, what I call traditional software, which is user interface, functionality, does this particular thing for your business.
Josh Cobb: We should stress, it’s all focused on real estate. This has been the industry you’ve worked in for 15 years almost.
Ian Campbell: I love it. I think real estate is such an important industry. Everyone has got a connection to real estate, particularly in Australia. I just love the industry. I thought about going outside but a lot of the people I knew and enjoy working with are in the industry. I’m here for the foreseeable future.
I thought about traditional software, the thing that got me fired up was the realisation that I’m a metrics, I’m a data man. I’m a numbers man, I like to look at KPIs or look at data to inform my decision making, that is my data geared to my heart, that’s who I am. The thing that struck me … I remember the project, we were looking at, Console has an app for routine inspections. This app is like most apps, it’s a form on an iPad basically. It’s the extent of it. We did this project, we’re going to rebuild it, we needed some feedback. A lot of what product development about is research. If you’re going to do it well, you need to talk to the users, talk to customers, a bunch of different, very specialised techniques to understand exactly how to knuckle down the problem.
We went in there and talked to a bunch of our existing users and what was interesting … We actually talked to people that weren’t using it to find out why not and what were you doing instead. What was interesting is, you need to evaluate the business point of view about what is this particular product helping me to do. If you think about a routine inspection, if you don’t know property management, it’s the same in sales. I’ve got experience across both sides. In property management specifically it’s about making sure the information is accurate, getting in and out of a house as fast as you can because you’ve got another 10 to get to during the day and you know as an ex property manager. Also then finally it’s the customer service component back to the landlord, what is the presentation back to the customer and what level of service does that represent. When you think about routine inspections it’s probably one of the key customer touch points you’ve got as a landlord.
Josh Cobb: Probably the most regular in property management too.
Ian Campbell: It’s such a big … If you think, “Oh God, it’s been two years since I’ve had a routine inspection.” All of a sudden you go, “What is going on?”
Josh Cobb: It’s like servicing your car, you only ever talk to the dealer when you’re getting your car serviced. It’s the same thing.
Ian Campbell: Yes, but it’s such a critical touch point. If you don’t do it well, that can really impact or if something goes wrong. Anyway, you evaluate. We’re looking at those three factors, how fast, how efficient is our product making these guys at doing their routines, what’s the quality of the output in terms of customer experience effectively.
The realisation was that there was one particular person that smashed it on both of those outcomes and he wasn’t using an app. This guy was effectively going around and dictating into his phone, taking photos and then sending that … Actually, he did it himself. When he got back to the office, he would simply just like old school dictation for anyone that’s as old as me. You remember dictifying. Sat there, typed it up, beautiful document, presented it well, and for him, he could pop that out in half the time of what he could use in the app.
It was an important lesson to me about, don’t get carried away with software. The industry really needs to start to challenge these stuff. What I see is and I started to go down this path, what I see is the next bright shiny thing coming into the market, the next app. It prompted us to do a bit of work around what that technology stack looked like in a real estate agency, and the average agency has 16 different software subscriptions in their business, the average. The worst I’ve seen is about 45. There’s double ups.
Josh Cobb: Then you break it down to the agent level and they’ve probably got their own as well, right?
Ian Campbell: I was just about to say that, that’s not including what the agents use themselves. Inevitably what you get is you get this confused mess of software within a real estate agency. None of which shifts the needle.
Josh Cobb: Software twister.
Ian Campbell: Yes, it’s like software roulette. The thing is, none of it has actually shifted the needle. If you come look at some of the really key metrics, and this is my life for a long time was looking at productivity metrics of agents in different roles. If you think about property management, the old school, how many properties per property manager ratio, no one shifted that. No piece of software has shifted that and yet it should. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. This is where I ended up doing what I’m doing.
