Social collaboration gazumps email for Australian real estate firm

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman September 17, 2014
Melbourne-based property company Compton Green clears decks for client emails by moving colleague communications to Tibbr.

[sws_grey_box box_size="690"]SUMMARY - Melbourne-based property company Compton Green clears decks for client emails by moving colleague communications to Tibbr.  [/sws_grey_box]

With offices in up-and-coming Yarraville and Williamstown, Australian real estate agency Compton Green is primed to cash in on the rise and rise of a Melbourne property hotspot.

Once a distinctly down-at-heel area of the city, the Inner West suburbs are fast becoming the place to buy for hip singletons, young families and savvy investors wise to its affordable prices and proximity to Melbourne’s central business district.

But sales associates at an agency like Compton Green can’t expect to be nailing down deals if property hunters’ emails are going astray - and, as recently as last year, there was a distinct danger of that happening, according to Compton Green director, Adrian Butera:

Email was a busy, busy space for us. Internal email, in particular, was too busy, too distracting. There was too much clutter, too many ‘reply alls’. But the worst thing for me is that we were sometimes missing customer emails among all the internal emails.

Drastic action was required. Butera decided on a blanket ban on all colleague-to-colleague email at Compton Green - but not before the company had rolled out an enterprise social network, based on Tibbr from Tibco Software, as a new venue for all of its internal communications.

Says Butera:

Today, emails are only for communicating with people outside of the business, mostly buyers and sellers. We don’t allow employees to email each other. In a nutshell, they have to use Tibbr.

This is an increasingly popular strategy at firms that find themselves bogged down by email and, according to a 2012 study by analysts at strategy firm McKinsey, it’s one that makes a lot of sense.

The study found that the average ‘knowledge worker’ spends an estimated 28 percent of the working week reading and responding to email and almost 20 percent searching for internal information or tracking down colleagues to help with specific tasks.

But when an organisation shifts internal communications to social media, the time spent dealing with email, they add, is typically slashed by between 25 percent and 30 percent. Not only that, but it’s simply a better way to share important information with a group and organise it for future reference.

With social media, says McKinsey’s report into the study:

... messages become content, a searchable record that can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information.

Quality over quantity

At Compton Green, Butera readily admits he’s made no quantitative study of time saved since the company rolled out Tibbr. But he’s pretty clear about the qualitative benefits accrued since its ‘go-live’ date in December 2013:

It’s been a game-changer. We’ve now got a place where our sales associates can ask each other questions and have real-time conversations, out in the open, where others can learn from them. They can also share important updates on property transactions and multimedia files, without clogging up email.

Tibbr also imposes a structure on conversations that makes them easier to retrieve at a later date: the subject-based approach of the software is designed to help companies package together relevant information in the context of business processes.

Adrian Butera

For example, one subject area on Compton Green’s social network deals exclusively with recent sales. Another subject area is called ‘What’s this worth?’, where sales associates can post a photo and basic details of a property that has recently come onto the market, inviting colleagues to take a stab at valuing it.

But how was the blanket ban on internal email received by Compton Green’s staff - did Butera encounter any resistance?

What you need to know is that the average age of people in our business is 30. The way I sold this was as ‘Facebook, work-style’ and they understood that straight away - they immediately knew what I was talking about. I didn’t have to do a big sell, and there was very little resistance, because they understood the concept: Facebook for internal office communications.

Anyone who deviates from the rules can expect a backlash, says Butera - but this tends to come from their peers, not the management:

Every now and then, someone will get lazy and email something to a colleague and the response they get is really quite funny. It’s almost like a joke in the office now: ‘Sorry, I don’t read internal emails. You’ll have to Tibbr it if you want it to be read.’ People understand that.

If you sold a property today, you Tibbr it. If you met a new buyer, you Tibbr it. If you’ve got an ‘open for inspection’ [viewing event] scheduled at a property, you Tibbr it. To Tibbr something is what you do when you announce something to the rest of the company - it’s part of the company vocabulary now.