JONATHAN SCHULTZ

A blog about the evolving relationship of commercial real estate and technology.

Customer Support; Not Digital Barriers

Let me just say upfront that this is an area that has seen major transformations in recent years, so much so that the term “customer support” is almost insulting. Your users are your partners. They are capable, savvy, and busy. This function is not about handholding, but about empowerment and partnership. Support should be as much about facilitating the customer’s control as it is about addressing problems. Anticipating users’ needs and providing them with access and resources they need to address them is just as important as reacting to their questions and issues.

Three major areas should be top concerns for platforms that strive to exceed expectations with regard to customer –let’s call it: empowerment- are discussed below. Any system that’s not looking carefully at these areas is simply not providing acceptable service, and believe me, the customers will recognize that.

RESPONSE TIME

Here I’m not referring to how long it takes your email to send an automated response. These are fine; they let the customer know that the request or question has been received, but it had better be followed shortly by some action.  These clients are not waiting to have their cable connected; they generally need your response in order to carry on with some aspect of their business day.

Lag time is unacceptable! Your response really doesn’t count until the issue has actually been addressed and work can continue. This is your end of the partnership.

NEW RELEASE UPDATES & TRAINING

Updates and improvements are a positive, but confusion is definitely not. There are few-things more frustrating than unannounced changes in software that we use daily. Never leave users to figure out new features on their own; this shows no respect for the partnership and wastes buckets of time.

Training for users must be an integral part of any update, and it should be constant and consistently available. Sometimes a quick tutorial (“What’s New in Version 5.2?”) is sufficient, but for anything significant it’s wise to provide an easy way for users to ask questions. One solution is to provide a webinar on the update (recorded and available for later viewing as well).  In this way users can get clarification immediately, and begin to take advantage of improvements right away.  This is also a very personalized way to provide the information, putting a more human face on your system.

More on this in my “Webinar vs. Human Contact” blog…

EMPOWER THE CUSTOMER

As I mentioned above, good support gives the user tools and access to do their work efficiently.  Your system should never cause users to feel helpless or limited. Carefully consider any functions that you’re setting up to require permissions. Is this necessary? If not, build in the ability for customers to make changes that serve them better without having to call someone. This saves time, empowers the customer, and makes them more proficient users of your system. All good.

But, don’t forget about your workforce! Empowering them via workplace culture and environment is just as important.

Quality support is not about helping users around roadblocks that you have set up. It’s about keeping the road clear and being on hand when a glitch occurs. Open lines of

communication and a partnership mentality create a productive relationship that is what your users are coming to expect.  Meeting that expectation is the key to successfully exploiting the potential of technology to make our lives more collaborative, efficient, and even fun.

This new concept of customer support is the fastest-moving tech revolution in business that we will ever see. It’s so paramount to focus on that – to me – this will make or break what products people choose to use and what people they choose to do business with in the future. Are you in?

4 Things I Learned About Gamification in the Men’s Bathroom

First of all, let me say that in general, I learn very little in the men’s bathroom. Pretty mundane stuff, although TV monitors in new bathrooms means I can at least get some news and sports scores. Recently, though, this was the site of some pretty profound discoveries with regard to the way we work and how turning everyday tasks into games can really enhance productivity and engagement. In a conversation with an Onyx accountant, Joe Sozio, I got a lesson in the benefits of gamification.

It’s always good to start with a definition, so here’s one for gamification. As the name implies, it’s the process of turning tasks (work, routine, everyday) into a game in order to increase motivation, engagement levels, productivity, and sense of reward. It really works, and it has some interesting applications for CRE.

So aside from the fact that games have some unexpected benefits for work, what information did I pick up on that day in the men’s room? Here are 4 important points.

#1: It’s already all around us

Forbes published a piece that clarifies how ubiquitous games are in modern life. The article points out that a lot of our daily activities have elements of gamification:

“Airline frequent-flier miles are games that reward loyalty. Mega Millions, Powerball, Take Five and other state lotteries? They’re games. Nissan has an in-car gaming system that encourages drivers to compete for best efficiency levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). Talk about a mobile game. You could look at Twitter as a game, the payoff being more and more followers and greater numbers of retweets the more you use it. Peer at the game-like iconography of your iPhone and you might recognize it as reminiscent of old video games like “Pac-Man” and “Space Invaders.”