We research and a lot of time researching AI, artificial intelligence, but also discipline is called RPA or robotic process automation, which has been around for years. We picked the best elements of RPA, AI and what we know in terms of big data and data analytics techniques. We combined those into one service with the goal of creating … We’ve had to go back to the drawing board around explain this technology because when we started, we started talking about AI and big data and RPA and people would just go, “Oh my God, what are you talking about.” That was really hard. That’s how Rita was born.
Rita is our digital employee. All of a sudden, when you start talking about the resources your business has. Everyone knows the term human resources. You then need to look at technology resources in exactly the same way. How do I look at how yo manage human resources, every single human resource in your company I.e, every employee has a job description, they have a set of tasks they need to complete, they’ve got reporting lines, they’ve KPIs, they’ve got metrics, that’s if you do it well. Not many people do but do it to the extent where it’s best practise.
They’re the basic ingredients for getting the most out of your people and xyour technology resources. That’s the approach we’ve taken is that, we talk to a business, we talk about the problem they’re trying to solve, the business problem, not what they think is the business problem, which is often the symptom and we engineer a technical resource being Rita. We engineer Rita to solve that problem in the most effective, efficient way possible that it delivers on efficiencies and also significantly improve customer experience.
Josh Cobb: Going back a step to what you were saying about the motivation behind staffing AIRE, the company and Rita being the product. You mentioned the tangled mess of technology. I think everyone listening to this will absolutely connect with that problem is that a bit of the principals. They’ve got maybe, the CRM for the office and then the individual agency using Microsoft Outlook or Spreadsheets or even their own CRM that they have gone and subscribed to. You’ve got the marketing team using an email marketing solution that doesn’t sync with the CRM. You then got a property manager who’s just joined the business who might be using another inspection software that doesn’t sync trust account package. That’s the perfect words to use, the tangled mess of technology.
Going back to that as the motivation behind starting AIRE, that’s your motivation for untangling that mess and making it a lot more simple. All the processes that all those pieces of software do, that is the goal is what I hear you saying?
Ian Campbell: 100%, is to get the return on investment on the technology that you use in your business. There’s a couple of reasons that people don’t … There’s a bunch of different causes and you don’t have to have 20 different CRMs to not use your CRM properly. Most people, if you have CRM, don’t use the CRM properly. Even that is a problem that we need to solve. Unfortunately, it comes down to humans. I’ll give you an example, Rita’s latest deployment is a …
Josh Cobb: Just to pause there for a minute, Rita, just so everyone’s not going, “Who’s this wonderful Rita we’re talking about.” Rita, just explain, break it down for people that Rita is not actually a person, it’s not a virtual assistant, it’s software hosted in the cloud somewhere that’s performing these tasks for you. Have I got that right?
Ian Campbell: It’s exactly right, yes.
Josh Cobb: You’ve just given it a name to make it feel like a real person in your business.
Ian Campbell: Just makes it easier because all of a sudden, you go from having to explain what AI is to just talking about the problem.
Josh Cobb: Would you say, if I use the example and some people listening will have heard of the Amazon Alexa or Siri. Most people have an iPhone, they would have heard Siri or if they’ve got an Android, it’s Google talk, I think.
Ian Campbell: Google assistant.
Josh Cobb: Google assistant. Essentially, any of those voice activated technologies that have a name, that’s essentially what Rita is. It’s not a real person, it’s a pice of technology that’s doing things for you. Have I got that right?
Ian Campbell: Sort of. Here’s the problem with AI is, it’s got so many different meanings and it’s a bit like big data, people thought as a term. When you talk about those home assistants, the Google homes, the Alexas, what they are is they are bots, and largely what they are doing is they’re using what is called natural language processing, which is discipline within the AI umbrella that effectively takes spoken language or conversations and can understand that and then perform actions off the back of that. If you’ve ever used chat bots on Facebook, that is what is called conversational AI.
That’s very different to say, the work that’s going on with autonomous vehicles for example. autonomous vehicles are using what’s called machine vision, which is taking visual input, analysing and all that. If you distil it down into its most simplest goal, artificial intelligence is about enabling a machine to make a decision.In the context of autonomous vehicles, the machine is taking in a whole bunch of visual inputs in order to make a decision bout whether to stop or go or turn a left or turn a right.
