Tom Reiss, CEO of Roby.ai discusses the challenges for proptech businesses during Covid-19
Like every business operating within the property sector, we started the year in vastly different circumstances to the ones we now find ourselves in. The outlook for us was really positive, actually great. We were meeting our targets, generating new leads and building our presence within the marketplace. Then in the space of a week everything changed, as every aspect of our personal and working lives was turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We were, and still are, faced with a terrifying scenario like nothing we have experienced before, which caused an initial period of panic as everyone came to terms with this new situation. There is an old military tactic that I learnt during my time as a pilot in the Israeli AAir Force. It requires you to stabilise the situation then regroup and debrief what just happened and use those learnings to take action, which is exactly the approach we have tried to take in these unprecedented times.
STABILISING THE SITUATION
At Roby, we were forced to take pause and strategically look at where the company was, so we could decide on our approach moving forward. Our board, made up of several venture capitalists, asked us to come up with a risk mitigation document that assessed the threats we faced and reviewed what we needed to do to protect the business, continue operating and control costs. This meant we could quickly reassess and reconsider ways of working and our business plans to hold everything together.
We quickly realised we could take advantage of the Roby software within our own business, even though we are not a property company. Because of the holistic nature of the solution we have been able to select those elements of the technology that were relevant to us and adapt them for our own process requirements. This has enabled us to better adjust to the challenges of working remotely by gaining oversight over our different teams and making sure everyone is pulling in the same direction. Meanwhile, we have gained the ability to handle certain activity that previously relied on an office-based function such as invoicing, payments and credit control.
BUILDING LASTING CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS
There is a fundamental understanding within the business that for us to flourish, especially in the current environment, we need our customers to succeed. This is not about quick wins, we are in it for the long run, so our strategy is about developing lasting relationships with property businesses. With this in mind, we approached and engaged with our existing clients to explain how we are available to support and assist in any way we could, which led to us creating and deploying workable solutions that overcame some of their immediate issues.
Unsurprisingly, most businesses were unprepared for the scale of change required, as offices closed around the UK and staff got used to working from home under strict Government guidelines. Even those with remote access to business systems and team collaboration software still had significant gaps, with processes simply not available for many day-to-day tasks. For example, organisations realised that with teams working remotely issues existed with internal and external communications, making customer, colleague and stakeholder engagement disorganised, ineffective and difficult to oversee. This is just one of a host of unforeseen problems that we have been asked to help solve, often in a matter of days.
One customer had no process in place to distribute incoming mail, without either putting staff at risk or creating considerable overheads and time delays. We have been able to adapt Roby, so now only one person needs to visit the office, collect the mail and scan it into our software for onward delivery to the relevant members of the team. Another customer realised they had no oversight of response rates to incoming emails, making it impossible to measure performance and productivity. Using Roby’s AI capabilities, they have been able to create a single-view dashboard with automated monitoring to achieve full visibility of email response times and gain peace of mind that enquiries are not being ignored.
ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS
Based on our own internal experiences, we identified an opportunity to sharpen up our message and make it an important part of our sales pitch. As a result, we have been able to make our proposition far more relevant to our customers’ new ways of working, providing immediate fixes to many of the problems they now faced. In short, Roby could help businesses to operate remotely, manage teams and communicate with stakeholders in the most efficient and productive manner.
We have therefore started targeting new clients, including some of the UK’s biggest property companies that are often heavily reliant on large workforces, rigid operational processes and huge amounts of on-premise IT infrastructure. As such, most are using systems and processes that are not particularly compatible with a remote-working approach, so are looking to Roby to quickly adapt how they operate and then refining these practices over time to best meet their individual requirements.
These businesses can go-live with a bespoke work-from-home system within days by either changing existing processes or implementing a brand-new process to adapt to the current working environment. For example, one company has used Roby to change how its automated telephone system is working, because it is no longer possible to offer such a comprehensive choice of options, but still needs to ensure all calls are rapidly connected to the most appropriate, available person. The building block philosophy of the software accommodates these adjustments easily while allowing for a quick return to original processes as the impact of the coronavirus abates.
During our discussions with prospective customer, we discovered a whole new opportunity that had not previously been considered. Some businesses have an existing IT infrastructure in place, and while they are not looking to adopt Roby at present, they could benefit from some guidance. For these, we have been able to offer a consultancy service using our extensive industry knowledge and expertise. By analysing their systems and processes it is possible to determine where bottlenecks exist and what improvements to working practices can be made.
MAKING LESSONS COUNT
There have been a host of learnings that have already come out of these unprecedented times, but what is important is any lessons stay with us and contribute to future success. Our entire sales and implementation cycles, for example, are now 100% remote, which would have been unheard of before. If you had wanted to do business with someone previously, you would have expected to have at least three or four face-to-face meetings to build trust and provide reassurance during the sales process.
We are now handling all sales pitches, product demos and contract negotiations remotely using collaborative tools without any detrimental effect or delays. There has of course been a learning exercise around how best to present and interact remotely when there are multiple people in different locations, but it has been about challenging the business norms. In fact, we are even able to complete process mapping remotely, which typically was undertaken at a client’s offices working directly with their heads of teams.
What has become clear is that business travel is not as much of a necessity as we once thought. The need to journey around the country to visit customers and prospects has never been challenged before, but when this option is taken away, we realise there are alternative ways to achieve the same outcomes remotely. This not only delivers a cost and productivity benefit to us, but also a clear advantage to the customer who can get their solution deployed quicker, while having to commit less internal resource.
There seems to be a new openness from customers to consider new ways of working and perhaps a greater willingness to work together to achieve the optimum results, in the optimum time. We have certainly seen a dramatic impact on our sales cycle, which in some instances was taking up to a year. In contrast, we are now seeing a solution that might previously have taken three to four months being completed in just two weeks.
Every situation, however dire, creates opportunities, so businesses need to take advantage of these and be best prepared for when we reach the other side of this crisis. We will need dynamic and innovative companies to kickstart the economy, but we must ensure we do not simply slip back into old habits and revert to our previous ways of working. At Roby we are growing our team by 20 per cent to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, and we are even having to recruit remotely, something else we would have never considered until before.