How did you come to decide on digitalising your business processes?
Before the COVID 19 pandemic, there were many manual processes and paperwork, such as submitting transactions in hardcopy, that the RESs had to complete. This in turn put pressure on the administrative staff to invoice clients quickly so that agents could receive their commissions.
I also realised that the RESs relied on the administrative staff whenever they needed to retrieve internal documents, such as forms, brochures and floor plans.
As a small agency, capital and process efficiencies are very important. This, and the need to minimise contact between staff and RESs during the COVID-19 pandemic, meant that the search for the right technology solution became more pressing.
What made you decide to develop a chatbot?
We needed a solution that could process invoices quickly and organise our documents efficiently. Initially, we explored off-the-shelf solutions available in the market. However, these had very limited functions and we soon realised that it would mean incorporating several applications which might not integrate with each other. On the other hand, the customised solutions for robotic process automation were very expensive. As such, we were unable to find a suitable partner for some time.
After looking for more than six months, I was convinced that there was no off-the-shelf IT solution that could meet all our needs. It was only when one of my RESs introduced me to Pand.ai, a local financial tech start-up that builds artificial intelligence-powered chatbots, that things started moving quickly.
I expected a chatbot to simply answer questions and was pleasantly surprised that it could perform process automation, and in a more efficient way too! More importantly, a chatbot is conversational and requires an almost zero learning curve. This makes it much easier for RESs and administrative staff to take that first step towards digitalisation.
How long did this project take to materialise?
A core team of RESs and administrative staff was formed to work on the requirements. From there, the actual development of the solution – from conceptualisation and design to having a final solution – took about eight weeks. We applied for the Enterprise Development Grant, which was approved in about 10 weeks.
Along the way, we changed our accounting system and, as our chatbot solution was integrated with our accounting system, we also took some time to test and familiarise ourselves with both systems. Overall, the project took about four to five months to be completed.
How has using the chatbot benefitted your business operations, RESs and clients?
Having used the chatbot for four months, I have noticed that my estate agent’s productivity has increased by more than 50%. This includes a much quicker invoice generation to receipt of commission cycle, greater administrative efficiency, and a reduction in paperwork. With more efficient processes, administrative staff can be trained to perform higher value-added tasks like process audit and systems management. More resources can also be channelled to marketing and recruitment.
Another benefit is that the RESs are in full control of how quickly invoices get sent to clients and thus receive their commission quicker. They are also able to use the shared resources to search for information without having to rely on the administrative staff. This improvement in productivity frees up time for RESs to better serve their clients’ needs.
In fact, using the chatbot has opened up many possibilities and we are exploring several ideas, such as a commission calculator to calculate exact commission pay out and even a commission report for tax filing purposes.
Was this digitalisation journey challenging for your RESs and administrative staff?
We trained the RESs on the functions and capabilities of the chatbot, while the administrative staff were taught how to issue credit notes to customers, update payment status and check for errors. It also helped that the chatbot was very intuitive to use.
I was very happy and relieved at the speed of transition – we took about two weeks to transit from the manual operations to the chatbot.
Any words of advice or encouragement for small to medium sized agencies on how they can tap on digitalisation for greater productivity and professionalism?
I encourage every agency to dream of the possibilities and not be confined to any mindset of what can or cannot be done. As this is a customised solution, you can define what it should look like based on your needs. It is equally important to find the right technology partner who can make your vision into reality, and with whom you can bounce ideas off and consult with. Working with Pand.ai made our decisions easier as they were very willing to listen and provide advice on how to implement the things that we needed. I would highly recommend you to have a chat with Pand.ai!