It’s effectively all it’s doing. That’s how we think about it is we think about how do we need to embed, what do we need train Rita on in terms of information and how to handle information in order to make decisions on behalf of the people she works for.
Josh Cobb: I would say most of the task that Rita performs, the software performs are repeatable tasks. Stuff that people are doing again and again in their business, that they need to be sitting at a desk to do in front of computer. I would assume they’re the kind of tasks that we’re talking about. Is that a fair call?
Ian Campbell: Yes, 100%.
Josh Cobb: Rita is not picking up the phone and calling your open home prospects. Not for example, not today.
Ian Campbell: Not yet, no. Another term that we like to use is called bot sourcing.
Josh Cobb: Bot sourcing.
Ian Campbell: Bot sourcing, yes. If you’re outsourcing now, i.e, you’re getting people in the Philippines or wherever to do a certain business, generally speaking, that can be done by a machine. Where it gets really exciting is not so much, just do what I’ve always done, you get rid of the human constraint. If you think about why are robots better than humans, there are bunch of reasons. I don’t want it to sound as if I’m building Skynet and I’m the father of terminator, I’m not, I’m just passionate about this idea that technology can be an enabler for a better life and productivity, welcome to the philosophical approach to this. If you think at a very basic level why are robots more effective than humans at doing work. I’ll tell you a story actually.
Josh Cobb: Go for it.
Ian Campbell: Do you know what the first calculator was?
Josh Cobb: No.
Ian Campbell: It was actually a human. It was a job called calculator. They were these people that actually, that was their job. Their job was to sit there and use abacus or whatever to do maths and they were calculators.
Josh Cobb: That would have been a bit cumbersome if you go into a maths exam, you have to take a person there.
Ian Campbell: It’s a simple idea. Here’s a basic example of, well, you would never ever, like today, you would just never consider if it’s basic maths you might do it in your head. For me, if I get more than three digits, I’m straight to my phone to use a calculator. It’s just stuff that computers are better at. If we talk about robots, why is Rita better than necessarily a human at doing things? She doesn’t have capacity issue. Modern technology, cloud based service means their computing power is unlimited effectively. That’s only going to increase exponentially.
Josh Cobb: Just on that, just to pause you there for a moment. You’re talking about compute power, if we just explain that for people and shout out to Chris Rolls and some of the work that he’s been doing in the industry. For those of you who don’t know who Chris Rolls is, go and Google him. That’s quite a fascinating and amazing story of how he grew his property management business back in the day. Some of the research that he shared it made a lot of sense to me where he talked about the exponential growth in computing power and why that’s given rise a lot of the digital frameworks that we now have.
If you think back, years and years ago when here’s the example, the size of the phone and how much computing power went into the old Nokia 3210 compared to the computing power in an iPhone is exponentially different, but we’re talking years. You shared the statistic around how computing power doubles every 18 months and it’s only doubling and then we get to a point of parity where the computing power is essentially the same as the human almost. Maybe not quite but … He used that example, it doubles every 18 months. He uses that at an example.
Ian Campbell: 2023 is when they predict that there will be a computer processor equal to the human brain, it has the capacity. It isn’t far away.
Josh Cobb: Going back to what you were saying before about Rita doesn’t have capacity issues is almost unlimited computing power, it’s only going to get faster and more intelligent moving forward.
Ian Campbell: That’s right. Th volume and the variety of … This is when you start talking about big data, you talk about 3Vs, volume, veracity and variety of data. With compute power and more and more data, you can process that data faster. This is why autonomous driving is becoming a reality far faster than what anyone predicted is because five years ago, the idea that you could have enough compute power to take in real time vision and process that and make a decision faster than a human or equivalent to a human in terms of the driving was unfathomable. They just didn’t think that was going to be possible. That’s now happening.
