Hi, this is Eva Judge and we’re from Affordable Staff and here with me I’ve got Damien Barnett and Dorothy Hamilton from First National in Palm Beach. So thank you Dorothy for joining us. We’ve just come to have a little bit of a chat today about your experiences working with Affordable Staff and your virtual assistant.
Why did you decide to outsource?
Dot: I’m one of these people that don’t use the self-serve aisle at the checkout. I’m one of those people. I hate to think that I’m doing someone out of a job. But it got to the point where we had a bit of reconfiguration in the business and I realized that in this day and age, we’re just so highly legislated.
Here in Queensland, we’ve got 16 legislations that govern property management, which you know, 10 years ago, we coped with. But now with the new software and the hardware, the new legislation, it’s the paperwork that bogs your property managers down totally. Paperwork is just relentless and it has to be so good because of risk management.
So I met you guys at a conference couple of years ago and sort of started me thinking. I had to change my mindset. I had to change the way I thought. And once I changed the way I thought, then I came back and I worked with the staff. It had to be a win-win for them.
What Did You Staff Think Before You Got Started?
Dot: I guess at the beginning they were a bit like me. The first thing that they thought of that I was doing them out of a job. It was the first thing so I had to have very good arguments for them. I had to have very good statistics for them as to how it would work that nobody would lose their jobs.
The main outcome for me has to be that the property managers had to be able to manage more doors. The only way they manage more doors is if you take the stuff out from underneath. You had to take the grunt work out from underneath but it has to be done in such a way that everybody trusts the process. So once we got our mindset around that, then we were fine about outsourcing.
How Do You Find Working With An Offshore Team Member?
Dot: Great. Fantastic. Fillamae’s working with us. It’s still an ongoing process obviously. It’s been fantastic. One of the best things that we did though is we bought a HP computer, which is an all-in-one computer. It’s got the camera, it’s got the microphone. It’s got everything there and they’ve been probably one of the best investments we made because it’s just so easy to talk to her every day.
Eva: Yes. So do you guys have video calls?
Dot: We do. We use Zoom. We come in the morning, the first thing I do is log onto Skype. “Morning, Filla.” “Morning, Dot. How are you?” And we have a chat, “How’s it going?” And then if I have something to teach her I say, “Can you just organize a Zoom?” That’s first thing in the morning and then we plan her day. I say, “What have you got on today?” Because we’ve got so many staff, you never quite know what everybody’s given her. So I’m very mindful of everyday making sure that she doesn’t feel overwhelmed and that she has priorities. That’s probably another thing. It’s teaching her to prioritize the things that are most important because I don’t know what everybody’s given her for the day.
Eva: That’s one of the common issues we do have. Particularly when you have multiple members that are interacting with the outsourced person because they all throw work at them and the person’s having a hard time.
Dot: We do have a priority system in place that she’s well aware of. I drew that priority. So obviously, leases for applications are number one priority. And then arrears are number two priority. So she knows that if she’s got a couple of leases on her desk, they have to be absolutely the first things that get done. There’s usually about four of us that deal with her, which I think at the moment is a good thing. I think she needs that consistency of the people that she’s dealing with. Whereas if she’s dealing with too many people, it might even bore us a bit.
Eva: That’s also a good number. Anything less than that could also be a challenge in itself.
Dot: Yeah. I think the four of us that deal with her, we get together. We decide what we’re going to teach her next and then we work out who’s going to do it. We work out the scripts, the dialogues. We work out what the procedure is and then we have all the forms ready for her to go. So then the person that’s teaching her is teaching her the office procedure not their procedure.
Eva: That’s a very valid point you just made because a lot of businesses we work with, once they started working with an outsourced team member, they actually start systematizing their business. And they start to create those procedures which they previously don’t have.
Dot: We’ve always been very procedure and policy-driven, always have. But it still has made us go through ours and change ours. And it’s great. Now, we’re really really happy with her. She’s just such a lovely person. It’s really nice.
Is Outsourcing Taking Away Jobs From Local Staff?
Dot: I think it is in a way but personally, I don’t know whether this is a company line, but me personally, I think what’s happened over the last 10 years is that in property management, we haven’t been really able to up our fees. We haven’t really been able to charge a lot more money. If anything, we’re probably charging a lot less than what we work for doing a lot more.
So innovation is coming. We’ve got InspectRealEstate. I say to everybody there’s two pieces of software that have been written for property management in the last 10 years. One was InspectRealEstate, and one was Maintennance Manager. They’re game-changers. If you’re not using them in your business, I don’t understand where you’re head is.
