Spring/Summer 2014: Private Rented Sector Operations – Why Function When You Can Really Fly?

Neil Young

Neil Young, CEO Young Group & Young London

With its focus on operational aspects of the Private Rented Sector (PRS), the latest edition of our Biannual PRSupdate publication has gathered together a selection of articles that gives a flavour of the elements required in managing PRS assets on a day-to-day basis.

Undoubtedly clearly defined processes, supported by robust procedures are at the heart of successful PRS operations, as Kris Wadia explains. Kris was, until recently, a Managing Director with Accenture, a global consulting organisation.

He is now CEO of Humanized Leadership, which advises businesses on profit improvement. However, it is how those processes are brought to life within the business and delivered (both internally and externally), and the tools that are employed that have the potential to differentiate between a business that functions and a business that flies.

However, it’s not enough to merely identify the tools required. Whilst they can each add value in isolation, expertise is required not only in seeking out the best in class providers, but also in crafting the different elements into a cohesive cross-discipline toolkit. As Lesley Roberts explains, it’s only then that real added value can be derived.

Identifying the right tools for the PRS operators’ toolkit is not as simple as it might appear. It requires suppliers and partner providers to share one’s vision and aspirations to move the PRS forward. It’s vital to find like-minded organisations that are willing to work together to develop their solutions to meet our ever-advancing needs. Our Management Information System (MIS) provider CML is a good example.

When Young Group’s operational platform business, Young London, wanted to offer potential residents the option to complete their tenancy paperwork online, CML worked with the team to bring the functionality within the MIS. This ensured that internal processes, external communication and compliance reporting is seamless and remains within a single system. And in our quest for Young London to offer a paperless operation, CML worked with our inventory software provider to the same effect. They share our vision of delivering an enhanced customer experience to support our business objectives – in this instance through development of their software product.

Those of you familiar with Young Group will know that this focus on customer experience runs through all that we do. In partnering with RealService, the independent customer service monitoring company, we gain live business insight at an incredibly granular level that’s fed back into our service delivery department and informs our ongoing training and development programme.

Peter Bolton King discusses the impact that poor practice, by a small minority of agents, in the PRS has on the sector as a whole. I firmly believe that the key to stamping this out is to lead by example; to deliver a professional customer experience that becomes the norm in the industry and creates an expectation among residents and prospective residents of the standards that they should demand from operators within the PRS.

Clearly, there’s no single, straightforward one size fits all approach to operating in the PRS, but there are common themes that flow through the expectations of all customer groups; flexibility, consistency, responsiveness and communication. These are the elements that, when woven into business processes and procedures will raise the standing of the sector.

Essentially, PRS companies are retailers and should be using all of the items in a retail business’ toolkit to match potential renters to their homes. The tenets of great customer experience are well practiced in the retail sector (as well as the hospitality and leisure industries), and I believe that:

Get this equation right and the often-quoted issue of reputational risk can be mitigated, as Michael Oakes explains in more detail.

John Lewis is a great example – not only because it’s recognised for delivering customer service – but also because it combines fantastic, efficient behind the scenes processes to deliver:

  • Flexibility: You can choose to shop in-store or online. You can collect from a store or choose from a range of delivery options.
  • Consistency: The quality control of product (and service) is closely monitored and maintained.
  • Responsiveness: Instore, footfall and queue length are monitored and modelled to ensure wait times are low while online, stock levels are checked in real-time and orders confirmed and processed immediately.
  • Communication: In-store, John Lewis advisers are well informed and on hand to assist and for click and collect or delivered items, automated progress updates are accurate and timely.

As a PRS-specific example, Young London’s prospective residents have a choice about how they’d like to interact with us. For instance they can physically sign a copy of their AST in the office, they can receive it by post to sign and return or they can sign their AST electronically, so we can provide it by email, via Facebook messenger or direct tweet.

Our preference may be for online signing (due to the audit trail, speed and efficiency), however, we recognise that different customers have different preferences and circumstances that mean we need to be flexible enough to offer an option that suits them. Our job is to ensure that our internal procedures make the delivery of that element of the process completely seamless, irrespective of the customer’s choice.

Having the ability to anticipate a customer’s need, and the flexibility to evolve the service offerings to meet that need (and to shape it in some instances), is key to staying ahead in the PRS. Insight is critical and the huge advances being made in access to, and interpretation of, ‘Big Data’ will definitely separate the PRS wheat from the chaff.

It’s this approach to bringing the best operational elements together to deliver flexibility, consistency, responsiveness and timely communication that created the proven platform that underpins Young Group’s success.

Our clients benefit from being able to experience Young London in operation, effectively seeing the platform in action and gaining comfort from the proof points of Young London’s achievements (27 industry and business awards in the past six years – and currently the UK Property Awards’ Best Lettings Agency UK 2013-14).

Operational management of PRS assets is a specialised area and, contrary to what you may hear on the ‘property circuit’, highly skilled PRS operators are active in the market. Young Group has been quietly getting on with the business of shaping the PRS for a decade and is now working on a number of the largest, most high profile and commercially sensitive PRS projects in the UK, with an asset value of £1.5billion and strategic pipeline of new business that is projected to exceed £4billion.

Young Group works with developers, housing associations, private clients and institutional investors, all of whom share a common understanding of the need for PRS operations to be considered across all points of the assets’ life cycle. I’m grateful that so many clients – and partners – have spared the time to write articles for our suite of PRSupdate publications, both online and in print over the years. Knowledge sharing and developing defined standards of best practice are vital if the PRS is to reach its full potential and I’m proud that our clients and partners embrace that.

In building a cohesive platform that incorporates all the elements required to deliver for the sector, Young Group has trialled and discounted a wide range of providers; to coin a phrase, ‘we’ve had to kiss a lot of frogs to find the right partners’. Even with a robust proprietary platform available, operations aren’t a bolt-on that can be added at the point of go-live. As David Mackenzie points out, in order to get the very best performance from PRS assets, operational considerations need to be an integral part of the investment strategy, planning process, build and fit out phases, lettings strategy and marketing planning, prior to delivery, or acquisition, of PRS assets.

So if I can leave you with one last thought, it is this.

Choose your PRS operational partner carefully; they have the ability to transform your business from one that functions into one that flies… We look forward to hearing from you.

Neil Young
Young Group

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About Neil Young
Chief Executive, Young Group

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