Josh Cobb: It’s only 10 years ago that you’d bought a car and it had a cassette player. These days, you’d be hard pressed to buy a car with a CD player in it. Most people get that, the fact that computing power is the driving force behind so many of these innovations. It’s just getting faster, the equipment or the infrastructure that houses all of this technology is getting smaller and according to the research that we talked about, it’s doubling every 18 months.
Ian Campbell: That’s called Moore’s law, read it up. It’s been around for a long time. The other thing that’s accelerating that growth today is obviously investment. Machine learning has been around since the 80s and neural networks were thought of first in the 80s and they’re actual unpopular. People thought that was stupid, that was a dumb idea in terms of technology and a way to solve problems. It’s only now that’s getting a resurgence because of again, computing people but also people are also throwing billion of dollars at it, these graduate data scientists it’s like an NFL draught. They’re getting massive offers of big money. There’s a lot of money going towards it.
If you think about practically, why is a human potentially better at doing a job particularly a mundane task, it doesn’t have a capacity issue, it works 24/7, it doesn’t need motivation. The problem with a mundane task is that they’re mundane and they’re really boring.
Josh Cobb: If Betty calls in sick then that task doesn’t get performed today or someone else may pick up the slack and may not know what that task is and it might not be a docket of hers. List goes on. I think everyone is feeling the pain of that moment right now is listening now.
Ian Campbell: What was interesting is the other thing that we don’t think about enough and realistically is we don’t think about peaks and troughs of a business. It wasn’t until we actually started putting regulators and agencies, we actually saw that visualised. For example in inquiry, take inquiry …
Josh Cobb: Just before you get on to that, if we get into what Rita actually does. Give us a practical example … I think you’re going to go into it now. Give us a practical example of one task that Rita performs and break it down for us in terms of one that’s typically performed by a human I the real estate business and take us through what Rita does and then some of the benefits of just that one task being performed by a computer.
Ian Campbell: Okay.
Josh Cobb: Sorry, Rita, she’s probably listening to this thinking, did you just call me a computer?
Ian Campbell: She’s my work wife. Anyway, one implementation is, inquiry management. You might think inquiry management is a pretty basic process but here’s the thing, what Rita can do, she can … This is the other important thing for our philosophy as a business is, we want to work with the systems you already have. That means we do deep level integrations with your existing email supplier and your CRM … As many of the systems as we can. We don’t want to add more software, we want to take it away if we can. We want to simplify and focus on the business problem.
With the inquiry management, traditional what we would do is we would integrate it into the email and this one particular client already had a receptionist who they centralised all their inbound inquiry. It was her job to basically read it, put the contact into the CRM, but they all had very strict rules around that. It was just a simple, let’s put them in. They wanted them to be qualified and tagged with certain things.
Josh Cobb: Let’s break that down to what the person actually did. The person who was managing that, they would get an inquiry from say, one of the portals about a property, what happens next?
Ian Campbell: They would basically enter that information, the basic information to the CRM manually. They would add them to a certain Newsletter, actually, two different Newsletters, they would tag them with three different categories based off what property they inquired on, where it was and the price …
Josh Cobb: What the portals wrote when they are an investor or a home owner or a tenant. That’s how they’d segment them that way as well?
Ian Campbell: That’s right. Computing that into that, they had this standard template of responses that they had drafted. They were very clear on their brand language. Very good brand.
Josh Cobb: Let’s even look at that, they would have to spend time drafting those and changing them over the years and spend time creating those responses too, right?
Ian Campbell: 100%, to reflect their personality as a business. It’s not good enough nowadays just to have a cookie cutter land a response.
Josh Cobb: “Thanks for your inquiry. We’ll get back you.”
Ian Campbell: Yes, we really want to make sure it’s unique. Again, because it’s such a critical touch point. She had this document, which was just a bunch of templates. If it’s this kind of inquiry, in this scenario do this. That kind of thing. She would have to think through the inquiry, look at this and then decide, which response to do. She would come and copy the agent in it, she would put a task in a CRM for an agent to follow it up so they could track that. That was it, that was their process and this was is where we start to talk about volume and sales.