#2: Adults at play

The act of playing as an adult can have psychological benefits such as increasing our focus, critical thinking, creativity, and productivity. This makes sense, but how many of us have actually applied this idea to the workplace?

Turns out, quite a few. Gamification has been frequently adapted for training purposes, for example. The Entertainment Software Association estimated that 70 percent of major employers are already using interactive software and games for training. Games give us a sense of accomplishment that can be hard to come by in real life, and this motivates us to continue, thanks to the flood of dopamine that gaming can produce in our brains.

#3: Gamification can help us meet our goals

The use of games in the workplace increases overall happiness at work, and it can help us to reach our goals. As Bunchball has explained, gamification has the potential to revolutionize the workplace, because it:

  •   Taps into intrinsic motivators and attaches those to company success
  •   Is data-driven
  •   Is proven and sustainable

#4: It really IS all fun and games

No matter what our age group or the type of work we do, who doesn’t want to have fun? For me, the concept of gamification takes me back to when I was a kid – where I could focus on the present moment – not only because I enjoyed what I was doing, but because it was fun! As we get older, we tend to think of the next thing – of what’s next. We’re constantly pulled in a number of directions. Wouldn’t it be great to get back to a workforce where our work became fun and we were able to stay in the present?

Considering that we’re already gaming in many ways in the course of our days, it seems smart to consider ways that it might be incorporated into our work routine. The experts agree that play makes us more creative, boosts energy, relieves stress and improves brain function. With the positive effects they have on motivation and productivity, it looks as though we’ve just begun to tap the potential of gamification in the workplace. I really hope this becomes commonplace. It would make for such a better, happy more exciting work life where we spend a lot of our life each and every day.  

The Convergence of Baby Boomers & Millennials: Lessons From the Movie, The Intern

Being on top of things in the tech world can give you an edge in pretty much any industry, and CRE is no exception. Being comfortable on multiple devices and platforms can help make the connections that make business percolate. There’s an expectation out there for a tech savvy approach, and definitely a preference for working with those who are in the loop.

Certainly technology makes us all more efficient and responsive. It also creates an image as a capable and tuned-in professional. A certain level of tech-savviness gives those with whom we work the impression that we are on top of things. This is connected to our society’s fondness for all things youthful and new. According to Pew Research, one in three American workers is part of the millennial generation. Their influence on how we work is undeniable, but we risk missing out on some important experiences and opportunities if we forget the baby boomers.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_intern/pictures/movie-133093/

Photo: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_intern/pictures/movie-133093/

Click Here for The Intern Interview

In business, the energy and innovation of youth is of great value, but it’s not the whole package. Experience and maturity can add depth to a professional’s abilities and to our overall human experience. That essential element of human contact and caring enriches everything.  As the trailer for the movie The Intern tells us: “Experience never grows old.” It’s true that some of the ideas and skills that older people found useful years ago no longer apply, but there are some universal skills that can only be acquired through experience. These are always valuable.

A little background on the plot: Robert DeNiro’s character, Ben, is a 70-year-old widower who is finding that retirement is a little dull. Looking for a challenge, he applies and is chosen for an internship with an online clothing shop headed by Jules, who is played by Anne Hathaway.

The movie proceeds to illustrate some of the characteristics that make up the workplace for the millennial generation- Jules likes to ride her bike through the massive company offices. Her employees are the classic start-up dudes, casually attired and collaborating in a mod open office.

Ben represents the old-school value of a nice suit and good manners.  Most of all he illustrates the irreplaceable and irresistible value of the experience and perspective of older people. Whether we’re talking about colleagues or clients, we can learn a lot from experienced individuals. Whatever the business, we all work with people, and life experience creates massive insight into human behavior.

The baby boomer generation has been able to observe how things play out over time. They know the value of patience and kindness, and how to bring out the best in people. Decades of experience create a trove of information: anecdotes about acquaintances that illustrate important principles of business on a human scale. But, they also have to want to take the bull by the horns and realize that change is imminent.  

