From their seat in Australia, Colliers International is looking to change the property management business landscape in a fundamental way.
Colliers got its start in 1976 in Australia when three of the country’s real estate services firms joined forces. According to the company website, it was only two short years before the company was expanding internationally.
Today, the organization consists of more than 16,300 employees spread out across 67 countries. Managing thousands of different locations, the company is today known globally as a top 2 services provider in the field. But while Colliers has built a reputation for excellence of service, they’re not content to call it a day just yet.
“We've really challenged the way we deliver our services— and the market is pretty vanilla, right?” said Andrew Bull, national director of engineering and operations at Colliers International. “Everyone's got more or less the same offering. So we've really challenged ourselves to come up with something special which really differentiates us from the rest of the competitors [while providing] our clients with a service that exceeds their expectations and helps their bottom line. As a result, we've made some changes in our business and are about to make some more which will really set us apart from most of the field.”
The Revolution to Come
At face value, it’s difficult to imagine how a company could stand out in an industry where all companies have relatively small variations on the same service. But Colliers hasn’t grown to the size it is today by lack of imagination. And Bull meant it when he said the company has big plans for differentiation.
“A really good example of that is our call center,” he said. “Traditionally call centres in the industry have have provided a reactive service.”
The way most building management companies handle call centers goes something like this: one of the company’s many tenants will discover that an essential feature of a building is out of commission, such as an elevator being out of order. That tenant would then call the property management company, who would send someone out to remedy the issue.
The process seems simple enough, but Colliers saw a means to improve the process.
“What we've done is shifted the call center into an environment where they can monitor alarm outputs,” he said. “So now what we are doing is pushing alarm outputs from some of the building management systems into our call center environment.”
In essence, this shifts a very large portion of the building’s maintenance requirements from a situation where someone is sent out after a tenant gets irritated over an issue to one where the company can be proactive. By allowing call center representatives to monitor alarm outputs in real-time, maintenance professionals can be dispatched long before the tenant even realizes there’s a problem.
“This changes the entire paradigm for the industry— we're moving from a very reactive approach to actually monitoring the building condition and trying to stop faults before they become tenant-related issues,” Bull said.
This is all made possible by the information that “big data” provides. As the monitoring of systems is increasingly automated, the necessity of an individual to come out to the site for a routine inspection is greatly reduced, allowing for the most seamless tenant experience possible. It also means that tenants aren’t annoyed by essential building services regularly failing, and in the long term, this increases tenant retention for the landlord.
“The key for me is how we present that information to our clients in a way that not only adds value to the process, but enables our clients to make better, faster decisions,” Bull said. “I read a statistic the other day which said that in 1976 the average supermarket or grocery store stocked 9,000 items and now the average store stocks about 40,000 items. But your average shopper only needs about 150, so you think about all of those snap decisions that they have to make, walking around the supermarket. I used that analogy in our market as well. If I know my client needs 150 things then I'm going to try and create an environment where they're not faced with 40,000 items, they're faced with 150 that they do want.”
Their call center optimization is only one of many changes Colliers is making to pass greater value on to their clients. Another is the total redesign of the company’s facilities management software, which governs day-to-day operations throughout the business. It manages a host of factors including workflow, procurement, risk management, contractor management and more.
According to Bull, the change in platform for Colliers will allow them some exciting new capabilities.
“[It] changes how we operate on a day-to-day basis because it's optimized for use on mobile devices and now frees people up from their desks, enabling them to get out in the buildings in front of tenants and in front of clients,” Bull said. “It adopts things like producing QR codes for assets. So we can apply a QR code to an asset and someone can walk up to it, scan it, text it to a relevant person and straight into our facilities management platform where they can pull up information about that asset.”
“So it really does change the way that we interact with the building environment and the users of that environment,” he added.
The Continuing Company Standard of Excellence
When looking at the attention Colliers pays to passing value on to their clients, it’s no wonder the company has a veritable treasure trove of awards to point to.
According to a 2013 Business Review Australia article on the company, Colliers was honored at the CoreNet Sydney 2008 Summit as a prime example of a company “developing a competitive advantage through a sustainable talent management program.”
The company is also routinely ranked in the Global Outsourcing 100 top businesses and the World’s Best Outsourcing Advisors by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals. It’s an area Colliers has some experience in.
“We're going through a procurement initiative at the moment which is really seeing us leverage our scale in the marketplace to the benefit of our clients, not only in dollar terms, but in terms of exposure to best practices and innovation,” Bull said. “And some of the things I've talked about wouldn't be possible without finding the right partner, like in the call center, for example.
“That's not in-house. We outsourced that to E-Group and they have been absolutely fantastic. We've always outsourced our call center. I was fortunate enough to bring, I think, 75 percent of the call center team from one provider to E-Group. To put that into perspective, the average tenure for that call center team is over 10 years and that's unheard of in a call center environment.”
So with a host of loyal partners and a range of sophisticated updates coming soon to Colliers’ service offerings, the property management powerhouse looks well positioned for another 40 years of business.