Josh Cobb: How about we go to the next step of how many inquiries per day would this receptionist or the secretary or assistant, the person in the office, how many inquiries would be they be on average doing that process for everyday?
Ian Campbell: Last month we either did 750 inquiries.
Josh Cobb: That’s what, that’s in a month?
Ian Campbell: Yes.
Josh Cobb: That’s what typically this person is doing themselves manually.
Ian Campbell: Yes, we equate to around about, it was a full time job. The issue is, and this is what we discovered when we started doing this work is that, it’s not even this is a full time job, the problems is in the peaks and troughs. If you’ve ever analysed an inquiry, the majority of them all come in the first three days of the week. What happens is … You think of it like a graph with peaks and troughs. What happens is, you’ve got this human resource, which only has so many hours in the day. On a Monday, which is the peak generally, on a Monday, because you’ve got all the inquiry that’s come through from generally admin that work weekends. You’ve got all the inquiry that is coming in from Saturday and Sunday that still has to be processed.
There’s a big backlog of work and that person is only got paid eight hours in the day. You’ve got couple of key issues, one is that, it has been sitting there for two days already and the second thing is, if you get … There are occasions the peak was 75 inquiries in a single day. It’s just physically impossible. It would have been physically impossible for that person to do that work.
Josh Cobb: To perform all those tasks. To do it properly.
Ian Campbell: To do it properly, to do it to the standard that they had set, that they had aimed for. That’s why computers are better than humans is because they don’t have standards, they don’t have capacity issues, the volume doesn’t matter to them. They can scale up, scale down based off the work that’s coming in to them.
Josh Cobb: Okay, if we fast forward to when Rita joined the team and all those tasks that you just outlined. For you listening, I’m sure you would have similar processes in your business that you would be performing around inquiry management and it’s mostly a manual process. You might have automatic responders set up maybe from your website, that want to send someone a reply. Take us to the introduction of when Rita joined the team and how that worked and some of the benefits then and also some of the implementation side of thing. The misconception with a lot of businesses is we plotted these things and they just work. Maybe hit home some truths about implementation of it as well.
Ian Campbell: Every business is different in terms of … What I would like to educate on is, your business processes reflect your service. The biggest difference that particular client saw was that they used five or six steps as part of their inquiry management. What we had to work with them on is thinking about, forget about the human issue of six steps currently takes a person five minutes and that’s all we could possibly afford. What if you had 20 things that you could do around an inquiry? What would that service look like and how could we do that? We’ve expanded that person’s now, to be a far greater customer experience. That’s benefit number one.
Josh Cobb: What does that look like, if you’re saying instead of six things that you should be doing around the inquiry and you mentioned it before about segmenting them in the database, putting them into the Newsletter, CC the agent on the inquiry so that they can be across all that. What are some other steps in the process that technology or Rita can perform that have added to that experience?
Ian Campbell: A couple of examples is ownership searches, we can do those. A lot of people, good agents will actually do ownership searches on enquiries. One thing we have found is that 10% of inquiry is actually sellers or property owners that are local.
Josh Cobb: Let’s look at that, if you get an inquiry from realestate.com.au or domain.com.au, you get that inquiry, it comes through the system, Rita can then perform an ownership search almost instantaneously based on that inquiry.
Ian Campbell: Exactly. We can also do, we sue third party servers do things like validating the email they’ve sent, validating the phone number they’ve out in the form.
Josh Cobb: That would be a huge pain point with a lot of businesses that I know, the business that we work with is they’re often from a marketing perspective the quality of the lead is not great because they’ve given us a wrong phone number or email. What you’re saying is Rita can perform verifications on those things?
