Property management company Touchstone has undergone a digital transformation process, improving its customer experience and internal operations to gain a strategic advantage in a competitive sector.
Touchstone is a large property management company with offices in Bath, London, Milton Keynes and Scotland. They manage over 16,000 properties up and down the UK, with a wide portfolio covering student accommodation, retirement stock, Build-to-Rent schemes, agent solutions (which includes back-office services for letting agents), and lender services. The company has been operating for over 20 years.
Analysing their business objectives, Touchstone identified a need for the company to undergo a digital transformation that aligned with their core beliefs. These include:
- To continue to grow the business – in order for the company to continue to grow and remain viable, adopting new technologies both in internal operations and in customer-facing situations was vital.
- Achieve operational excellence – new systems and technologies provided opportunities to drive efficiencies within the business’s operations.
- Always be customer focused – introducing digital customer portals and improving the technology within the business’s call centres would provide a smoother, more positive experience for customers and applicants.
- Be a brilliant place to work – by providing teams with digital tools to ensure their work was unhindered by a lack of resource, Touchstone could improve the workplace experience for colleagues.
At the end of 2019, the business created a new role to lead the digital transformation within the company, appointing Stacey Phillips as Director of Technology and Innovation.
Stacey and the team drew up a digital transformation strategy which looked at every aspect of Touchstone’s work and considered the benefits that implementing new technology, systems or software could bring.
The main goals within the strategy were:
- To create an entire online customer journey – from applications for rental properties, through to managing their tenancy, and communicating with the Touchstone customer services teams.
- To ensure the integration of their internal management systems – any customer portals and client-facing systems needed to be supported by efficient and seamless processes behind the scenes to ensure a smooth customer experience and streamlined workflows.
As a long standing user of MRI Software’s comprehensive solution suite, having relied on its powerful platform for operational property management and accounting, Touchstone approached our team to work collaboratively on the transformation process. Sharing their strategy with their MRI Account Manager, we worked together in partnership to identify where Touchstone could further leverage products and services, and where other specialist providers could deliver value.
Stacey also took time to research the industry and the world of proptech by attending a range of conferences and organised events, inquiring about what other businesses had done and what technology could be adopted by Touchstone.
Stacey says: “When I started in this role, I asked how would I go about digital transformation if I ripped up what existed and started with a blank page. That’s the approach we took, and it requires a lot of research into the industry.”
Stacey also looked at Touchstone’s clients, concentrating on their portfolios and looking at ways in which the company could improve their service and provide solutions to client problems or inefficiencies.
Creating an online customer journey
This goal included a number of smaller objectives, required to ensure a smooth and seamless online customer experience:
- Implementation of a mechanism for customers to sign up and apply for tenancies online.
- Improvements to the existing customer portal to include expanded functionality and a more user-friendly experience.
- Integrate other systems into the customer portal, such as utility management, to allow for fuller visibility and more options for customers to manage their account online.
- Create a seamless system both externally and internally, ensuring that an attractive and polished customer portal is supported by a fully integrated internal system.
As a result, Touchstone has adopted tenant portal capabilities from the MRI ecosystem – and has launched the solution for its landlords. The implementation creates a fully integrated experience, from the applicant portal for new customers, through the new functionality for tenancy management and into the customer portal once the resident is moved in. It also allows for full integration with Touchstone’s internal management systems.
Driving efficiencies internally
“A big part of our strategy is to find the balance between having an amazing front-end that delivers for the customer, but also has efficient internal systems with no loss of data integrity,” Stacey explains. “If you’re not delivering an efficient internal service, then you can’t be delivering value for money to your clients, either.”
To ensure the business was internally robust and efficient, the Touchstone team worked collaboratively with MRI to identify the best solution. Through MRI’s partnering ethos, Touchstone was recommended Fixflo, the provider of market-leading lettings, block and commercial repairs and maintenance management software. The Fixflo application can be fully integrated within the MRI software suite, and the partnership between the two companies has enabled Touchstone to implement an intuitive, integrated system.
Stacey and the team embarked on a multi-phase project, with emphasis placed on ensuring that the in-depth integration was done thoroughly and the diagnostic tools within the system were calibrated to suit Touchstone’s operations. A number of bespoke elements within the system are also being built and integrated within Fixflo, which is still being worked on by the two teams.
The system was rolled out client-by-client and, now the integration is complete, Touchstone is working with Fixflo to ensure the system is optimised in a way that ensures the maximum benefit is reaped from the solution both internally and by the customer.
The team at Touchstone has received excellent feedback against the changes they’ve implemented. The integrity of the internal systems within the company has become a USP of the business, and the team takes the time to demonstrate to potential clients how the seamless and integrated internal system provides a huge benefit to customers.
“MRI refer to it as an ecosystem, and we’ve started mirroring that language because we agree that it’s a perfect way to describe it,” Stacey says.
For customers, the use of Fixflo has allowed them increased visibility of their tenancies and better communication with the Touchstone team in real-time.
Internally, the new systems have allowed for improved workflows and streamlined processes. The increased pressure on property managers from health and safety legislation and new regulations being introduced regularly requires a lot of resource from property managers to ensure client portfolios are kept active and customers are safe. The implementation of the new systems within the business has resulted in teams working more efficiently, saving time, and allowing them to redeploy their focus into other, value-adding areas.
Digital transformation has also meant ensuring that colleagues within Touchstone have all the tools they need available to them, something that has been intensified by coronavirus restrictions. Incorporating co-working and communication systems such as Microsoft Teams, Power BI, and other products has enabled colleagues to access all the tools the need to do their jobs efficiently wherever they are. For Touchstone, digital transformation is about having large-scale systems that make processes either easy or automated, but also a workforce that have everything they need to do what they need to do.
Learnings and next steps for Touchstone
For peers who are also considering digital transformation, Stacey offers this advice: “Invest time in your strategy, and don’t make it too long. There’s no point in trying to guess what the technology landscape will be in five years – it doesn’t seem like a long time, but in tech it’s a very long time indeed. Research your industry, your competitors, and different providers. Work out why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve through digital transformation.”
Looking to the future, Stacey says it’s difficult predict the next few years, but she expects technology will advance to include much bigger things than portals and apps, “but for now that’s what we’re really concentrating on.”
The team is working through every aspect of the business, from improving internal telephone communications to exploring the possibilities of VR for marketing purposes, to ensure that Touchstone is prepared for the next stage of its digital journey and whatever new developments the future brings.