I often write about the latest technology that is being deployed in the real estate industry. During this unprecedented and explosive time period for the PropTech sector, there has been no shortage of exciting companies to write about. From Tenant Engagement Apps, to IoT Devices, to Investment Platforms, to Disruptive Brokerage Models, a day doesn’t go by without new innovation being launched with promises of improving this industry which for so long operated with the same archaic model. But one important fact that often gets overlooked is implementation. Even if a new solution can deliver on its promises, everything can be lost with poor execution.
I was recently speaking with one of my contacts who oversees technology deployment for one of the largest Real Estate Investment firms in the US. A year prior, he had done a deep analysis on the leading Tenant Engagement App companies, and after piloting a few of them, he made his decision and chose a winner to roll out portfolio-wide. The plan was simple: they would go building-by-building until the entire portfolio was live on the App. The first building, which they billed as their Beta, went very smoothly because it involved a significant amount of resources and attention from the leadership teams of both companies. But as time went on, the deployments became rockier and tenant adoption continued to drop. The problem wasn’t the technology, it was the roll-out. This technology is complex and it requires many integrations and stakeholders to work together to ensure success. More than anything, each building required a dedicated lead to evangelize the technology across the building staff and tenant base. Simply activating the technology wasn’t enough to get people to completely change their behavior and adopt a new way of doing things. While the company budgeted for the additional expense of the Tenant App, they did not budget for an employee to be hired at each building to shepherd adoption of this new platform. To further complicate this problem, the Tenant App provider was growing at breakneck speeds, and they no longer had the bandwidth to provide the same level of hand holding that they provided during the launch of the first building in the portfolio. My contact was extremely concerned about the outcome of this deployment, especially because he was the one that advocated for that vendor.
Technology is only valuable if it is accompanied by user adoption. Otherwise, it only adds additional costs and frustrations. To highlight the challenges and strategies of tech deployment and adoption, I wanted to leverage the expertise of a leader in this field. I am lucky to work with an expert in this space who has a strong pulse on the changing landscape of PropTech. I first met Andrew Kovacs when I started working at Kastle in 2016. Andrew has held a variety of roles at Kastle including Sales, Account Management, and Customer Service. He is currently the Vice President of Client Services for Kastle and is responsible for leading the team that owns the customer journey from the time that an installation is completed through renewal of their contracts for Kastle’s largest region. Although Kastle offers a complex set of solutions that includes dozens of integrations across thousands of Class A/B Multi-Tenant and Multi-Family buildings, they have maintained a J.D. Power score of 815 which shares this elite status with companies like the Ritz Carlton. Andrew (and his team) have maintained these sky-high numbers, all while he recently completed his MBA at Wharton. I asked Andrew if he could shed some light on where other companies often fail, and how Kastle has gotten it right. As Andrew explains below, the key to success boils down to the strength of the relationship that is built between parties. Real estate is a relationship business, and although the right technology can add tremendous value to optimize a portfolio, the benefits can only be achieved if a strong relationship is built and a foundation of trust has been established across stakeholders.
How can PropTech be more relationship focused even though we are leading with technology?
Since the pandemic, conventional wisdom has been one where companies supporting the real estate industry have had to develop innovative technology in order to remain relevant to existing clients and capture new market share. Thanks to COVID, technology adoption across the real estate industry has quickly accelerated and will continue to do so. But the fact is that there is a lot more to being a good technology partner than some fancy software or integrated dashboard, and this is perhaps the reason why so many owners and operators I speak with are still just dipping their toes into the water while some of the new solutions and offerings they have piloted have not been ‘sticky’ within their firms.
Through the lens of a real estate partner, if you weren’t yet discussing APIs, SDKs, standardized platforms across portfolios of buildings, 3rd party integrations into various software platforms, or the possibility of tying that all into a tenant amenity app with your clients, you certainly are now. These technology solutions impact both sides of the equation: the technology partners that are developing solutions and the operators and owners who are weighing which technologies to implement. So is there a better, more relationship centric way to drive adoption and implementation with technologies that resonate with these end users and operators who have traditionally been adverse to disruptive innovation?
For technology providers, prioritizing their own products and services over collaboration with their clients usually ends up with a one-sided relationship that fizzles over time. Deeper market share and ultimately the ability to expand services across a portfolio is not built through deploying more technology. It is built through sustained engagement from dedicated staff who understand the needs and challenges real estate firms face. This becomes even more paramount as recent data continues to hint that inflation will create havoc on the balance sheets of real estate firms who have limited ability to pass along cost increases. In this current climate, red lights are blinking from our real estate partners as well as their prospective tenants and those with upcoming renewals about their increased price sensitivity.
The structure that we built at Kastle does not mimic a traditional SaaS company, but rather uses dedicated, cross-functional team members that are grouped together by the client they serve rather than the job they perform. Project managers, onboarding specialists, account managers, and customer success are all teamed together around clients. Providing cross-functional organizational support and structure improves communication internally, which naturally leads to a better client experience and deeper penetration of services that our clients are adopting over time. Furthermore, the need to constantly reassess a mutually agreed upon strategy with the client post initial deployment is critical. The idea is to empower your employees to teach, tailor, and take control of every client interaction to assess and reaffirm that we are maintaining a customer centric perspective rather than a limited, product specific view. Generally speaking, the real estate industry takes a very long term view of the world and owners and operators are looking for partners and trusted advisors over the long haul, not just a Band-Aid to patch issues as they appear. This means that there are no silver bullets to growth and it is
imperative to make sure that everyone in your organization that serves these customers understands the big picture. This can’t just apply to the executive team who met with the client months prior to the deal closing or the initial business development person. There needs to be a comprehensive strategy that is customized for each specific client allowing for buy-in across all stakeholders. This also must apply to measurable internal goals such as retention rates, contract renewals, and product adoption per user.
It is an exciting time for the real estate industry; the office of tomorrow will be different but fundamentally things haven’t changed. Real estate owners and managers want solutions that will be attractive to their tenants and technology partners want to provide solutions that will be highly impactful and adoptable by their clients. If you think technology is going to solve everything then you are going to miss the boat on where true value is unlocked – through sustained engagement and collaboration over the life of a relationship.