Ian Campbell: Yes, starting with the bad phone numbers and let’s assume that the email is valid. Bad phone number, good email saying, “Dear Ian, I think you may have mistyped your phone number, I would like to give you a call. Can you please provide it.” Another really good example is also we use some third party tools to get old men data with social profiles where it’s available.
Josh Cobb: Social media profiles is what you’re referring to there?
Ian Campbell: Yes, you’re right. This is where it can get scary for people is that effectively, just type in your email address in Google and see what come up. Generally, there’s a lot of information about you, particularly as real estate agents, you’re fairly exposed.
Josh Cobb: Then you’re wondering why they get phone calls from service providers all the time.
Ian Campbell: All the time, yes. Equally, consumers are now becoming much more exposed to people knowing more and more about them whether they like it or not.
Josh Cobb: I just want to make sure everyone understands so I’m just slowing down these steps so that everyone is on board. This inquiry comes in, so far Rita has performed an ownership search on the inquiry and provides that as a report to the business or the assistant or the sales person. She’s also done a verification check on the mobile number and email that that person has provided and provided that in the body of the email as well. SHe’s may have even captured some social media profile data and included that to the reply to the office as well.
Ian Campbell: It’s about segmentation. The possibilities are endless. Inquiry management can be one of those things … If you don’t have centralised inquiry, if you’re not a big office, it’s probably not a big issue for you in terms of managing it on a day to day basis. Just to give that inquiry management it’s just one thing. The other thing I see and this is what we’re working on now is data management as a bucket. This industry just wobbles the mind, how much consumer data they actually have stored away in their solo databases. We’re dealing with some clients now that have been with the same CRM for say 15 years. They’ve got 15 years of data, hundreds of thousands of records that have just been ignored, really that quality-
Josh Cobb: Duplicates, incomplete, all the above?
Ian Campbell: Yes, all that. No idea who they are. A database of 100,000 contacts that has got 60,000 active buyers, which is just not right.
Josh Cobb: What does that mean, 10,000 in there.
Ian Campbell: Yes, go figure. It’s hard and the reason why this happens is because it’s bloody hard. You get a big agency, or if you’re a good agent, good at marketing, you’re going to get a lot of contact data in your system in any given week. The resource to maintain that is significant. Inevitably what happens is you don’t invest the resource and it just backs out. All of a sudden you have got 15 years of bad data you don’t where to start. This is where robots are great. You might get a VA to go and try and clean it up.
Josh Cobb: That’s was going to be a question I would have had for you is, a lot of businesses do, some of the ones that we’ve worked with, they’ve hired VA’s to go and tidy up their database to use for marketing purposes. Whether it’s a cold calling, it might be creating customers audiences inside Facebook or something. Whatever it might be they’ve had a person and tidy up the database. At the end of the day, it’s still not … You talk about capacity, you’re paying that person to do something that … Just give us an example for people who are thinking, right I get it. It get it that software is performing all these tasks for ne inquiry, I get that the software can be retrospective, it can go and really tidy up my database for me. Give us an idea of the difference between having that person you mentioned before who was handling those tasks in that particular business, 750 in a month for example. How many tasks could Rita do in a month or software just in general, potentially, by way of comparison perform … How many contacts would they get through?
Ian Campbell: We had one client who has had two VAs-
Josh Cobb: People, real people?
Ian Campbell: Real people that they’d employed to try and clean up the data a little bit. They would get through 50 contacts a day.
Josh Cobb: 50 contacts a day.
Ian Campbell: Yes. That was doing a variety of steps. Largely we can replace that with Rita’s capacity is largely, without going to technical constraint is often on the third party system and not for their APIs. Anyway, we can get through thousands. We’ve just tipped over 4.5 million titles this week. Last week was a PD, it was a million titles in a week. It’s pretty significant. We’re just getting started. We’re just starting to ramp that stuff up now.