It’s critical that the millennial generation not overlook this tremendous resource that is right in front of them. As Americans enjoy better health, living longer and many more productive years, the boomers have a great deal to offer.  The Intern teaches us some great lessons for any business: celebrate the good things, however small; keep moving; and leaders set the tone for an organization.

This is a once-in-a-century opportunity when these and other demographics will work together to create the most productive workforce we’ve potentially ever seen; the amazing thing is that everyone will be included. The sooner we capitalize on the benefits of this unique value proposition – the better.

 

Ways Tech Can Help Attract and Retain Top CRE Talent

It was some time coming, but technology has taken up residence at the heart of the CRE industry, and it can serve us well, both as a vehicle for productivity and as a way to attract and retain the best and brightest in our field.  Apps and platforms specifically for real estate are the fastest growing segment of the startup culture, providing new ways to manage everything from transactions to marketing to project funding. These tools enable us to provide a level of customer service that was never possible before, and to create and maintain connections unimaginable even 10 years ago.

All of the tools that are available have one value in common: they enhance our ability to connect and share information more efficiently.  This is essential for success in our industry, where having the information our clients and peers need at our fingertips gives us an edge.  An office that incorporates technology into its operations sets its people up for success.

The employees you’re looking for know this. They’re also likely coming primarily from the Millennial generation, which already makes up 30% of the population comprises more than 50% of the U.S. workforce.   As the first generation that doesn’t remember a world without the Web, this demographic is very much attached to technology.  They’re primed to make use of any digital tools available to improve their performance and just make life easier.

There are other characteristics of Millennials that influence how they view technology, and what really makes it work for them. This generation values personal connections and collaborative work. They appreciate a team atmosphere and want to feel like they’re contributing to a common goal.  They appreciate feedback, autonomy and choice. Millennials want to know what their managers and co-workers are thinking, and what’s going on around them at work. They expect 24/7 access to information that is relevant to their work, and thrive on a social exchange of ideas.

To meet this need for connection, simply providing the latest digital tools is not enough. Along with technology, there has to be a company culture that is inclusive, positive, and as transparent as possible. Communication is key to realizing the potential of any technology tool for creating an office where productive people want to work. Keep everyone in the loop with quarterly reports to show what the company is doing well –or where there is more work to do.  No one can contribute if they don’t know what needs doing. Knowledge is power, as they say, and empowered employees feel greater satisfaction and fulfillment in their work.  Those are people who will stick around, because they care about what’s going on in the firm.

So by all means, keep up to date on the best technology to give your company an edge, but don’t neglect the human side. Create a collaborative community to attract top-notch employees who are truly invested in the success of the company. And, don’t forget the importance of combining the tech-savvy love of Millennials with the experience and wisdom of the Boomers. These experience and knowledge sets – when combined – are invaluable for an organization. Then let them engage with the company culture and feel that they’re part of a larger effort to keep them there.

CHO: The New CEO?

Ah, happiness. Isn’t this something each person strives for as a part of his or her daily life? For many, happiness is something that just happens, for others, it can be a journey to find happiness…especially in the workplace.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos gives us some insight on the effects of corporate culture in achieving success and happiness though his first book, Delivering Happiness. Published in June, 2010, Delivering Happiness debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list where it remained for 27 consecutive weeks.

Clearly, the book’s time as #1 just goes to show how a powerful message can impact the reader. So what’s so great about this book and what can we learn from it? Sure, it offers a blend of business advice, million dollar deals and more; but why is that enough to make it a #1 best seller?

What makes this book unique is its offering of knowledge pertaining to the belief that happiness can be used as a model in a business or personal life setting.

It talks about paying $2,000 to new employees to quit. Those that quit are probably the ones you don’t want there in the long run! It’s about the company and the culture…and in the end, how these factors make money for the organization.

Since we spend much of our lives at work, it makes sense that being happy at work can help determine happiness in your life, and vice-versa. When you’re in high spirits, the same trickles to the people you work with. People want to be around positive energy. Personally the greatest feeling I have in business is when my positive energy can make a difference in a room.  Clients experience your day, whether intentional or not. People will take notice when you’re happy with your life.

