‘In the spotlight’ with Matt Ratliff – Technology and The Housing Industry
Check out our ‘In the spotlight’ blog below!
As CTO of Sort Group, you deal with all parts of the industry – Conveyancing, Mortgage Advisers and Estate Agents – how important is it for the industry to pull together?
As a relative newcomer to this industry, it has been fascinating to see the different contributions, styles and attitudes of the various parties involved in the home moving experience. In addition, I moved house during the pandemic, so I have also had the opportunity to see and experience the process from the customer perspective.
This allowed me to think about what was going on and compare what I believed should be happening with what happens in the “real world”.
To get the industry to pull together, I believe two core ideas should be at the heart of everything we do.
Firstly, we must be customer-centric and realise that all of our activity is involved in ensuring their outcome is delivered. It is only through delighting customers that we can know that our processes and behaviours are aligned to their benefit.
Secondly, and to ensure the first part is achieved, we must do this as a team and realise that the failure of any part of the customer experience constitutes a failure for the team. It is not enough to ensure that our service or step is completed on time, nor to ensure that someone else carries the blame for any perceived failure.
If all parties take equal accountability and pride in ensuring customer delight and that the overall outcome is achieved, there is a far great imperative to collaborate, communicate and support the customer journey through every step of the process.
How we achieve, this is a much more challenging matter and one that directs much of the activity at Sort Group.
Regulators take fair customer practice and promote customer-centric outcomes as a core principle of any regulated company’s business model. However, regulators stop short of providing a framework for businesses to follow to ensure that a positive customer outcome is taken ahead of commercial or financial benefit.
Regulating a business to ensure its processes are followed and “compliant” is not the same as focusing on customer outcome and creating a working environment where parties, such as in the property industry, pull together or, more accurately, pull in the same direction. It is not hard to find evidence of a fractured industry where blame is readily passed between the parties involved. Still, ultimately it is the customer that suffers from this negativity.
Working as a team with a shared customer outcome in mind and the willingness to support each other in delivering excellent service will help create a more cohesive and respectful culture amongst property professionals.
The Pandemic has cemented how vital technology is. At Sort Group, did you have any change in service because of this?
As the technical director for the group, I had to look at the challenge of COVID from two distinct viewpoints.
Firstly, can our customers, service providers and panel still access our systems and services to continue managing their own business?
Secondly, can our internal teams still deliver the service and quality we strive for whilst working under lockdown?
Thankfully, our core services were already well established, and we suffered minimal disruption to our core brands due to lockdown. In addition, being an online solution allows our services to be accessed from anywhere and at any time of day.
Hence, whilst there were indeed challenges with disrupted working practices for everyone across the country, our systems were available for use throughout the pandemic whenever they needed to be there.
Our team was also forced into a new way of working, but most of our colleagues continued working from home throughout. In addition, we were fortunate that we had invested in virtual desktop technology back in 2019, so when the time came to go home, it was not a costly or complicated process to get our teams up and running remotely.
Whilst far from an ideal situation, our teams responded to the challenge, and we were able to retain all our staff and come back after lockdown, promoting a growth plan and have been recruiting ever since.
In your opinion, how do you think tech could be improved in the housing industry?
We have seen a significant shift, necessitated by COVID, towards online interaction, from Zoom calls with your Broker to virtual tours with your Agent.
Most businesses have had to embrace the world online to have any chance of functioning with travel and lockdown restrictions in place, which has undoubtedly helped push the industry to a more online way of working. However, I do not think there is any substitute for the personal relationship with professionals during your house move as they are they not only to provide a service but also reassurance and advice should something go wrong.
We have seen a rise in video conferencing to maintain this face-to-face relationship, but as I mentioned before, being very client-focused and not using the same tools to support a better and more collaborative working environment with other parties involved in the property transaction.
Working in silos with a lack of standards led data sharing between parties will always create a disjointed and confusing landscape for the client where they will be asked the same questions time and time again and have to provide the same evidence time and again. Instead, technology should be deployed to enhance the client experience, create confidence, and reduce waste across the whole transaction.
With the number of software solutions on the market today, it is unrealistic to expect them to all “talk” to each other.
Without drive-by industry leaders to create a common standard that allows trust and data sharing outside of proprietary or commercial monopoly, we will continue to find silos of activity in property transactions.
In terms of new technologies, is there anything coming up in the near future that excites you?
We have to stay aware of any potential changes in the marketplace that either make new tech available or change the way we use our current technology. This could mean changes to the regulation of our industry or the promotion and adoption of new standards, e.g., housing packs and digital identity standards.
Because we operate around and between all parties in the property industry, we need to embrace technology to enact real change and benefit all parties involved. This is why standards led data and information sharing is critical to the industry, as no single party can solve it independently.
Many in the industry will be aware of the work going on at Coadjute who are attempting to connect the parties involved in the property industry, not by pushing a new website or application, but by creating a framework, an ecosystem if you like, in which all parties and software companies can be connected in a secure and standardised fashion reducing the potential integration costs for software providers and companies alike.
This needs industry-wide buy in to be a success. Still, they can simplify the future workings of software providers by eradicating the need for bespoke integrations and allowing that energy to be focused on innovation.
Want to know more? Speak to the team via the details below.
0333 456 1009