This should be possible, it’s not just about that initial cleanse drive, what we talk about is talk about data management is like pain of the story, the Harbour Bridge. When we talk about the Harbour Bridge, nearly every city has got a Harbour bridge so everyone can connect. Once you finish painting it, you go back to the other end, you got to start again. That’s what it takes to have really clean, well managed data.
Josh Cobb: I’d asked you about it before, I’m not sure if we clarified around the implementation because a lot of people, real estate agents are busy, principals are busy, property managers are busy, it’s busy. A lot people they look to software as the quick fix that I can plug this thing in, it was bought off the shelf, plug it in and it’s going to work. With something this complex given that every business has their software, own CRM, it’s all so different from business to business. Even from the agents inside the business could be different. Just help people understand the importance of software, if we’re going to go down this path of connecting systems like this, it’s not a buy off the shop and plug in, it’s something that they need to really consider, we need to slow down for a minute to really be able to speed up down the track.
Touch a little bit around the implementation of what expectation someone should have if they’re going to look at something like AI to automate those processes.
Ian Campbell: It’s got to be a strategic discussion. Has to start with strategy first. If the industry gets into this … This is the other issue I have with off the shelf software is that eventually the service levels just get commoditized. If the industry is going to succeed and have a lifespan, then it needs to be around the differentiation of service and as a result, you need to take strategic view around your critical business processes. It’s starts there.
What we try and do … I’ve got significant history in the industry, I’ve consulted on strategic growth for the industry. We take that heavy lifting away in terms of them having to think about. We look at their business and what we’re going to identify. For example, the clerk I was talking to, their brand was very important to them so we thought, let’s spend the energy there in makings sure that those, including the languages is in sync with what you want to do. Another client has a strong belief, and I share this belief, in that the amount of spam that consumers are getting today is just going through the roof. It’s getting out of control. Yes, it’s cost effective, but so what? Just spamming the world is not going to create relationships, it’s not going to create trust with the industry.
Josh Cobb: The old spray and pray approach, it’s horrible
Ian Campbell: Pick up the phone. Those human connections are where the industry is going to prove their value. The things that machines can’s do, which is genuinely connect with another human being.
Josh Cobb: You’re getting onto the benefits, which I was leave until last, which is why would somebody even bother with AI. The implementation, to wrap up that discussion, they really need to stop for a minute. I’m just trying to set those expectations that someone can’t just buy that off the shelf, it’s like an iPhone, you buy it, you start using it. What I hear you saying is you’ve got to plan these stuff out, you’ve got to physically have the time yourself to stop for a minute and map this stuff out, is what I hear you saying.
Ian Campbell: A little bit. As I said, we try and take away a lot of that burden from the client having to think too much. Generally how we work is we do a consultative session at the very beginning to understand what the goals are and we work on a continuous improvement approach. It’s not, what we do is we … It’s like you hire Rita to do an initial job, “Hey, Rita, this is where we’re struggling today.” But we’ve also got this really long list of these other stuff that you could do. What we do is we just work through that like a backlog. We can also look strategically at the different technology resources they have already, how they can use them better.
Josh Cobb: Would say it’s more suited to … You alluded to it before, businesses with significant inquiry volume. A smaller business that is maybe handling a handful of listings at once who may only have one or two sales people. Is there a size of the business that this would suit at this point in time? As technology gets better I’m sure every business will benefit but right now, would you say that what you and what Rita does and what automation does it is more suited to medium sized businesses, large, or am I completely off the mark?
Ian Campbell: No, I think right. We talk about the problem of scale. The problem of getting bigger without increasing overheads. How do you scale real estate? Traditionally, and this is what I talk when I go and present about the problem that we solve is that traditionally just have more people. People are more expensive. The second strategy people use is they add technology, but as I said to you, the technology that has been introduced, the industry has not significantly shifted the needle around the number of people that you need in order to look at the service you provide.