While people used to believe that you didn’t have to be happy with your job or work to succeed, happiness in the workplace actually leads to increased productivity, commitment to team building, and growth.

The ability to focus and accomplish tasks has a lot to do with how you’re feeling at that moment. When you’re feeling good and you’re happy–you’re doing some of your best work. Obviously, when you’re performing well in your job, rewards tend to follow! Happy people become better workers and they work smarter.

No one wants to work with a Debbie Downer, a Negative Nancy or a Vicious Vanessa.

You might, but I don’t. Face it, unhappy people aren’t fun to work with, probably aren’t adding a lot of value to your organization and aren’t boosting morale around the office. Don’t we all want to work with people that have a good attitude, feel motivated about their role in your organization and that they know they’re adding value?

It’s all about the mindset you go in with. It’s not always about being under appreciated, or even having a positive mindset, but also about what you can do or change to make your work life better for you.  

It’s all a mindset.

Webinar vs. Human Contact

We love how technology has transformed the way we do business and the way we’re able to communicate with our clients.  It’s amazing, and I’m constantly pushing for technology in the workplace and transforming monotonous tasks into a streamlined process. Whether we’re setting up video conferences from across the country or connecting people from several cities, technology is a huge asset across all industries.

As much as we love technology and the many ways it has made our jobs more convenient, it’s also important to remember that there’s still a need for human contact. While webinars and emails have become a huge asset, it doesn’t quite take the place of face-to-face meetings, and here’s why.

Why do we still need human contact in the workplace?

Our daily lives are consumed with emails, text messages, and voicemails, and it can be overwhelming and all-consuming. However, it’s important to make sure we are returning those emails and calls to ensure we know our customer’s wants and needs. Virtual meetings, though handy, still miss out on opportunities that you have from in-person meetings.

Don’t underestimate the power of meeting someone in person.

Visiting someone’s office is the chance to gauge many details of their business: size or growth potential. You’re able to see what their office culture is like and what kind of people they work with. Is it a relaxed atmosphere? Is it traditional? Either way, a presentation or training can be fitted to their needs.

When trying to make an impression, this can be quite difficult over an email or web call.  In-person meetings give you the opportunity to read the body language of the other person, a chance for them to read yours, and to be able to look someone in the eye, so they know you’re sincere. Sure, video conferences may offer a little glimpse, but during webinars and screen sharing, the chance may not be available.

During training sessions or webinars, it’s important to note how others are receiving your information. In-person training sessions allow the trainer to see reactions from their delivery. Does the trainee really understand, or do you need to delve deeper into the subject matter? Webinars, though helpful, don’t give the same attention to the trainer and often other things are being done simultaneously, which can mean people aren’t paying attention.

We are in the beginning of the biggest technology revolution in history.

This will go on for years to come, BUT, we are still human and as human beings we have the unwavering desire to connect and bond with each other. The power of human connection in my mind will still and always be paramount.

CoWorking: Feeding Creativity or Limiting Productivity?

With flexibility and mobility on the rise as a “must have” for the new generation of workers, it would be wise to consider the idea of coworking spaces, especially  if you’re a start up! First, let’s talk about the idea of coworking space, what it is, what it does, and what it can do.

The idea of coworking involves a work environment that’s different from the traditional norm. We aren’t talking about small dark offices with traditional furniture. We’re talking about a shared working environment where your neighbor may not be part of the same organization or even part of the same state you’re in, but you’re both working hard and getting the job done.

People from various places, jobs, and backgrounds are able to literally “plug” into these coworking spaces to have an “office” feel yet with the flexibility to move around and change from area to area, especially if they travel a lot for work or their personal life. It doesn’t have to be work a week, month, or year. You can rent space for a day or spend just the afternoon there! Whatever your needs may be, coworking space might be the next thing to spark those creative juices.

Benefits of coworking spaces includes having the amenities of an office while keeping costs low. They have access to wifi, a fax machine, even conference rooms to hold meetings. For those who work from home that need a change of scenery, coworking space is ideal. It’s a fast setup and once you’re there, you’re ready to go!

