FirstPort uses Salesforce to put great customer service at the heart of its plans for growth.
Just like the weather, customer service is one of Britain’s most popular topics of conversation. Whether it’s around the dinner table, in the queue for a lunchtime sandwich, or in the pub, we’ve all got great examples to share of both memorably good, or very bad, customer service.
We relate our bad examples with a roll of the eyes and a sense of resignation – we’ve all been there after all! Equally, our tales of really special service are often accompanied by genuine admiration for the person or organisation that went the extra mile – because it’s memorable and creates a feel-good factor. It’s great to feel that someone really cares.
The property management industry has not historically been a rich source of great customer service examples. In fact, there have always been plenty of examples of great service in this sector. But it’s the bad examples that often create the headlines and reinforce the stereotype.
Like customers of gas and electricity suppliers who expect the central heating to work and the lights to go on, it’s a similar story for property managers, who are unlikely to receive plaudits because the lifts are in operation and the car park is neat and tidy.
But there is a sea change underway, with sector-leading organisations like FirstPort embracing great customer service as a key differentiator. It has an ethos shared by all employees, informing day-to-day operations and guiding investment decisions – ultimately providing the blueprint for business success.
At the core of FirstPort’s thinking is its best of breed approach to technology. The organisation uses Salesforce as one of its core platforms, part of an end-to-end system change programme designed to help it to bring its vision for customer service to reality.
Desirable places to live
FirstPort is the UK’s leading residential property management and asset services provider, looking after 310,000 homes across 5,000 developments, from city centre apartments to retirement and assisted living properties. More than half a million people live in homes managed by FirstPort.
Its 4,000 employees and numerous partners deliver a comprehensive portfolio of services for developers, investors, and residents’ management companies. FirstPort helps to provide high quality, desirable places to live that ultimately deliver the investment returns that its corporate customers require.
In a heavily scrutinised and regulated industry, FirstPort has won many awards. These awards are not only for the overall quality of its property management, but also for its support of young talent, for its leadership, and for the safety of its properties, achieving the British Safety Council’s highest 5* rating for six years in a row.
“Quite rightly, customers have high expectations of the services they wish to receive, from the availability of people to talk to, to the quality and frequency of information, and the speed and transparency of the way services are being delivered,” explained Nigel Howell, CEO, FirstPort.
But FirstPort’s legacy systems and infrastructure were a major barrier to the service improvements the company wished to achieve. As Director of Industry Services, Felix Keen, recalled: “Given our history of acquisitions, we had a messy technology landscape, with many outdated systems that didn’t allow us to understand or look after our customers in the way that we wanted.
“Our customer service advisers would need up to 12 web browsers open to help one customer, depending on what the enquiry was about. It took too much time to identify them and the building they were in, and first-time fixes were very difficult because the adviser had to seek out the information they needed before acting. This all made it very difficult to get onto the front foot and be proactive.”
As its customer service teams wrestled with an increasingly difficult job, staff turnover increased. Training a new customer service agent was taking three or four months because of the number of systems they needed to be familiar with.
The FirstPort Way
“We want to be excellent in everything that we do – we call it the FirstPort Way,” added Howell. “So, we were looking for the very best packages to completely rebuild and re-engineer our end-to-end operating and service platform. This was a company-wide transformation project.”
FirstPort selected Service Cloud, Experience Cloud, and MuleSoft to provide the ready-made engine room to deliver its customer-first philosophy. It then implemented Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Social Studio to achieve its longer-term business development ambitions and outcomes.
“In line with our best of breed approach, we selected Salesforce as the best customer relationship management platform on the market,” explained Howell. “It’s widely used and respected in our industry, by customers and partners, so the potential for building closer relationships with stakeholders is obvious.
“It’s leading edge, offers the most flexibility, and connects to all of our systems – our assets, our accounts, and our purchase to pay packages. Although different data sets reside in different systems, through MuleSoft we can bring everything together in Salesforce, as one source of all relevant information for everyone in the business to use and trust.
“The teamwork to make it happen was incredible, especially considering COVID-19. People made great contributions completely remotely, so to achieve what we have in pretty tight timescales, to have launched it, and for it have landed as well as it has, has been a fantastic teamworking achievement.”
Salesforce has been delivering benefits and efficiencies for FirstPort from the outset. “We are already delivering 50% of the business on the new platform so for anyone emailing or calling, their data is now in one place, the screen populates straight away and we’ve got all the history available so we know what’s going on.”
Howell identified the Internet of Things (IoT) as a huge opportunity for FirstPort, due to the ability of sensors to transmit live information on key aspects of property and asset management. For example, this would enable the team to track the status of lifts, with the data captured in Salesforce, enabling technicians to trigger preventative measures in the case of warning signs, or instant action in the case of a breakdown.
“If someone contacts us to report a problem, such as a water leak in reception, we want to be able to reassure them straight away and share with them exactly how it’s being resolved.”
For example, one of FirstPort’s retirement locations was flooded this summer and the people on site were able to instantly get hold of next of kin information on Salesforce, via their tablets. This enabled them to liaise with family and friends, inform them of the situation, make the necessary arrangements, and arrange clean-up operations.
With an integrated customer management system and all asset records maintained in one central location, both planned and reactive orders can be efficiently organised. Suppliers receive the right information at the right time, reducing errors and wasted callouts, while specific suppliers can be linked to assets and sites to ensure that the right skills are deployed at the right locations.
“We’re investing heavily in technology, and this has delivered major improvements. But it’s just the beginning and that’s exciting because, with platforms like Salesforce at the heart of our operations, we can see the huge potential to do so much more,” commented Howell.
“We’re very lucky that we have so many really good people who talk to customers every day about their homes and who are genuinely passionate about the job they do. By streamlining administrative tasks through Salesforce, they can devote even more time to customers.”
FirstPort anticipates that Experience Cloud will become increasingly popular with customers, as it allows them to communicate and do business with the company entirely on their own terms. With building communities being a key objective for FirstPort’s corporate clients, Experience Cloud could be an important enabler of closer, more connected neighbourhoods. The solution provides another forum for communication and information sharing, especially in multiple occupancy buildings.
“They can log on to organise a repair or request a service, which enables us to be much more responsive to their needs,” said Keen. “They can see key documents and pay bills, and they don’t need to contact us at all if they don’t want to. They have the choice to call us if they wish and when they do, it’s a much-improved experience, and much more efficient all round.”
When residents order a service or make a transaction, the system integration means a work order is automatically produced. Everything is recorded in FirstPort’s finance system for accurate, up-to-date reporting and accounting.
“We love the way Salesforce integrates our telephony and comms platforms,” continued Keen. “It enables our customer service advisers to have the information they need, on one screen, empowering them to conduct the customer service welcome in the right way. As we all know, the first 30 seconds of a call are so important. Being able to appear informed and welcoming enables our people to build relationships and the caller feels reassured and cared for.”