The short answer is, anyone that is at that next level of scale, they want to grow. If you’ve got 20 managements and two listings, then you’ve got plenty of time on your hands that you can do some of that work yourself and you’re not going to recruit any investment. If you’re at the point of saying, I’m thinking about hiring a VA, or I’m thinking about hiring an assistant or I’ve already got this person doing this job, that’s got a lot of value and there’s this other thing I want them to do, which is much value. For example, that person we talked about that was handling inquiry is now focusing on the social media strategy for the company and spends most of her time doing that, rather than the inquiries. They’ve shifted that resource into a more strategically important role within the company.
That’s the goal for us. We’re not going to put people out of jobs, we’re going to get then focused on stuff that matters and delivers more value. That’s what we have to do in business.
Josh Cobb: This is where I want to wrap things up around this discussion that we … We’ve covered a lot but I think they’re all pain points in a business that people right now are feeling. They’re feeling the pinch. They’re feeling they’re relying on platforms. We won’t name any names but we’re talking agent comparison websites, agent review websites, the portals, the pricing keeps going out. More and more providers are coming in to the industry who want their cut of how much money gets thrown at the real estate industry.
I share the belief that agents aren’t going to be replaced by technology, they’re going to be replaced by agents who leverage technology. Exactly, agents who work, but at the same time, just to wrap things up, around the benefits of AI, from what I see is it allows the team, the customer facing people in the business, which virtually everyone is these days or should be, it allows them to be better at that. Better at building relationships, better at communicating with the current clients, allow technology to do the things that a computer can do, which allows you to build a better experience. Is that what the unicorn is of-
Ian Campbell: They’ve got to stop being calculators. Don’t be a calculator.
Josh Cobb: We’re going back to what you said earlier, I remember Matt Church … Hi Matt, if you’re listening. I had the pleasure of speaking with Matt at a conference in the Philippines back in June this year, he made a really good comment around brain surgeons. First of all, they don’t advertise and second of all, they don’t order goals. I laughed at that because you have the resources in place to allow you to do the stuff that you’re paid to do. For brain surgeons, why would you be … Would you go to a brain surgeon is they’re the one ordering goals? You get the point, right? You’re allowing other resources in real estate rely on technology to perform those tasks so that we can keep building better relationships.
Ian Campbell: 100%. Conservatively our goal is to … We think every business will have a digital employee within the next five to 10 years. We just think it’s going to happen.
Josh Cobb: Those who don’t are really going to have to grow extra arms or legs or find another tent house in the dow.
Ian Campbell: I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s a race to service and the person that isn’t pinned down by administrative tasks and non value ad functions-
Josh Cobb: It’s freedom, right?
Ian Campbell: They’ve got more time to not just service their clients but think about how to service their clients better and they continue to still invest in that growth. It’s going to happen. We’re at the early stage now, we’re piloting a lot of very unique ideas about … Again, throwing away what we know about what software is in the industry and how to get to use them and the value they all provide. We throw that away and we challenge everything. For example, one would think that after Rita’s cleaned the database, segmented it and prioritised it in terms in opportunity, she could just send them emails right? I was like, “No, why don’t you pick the phone up?” Here you got agents spending thousands of dollars on lead generation and they’ve got literally, thousand’s of contacts that they’ve had some interaction with that has just been wasted. That might be sellers today, we know that is true.
It’s exciting, the reason I got into it was because it’s exciting and we like working with good people.
Josh Cobb: It cuts to the shared values between you and is, I don’t think technology is the disruptor in the industry, it’s a better customer experience that is going to disrupt poor customer experience businesses. At the end of the day, taxis weren’t disrupted by Uber, they were disrupted by a better experience at a cheaper price.
For anyone listening, we’ve only really scratched the surface of what I consider you to talk all day about it. For anyone who wants to … First of all, thanks for spending an hour talking about what you’re doing. If anybody wants to find out more or get in touch, where can they find you?
Ian Campbell: Getaire, it’s a very cleaver name, getaire.com.au.
Josh Cobb: Awesome. Well, Ian Campbell, thank you very much and for everyone listening thanks for joining us and we’ll join you again very soon.