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edition 11 (225)
November 2017
New technology

Getting it out of your system

If you can’t imagine basing your client service on anything other than Excel, stop reading now

Tomasz Cudowski

Getting it out of your system
“Clients enjoy using a good system on an everyday basis. CRMs must be easy to use, accessible via an internet browser, secure and efficient,” claims Przemysław Karczewski of Vox Developer

They say that no company with more than 20 employees and 50 customers is able to cope without the support of a CRM system. And real estate companies are no exception to this rule

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems arrived in Poland at the turn of century along with the IT tools that made them possible, the entry of global corporations and the expansion of firms servicing thousands of customers and thus needing to process a rapidly expanding amount of data. It would be impossible to cope with such a number of clients using analogue systems or even spreadsheets.

Difficult birth

The first few CRMs emerged on the Polish market due to the needs of financial and telecommunications institutions. Next it was the turn of the real estate sector. “The germ of our CRM was the relatively simple software we wrote in 2007 for one of our residential developers,” recalls Marcel Fortuna, a project manager and the owner of Forbit, which developed one of the first CRM systems for residential developers in Poland – Deweloper System. “Other developers became interested in the programme as their requirements and the market expanded – for example, they wanted us to add modules that would allow them to send emails or memos, to integrate their financial and bookkeeping systems as well as the CMS of the website, or to respond to malfunctions. So we started adding more features,” he recalls.

A CRM system is able to support even the smallest residential developer that has just been set up to sell the apartments of one project, but the most frequent users are medium-sized and large companies. And what is it that led them to embrace CRMs? “The initial reason to look for better tools and processes may be something rather mundane, such as losing a computer with a database or a key employee suddenly quitting the company and leaving just a few notes behind,” admits Przemysław Karczewski, the president of Vox Developer, which has specialised in the development of CRM systems for the property sector for more than a decade. “The formal aspects are just as important, such as the legal requirements for the processing of personal data. The expectations of employees are also higher – it is mostly those of the younger generation who cannot imagine a company without IT tools to organise their work and streamline how they perform their duties,” he adds.

CRM systems that were once just a product for a select few have become markedly more popular and accessible since the early days. Their history could be compared to the history of websites – few people remember the times when having your own www address was a mark of prestige, almost a luxury, whereas now it is impossible to run any business without a simple internet service. What does CRM provide clients with in concrete terms? “First of all it is able to rapidly process large amounts of data, which there is more and more of every day,” replies Tomasz Ogrodzki, the CEO at Re+ Real Estate CRM. “CRMs allow you to quickly get back to a client with a well matched response. The client, with their experience of the consumer market, is now more demanding and requires an immediate solution. Many surveys show that more than 40 pct of clients choose the first company that responds to their question, so the quickest on their feet will win the deal. On the other hand, modern CRM enhances a company’s organisation by making work tools accessible not only to the sales department but also to the management board, other managers and the other operations of a business.”

Appetite growing

According to the experts, companies do not have high requirements when it comes to CRM systems at the outset. Companies that are expanding simply want to organise their client bases and files, update the status of their projects on their websites or share a meeting calendar with its team. “However, after initial trials, ordering parties often realise how many of their other activities could be simplified, such as sending offers from a folder built into an apartment search engine to clients or generating statements for banks using templates. Then additional functionality is often requested. Of course if feasible, we add these features,” says Przemysław Karczewski.

The biggest problems for CRM creators are not the technical limitations or changing preferences of clients, but the changes in legal regulations – and there is seemingly no end of these in Poland. “The introduction of escrow accounts was a revolution for the residential sector and forced us to re-program all our systems,” says Marcel Fortuna of Forbit. “Also, potential tax changes, including VAT rates, mean that we have to take into consideration the possibility of system corrections for financial and bookkeeping operations. A good CRM system has in-built growth potential, which is why you need to focus on those functions that can be updated and expanded in the future,” he adds.

Not just homes

In the real estate sector the most common buyers of CRMs are companies from the residential sector, but the benefits of organising relations with tenants this way are also appreciated by commercial real estate market players. As an example, Tomasz Ogrodzki talks of the development of a CRM system for the warehouse department of one of the largest real estate consultancies in Poland. “We integrated a number of tools for agents as well as potential clients visiting the website looking for an interesting proposal,” explains Tomasz Ogrodzki. “The key to its success was the strict integration and utilisation of the potential of all the data the company works with every day. Thanks to this clients are guaranteed up-to-date offers via the web, while the agents, using a specially designed smartphone application, can make whatever changes they need and automatically generate sales presentations.

Adding add-on value

How ideal or close to the ideal is CRM? And does the perfect system even exist? “Clients appreciate using a good system on an everyday basis,” claims Przemysław Karczewski of Vox Developer, who has no doubts about their utility. “CRMs must be easy to use, accessible via an internet browser, secure and efficient. I believe the security of clients’ data and their consent to the processing of data – particularly in the light of the requirements of the Inspector General for Personal Data Protection – is of key importance. Systems for residential developers need an apartment base that is up-to-date, accessible to all employees and can be combined with the website. By complementing these modules with a contract database, a calendar and a few basic reports designed for this sector, we can successfully speed up and simplify the majority of customer-related activities.

Many users believe that the only acceptable solution is a CRM designed from scratch to order. However, it takes a whole team a few years to develop such a tool, so regardless of whether this is done by the internal IT department of a large company or an external contractor, the costs are prohibitive.

“There is no ready-made system in existence that matches clients’ needs fully and certainly none that matches their habits or usual procedures,” admits Tomasz Ogrodzki of Re+ Real Estate CRM. “This is why the CRM we have created is comprehensive software, which due to its flexibility can be adjusted to the needs of any agency or development company. One of its flagship applications is a good example of this. This is a real estate module that allows types of properties to be defined freely. In this way companies can organise their office, warehouse or retail portfolios and sales processes in one place,” he explains.

Theoretically a great idea

However, developing an excellent IT tool is only half of what is needed. And sometimes it less than half. There is still the human factor to negotiate, as people can often react with panic or with passive resistance to any “we’re introducing a CRM” announcement. “No software, particularly a CRM, should be based purely on the theoretical assumptions of its creators,” explains Tomasz Ogrodzki. “Developing a system for the real estate sector requires in-depth knowledge about an agency’s or a developer’s processes. Both the design and implementation need to involve the company and its staff – and only then can the system be fully meet the company’s requirements and the sincere belief that using it will bring benefits makes it possible for it to be used effectively,” he insists.

Empty, unused CRMs are as sad and worthless as ‘news’ pages on the internet that have not been updated for several years. Somebody made a mistake – either the client or the creator. Probably both. “One of our partners, when planning to implement a CRM system, asked us to audit their previous software,” recalls Tomasz Ogrodzki. “To our surprise, after logging in it turned out that it had not been used for three years.”

The initial stage of the implementation, which requires changing users’ habits, is always of key importance. In spite of a friendly interface and importing the old data to the CRM, some users are resistant to switching to the new tool and abandoning, for example, traditional spreadsheets they are used to. “In some – particularly large – companies, CRM implementations require a surprising amount of perseverance and a great deal of time because, sometimes contrary to appearances, not every company is ready for this,” admits Przemysław Karczewski. “Such changes are always going to run up against the human factor, which is why it is worthwhile carrying out CRM implementation in stages. When small successes occur, such as the establishment of a shared client base, these do help in introducing modules later on. The most heartening thing is that we have never seen anyone revert to their previous system.

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