  • There are no distractions.
  • There is a sense of community.
  • You’re surrounded by hardworking professionals much like yourself.

The best part–you’re not stuck with a recurring utility, internet, or phone bill. These spaces can often be paid through a month-to-month membership or an annual fee. There are even some coworking spaces that offer beer and unlimited conference room use! This may even include administrative staff that can help with those tedious tasks you really don’t have time to do.

While many believe that coworking space is all about the physical location, much of coworking is about fueling a sense of community with people that have similar shared values. It’s about sparking collaboration and creativity. It could be as simple as a change of scenery to do it. If one space doesn’t work, hey, just move to another. The workspace is flexible and mobile.

Some individuals feel inspired by using the advances in technology to make the space work for them. It’s cost effective and allows people to truly live “on the go”, and not skip a beat. It’s the type of environment we’re all shifting to–constantly connected, constantly on the go! Our lifestyles have to match and have to work for us to  be productive and the best we can be.

Coworking space is a great way to grow your business faster and change with the demand of your staff and the needs of your organization. Scale back or add more, the space works for you and not the other way around. Whether you work from home or work from a traditional office, have set hours or flexible ones, you can still work by yourself, but not work alone.

Big VC Investments in Real Estate Tech Worth Talking About

It’s hard to believe we are in the last quarter of 2015! The year has been filled with new technology, studies, and trends that are changing the way we work in the commercial industry. Among the greatest of 2015 are some of the biggest venture capital investments making a splash on their own. What’s making me so excited is that for the first time in my entire career I actually feel that this is REAL, technology and real estate are finally intersecting.

To date, 2015 has seen over $160 million in real estate tech financings involving some of the top 20 smart money VCs we’ve seen. Assuming the current trends continue, these top VCs are averaging 15 deals annually and we can learn a little something from them! So where are these top VCs putting their money…

These five real estate tech categories are where these hotshot VCs are spending their money and where we are seeing real user adoption:

1. Leasing Management Software – Leasing management software involves programs and platforms aimed at brokers, owners, and property managers. Built to be simple to use and streamline the leasing process, VCs are taking advantage!

2. Brokerage Platforms – Tech-enabled brokerages are taking full advantage of platforms designed to assist with the buying and selling of properties. The needs of clients are met with efficiency, helping brokers close deals smarter and faster.

3. Investments – An area that has seen a large increase in volume is the investment sector. The availability of technology through the platforms they service, investors are able to seek new opportunities in larger pools that they weren’t able to access previously. These platforms have created a space for investors to feel constantly connected to their investment portfolios and find the right investment deal for their situation.

For some, these platforms offer smaller investment opportunities, especially through the crowdfunding space, giving access to thousands of deals from across the country that weren’t available before. Investors, developers, and borrowers, are vetted through the platform with almost every piece of information needed to make sound investment decisions. 

4. Listing Services – An area showing great use of real estate technology is in listing services. Platforms designed for brokers to upload their listings allowing people to search for both residential and commercial properties with ease. While this has been available to our industry for a few years, the availability of information and the consumer friendly platforms make the entire process easy from start to finish.

5. 3D – I’m excited about what 3D tech has already brought into our industry and I can only imagine what’s coming next. Currently, millions of dollars are being thrown to get this tech out and out FAST! 3D technology is adding layers into our industry that were merely concepts just a few years ago. Now, 3D models of physical spaces are being created and showcased to clients on another level!

What companies are on your “must-watch list”? Let’s continue to conversation on Twitter. I’d love to hear what VC investments and companies you thought were a big hit in 2015.  

3 Workplace Innovations You Should Have Implemented Yesterday

A follow up to my blog post last week:  3 Ways to be More Innovative in the Workplace


Have you ever asked yourself whether your workplace technology is working for, well, you? Probably not, but we’ve all had our share of complaints when things aren’t working or when we wish we had the next great program or gadget. Well, maybe you don’t have to wait as long as you think you do.

If you’re in the business to deliver fast, efficient, and superior service, chances are you’re going to need the help of some workplace innovations along the way. Whether it’s a program to help streamline your marketing efforts or to keep track of your billable hours, there’s always a new piece of technology waiting for us to grab.

