When David Bowie wrote the lines ‘turn and face the strange…’ I wonder what he was dreaming up for the future? Possibly his new Ziggy Stardust outfit? Some fans may call him a prophet, but surely he could not have been imagining the transformation that would come to the world by the creation of the internet? The world in 1972 was a very different place, with flare trousers, flower shirts with huge lapels…. and nylon! Slide rules were about to give way to pocket calculators. No one had a home computer. But Bowie always loved his tech. Rockets were obviously not really tin cans – ‘that was just poetic license man’. In his interview in 2000 with Jeremy Paxman, he was adamant that the internet would change everything for all of us, beyond anything we could imagine now.
The provision of block management services is not immune to such change. And there are clearly substantial benefits for both clients and agents who ‘turn and face the strange’ opportunity. We have indeed found in each block some residents who do not have an email address or even a computer. In this period of change we need to be sensitive to minority concerns. It is important that agents provide for the ‘late adopters’, those who call themselves ‘the dinosaurs’. They, being older in general, also tend to be more involved in day to day business. So we need to keep them in the loop. This can be achieved by simply printing out the online correspondence and posting it to them! It does not need to be rocket science. Also, using the internet saves time to spend more of it on the phone, carrying out site visits and having face-to-face meetings. The big danger for agents is to think that all this technology is doing their job for them,at the click of a button. But the internet is only a tool to use. Our job is all about people. This has not changed and, I should think and hope, never will.
But it is probably best to face, even embrace, the change rather than to resist the inevitable.
With a handheld app, laptop, or the good old desktop, leaseholders can now check their service charge payments, how jobs are progressing as well as communicating with other flat owners easily. Everything they need to know, whenever it suits them to check, whilst jogging in the park, on the train to work, or relaxing in Cafe Nero. Some agents will fear the transparency that this brings to their service delivery. Now, all of a sudden, their clients can see what they are doing for their money! The office now has a virtual shop front where the client may walk in, go to the back and have a good old look through their files.
The change is going to be harder for more established agents who have legacy systems and traditional working practices, not to mention all those filing cabinets full of documents that would need to be scanned. Staff need to be retrained to use a new system. And there are further challenges as the market place attracts new entrants who can start with a clean ‘virtual’ sheet, able to compete on a level playing field and offer competitive rates and a service that is super slick.
These changes are great news for the end users, leaseholders, directors and landlords. Seamless and transparent communication and a more competitive market. No more ‘dark arts’, service charge sinkholes or glacial response times. Block management is being forced into the light and that has to be good for everybody involved.
This article was written by Jonathan Moss, Company Director of Moss & Co, and was featured in News On The Block’s April 2016 issue.