Once you trust those systems, then it was pretty easy to trust outsourcing. But the main reason I wanted to go with outsourcing is simply we can’t afford to do what we do for the money that we get. So we have to look at ways to economize so we can still offer the same service. And the only way we can do that was through outsourcing.
How Has Outsourcing Improved Your Level Of Service?
Eva: Of course, from everything I heard, your business is well-recognized for having the highest level of customer service?
Dot: Yes. When that started to sort of not be up to my expectations and not up to my standards. “We can’t do this, we’re too busy.” So that’s when we sat down and we said, “Let’s do the three points.” If anybody’s thinking about doing it, the best way I believe is to get a piece of butcher’s paper, and get three different colored pens.
The first one is your dollar-producing activities. What are the things that bring the money in? Like open houses, leasing, lease renewals. That sort of stuff. Then the next one is client-facing things that you personally have to either speak to somebody or have a face-to-face conversation. Then everything else is underneath and as far as I’m concerned, everything else underneath is your outsourcing.
But again, you have to trust the system. You have to trust that the systems you have in place in the first place, the procedures and policies can be transferred to work in that environment.
Eva: And of course, you probably had to adapt some of your systems along the way.
Dot: Yeah we have and it’s been good for us because as I was saying before, we’ve now gone to online forms. So before we just hand-write them and that was our way of doing it. They were just going from one desk into another. Whereas now, it’s going to the Philippines and to Filla.
We have language issues, we have language understanding issues. We have Australian vernacular issues so we’ve had to bring them back to very basic English but easily understandable. That way everybody is doing it exactly the same way. So every single piece of paper that goes to Filla from any desk in the office is exactly the same format.
Eva: Just touching base on that a little bit further, that’s actually not only creating efficiency for your business but also saving you money because you’re becoming more of a paperless environment.
Why Is Trust Important When Outsourcing?
Dot: It was and I spoke to Eva and I spoke to you. Then I did my own research. We have had a lady in the Philippines for many years doing some work with us and I looked at what she was doing, I looked at the resources she had available. Then I spoke to two other companies on the resources they had about.
Then I looked into yours and I just felt a lot more confident in your structure. I felt a lot more confident in your security measures and I think that was really important for David and I. When he looked at your backend he said “I think I’m happy with this.”
Damien: So security is not something you jumped into overnight?
Dot: Oh no. It was a three month process for us. When we first got the idea and the investigations and the inquiries and a little bit of detective work and then getting the staff on board. I think that was getting the team on board was my primary concern. I needed to have everybody on board and that took a little while but once we got everybody on board, then it was an easy process after that.
What Limitations Have You Found In Outsourcing?
Dot: Probably for me, because I’m very much a face-to-face person, I think the face-to-face issue. I’m a very touchy, feely, tactile person. So I sort of struggle with the fact that she’s all those thousands of miles away and I can’t actually give her a hug when I know that she’s feeling a bit stressed.
She’s had some family issues, a couple of tragedies, and not being able to give her a hug and say “It’s gonna be okay.” And actually not being able to see what’s on her desk. I think that’s been a limitation for me. I’m devising systems for that. We all share calendars. I find if we all use and share calendars we can pretty much see where we are, which is good.
So that’s the only limitation that I can say. I think there aren’t other limitations.
Eva: Might as well organize a trip for you to go with her.
How Has Outsourcing Helped Your Business Grow?
Dot: We are growing at the moment. I don’t know if everybody knows about Palm Beach but Palm Beach has been a sleepy little village between two creeks for about 35 years. All of a sudden have now discovered our sleepy little village so unfortunately, it’s decimated our rent roll slightly because all of our investors are cashing in on these properties that we’ve had sitting here for a while and now they’re worth quite a lot of money. So we haven’t really grown. I think we’ve probably shrunk in the last two years.
But it’s been a good shrinkage. I’m quite happy about the shrinkage. But we are in growth mode now. I think it’s been a good time for us to put Filla on board and possibly put another lady on board. Probably my next task for my new outsource, I really want to get them involved in some really serious social marketing for social media. I really do think that that is an area that we lack in. We seriously lack in our social media profile. I’m thinking that that could be our next growth. I think that would then lead to growth as well.
At the moment, the girls are really really happy with how it’s going. As they say, you circle the wagons and get all your systems in line and then hopefully the growth will come.
What Advice Would You Give To Other Businesses?
Dot: In our shoes, I think you’ve really got to look at innovation. You’ve got to look at the earlier of what’s coming on the market. The software, hardware. Look at social media. Look at outsourcing but don’t look at it as something that you’re taking away from your business. Look at it as something that you’re actually adding to your business.
I think it’s really important that you don’t think of it as something you take away from your business. It’s something you’re adding to it. I think that’s very very important.