Even something as simple as the office setup can make a huge difference. Are there ports for team members to plug into if they need a change of scenery? What about a walking desk to keep the fit conscious happy? These types of innovations are doing more than attracting new talent, it’s keeping them happy and boosting their performance.

So, what workplace innovations should you have implemented…yesterday in the real estate sector?

1. Leasing

Leasing office space, and also in general, has come a long way over the years. Think about how easy it is to hop online onto a leasing platform, put in all the required criteria and BOOM! There’s several options ready for you view. Even better, is that most of these leasing platforms even offer virtual tours so you can view the space from the comfort of your own home.

2. Property Management

The changes in property management are quite superior. Over the years, the focus from landlords to tenants have made headway in how property management is conducted on a daily basis. Today, landlords are going above and beyond to ensure their tenants have what they need and some are even tracking the amount of time it takes to resolve issues. They want to offer exceptional service and they are willing to innovate new technologies to make it happen.

Through the introduction of online platforms, tenants are able to submit their issues and needs, and landlords are better equipped to handle those needs to keep their tenants happy. Some are even offering added amenities such as discounts or delivery services to ensure the needs of their tenants are being met.

3. Asset Management

Imagine having a client that’s an investor with a large portfolio. How do you know what deals they’re taking part in let alone how those investments are actually playing out. The asset management sector has been blessed with technology that handles all of that in one program or platform. Asset managers can keep track of the who, what, when, and how’s that their investors are working in and offer clear advice based on accurate and real-time information.

So what’s next? What I see coming into our industry is the implementation of 3D services! I’m talking about having the ability to create interactive 3D models for tenants to actually view and experience the space before it has even been built. I kid you not, workplace innovations are truly changing the experience for our team members and especially our clients. Embrace what it has to offer and use it to your advantage!

3 Ways to be More Innovative in the Workplace

It should come as no surprise to you that I love talking about the importance of innovation, especially in the workplace. Innovation and change are key in paving the roadmap to the future of our careers and for the organizations we are a part of.

I believe that one of the obstacles commonly faced in organizations is the focus on constraints and how these constraints can actually work in your advantage and not against you.

Bring in A Beautiful Constraint. This book sheds light on basically taking what you have and working with it–making a constraint, well, beautiful! We know there’s no such thing as a perfect world. Opportunities aren’t just handed to us on a silver platter waiting for us to accept it. We’re constantly faced with challenges and constraints and when it comes down to it, what matters is how we overcome them.

So let’s talk about how we can be more innovative in the workplace.

#1. Stop Saying Can’t

I’m tired of hearing people say they CAN’T do something before they’ve even tried it. Come on! The only way you know if you can’t do something is by actually attempting to do it. Sure, there are instances where you CAN’T lift 500 lbs, and you CAN’T fix a technology issue. But, can you lift something with the help of 50 team members? Can you call someone to fix that technology issue? ABSOLUTELY!

I get it. The added pressure of failure plays a huge part in our lives–on all aspects. I won’t be able to tell you if you’re going to succeed at everything you try, but I CAN tell you that you will fail at everything you don’t. So let’s take the T out of can’t and move it to TRY. Start thinking… “I can’t do this now, BUT we CAN if…”

#2. What Can I Do?

Hone in on yourself. Remember, you’re in the position you’re in because someone in your organization recognizes your skillset and the value you’re adding. It’s time to look within. Ask yourself what you’re doing and whether you can do it better. This could mean taking a step back, reorganizing, reshaping, or redesigning the what, why and how. It’s simple, “Is this the BEST that you can do?” If your answer is no, why not? How can you work better?

#3. Use Your Resources.

Remember, resources are everywhere. They’re in the people you see day in and day out–it’s about tapping into them and collaborating together. How can your team members help you grow and how can you help them? Put your minds together. What are their pain points?  Where are they strong? Can you each fill a gap for the other?

You may not be able to leap over each hurdle every single time. You may not be able to every other time. However, like in life, it’s a journey so  keep adjusting your roadmap so that you and your resources will figure out how to work best together. Don’t get caught in an endless loop of routines and hurdles, because you’ll miss the chance at a possible opportunity!

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