Countrywide is the UK’s largest and most successful estate agency and property services group. With almost 1000 outlets across the country, operating some of the best-known agency and lettings brands, it handles more movers than any other property business in the UK. But managing a large geographic spread of businesses and agents in a highly complex and fast-moving regulatory environment poses significant communication, training and administrative challenges. Countrywide had the foresight to commission a technology platform to help them address these issues scalably, but they needed a trusted, long-term IT partner to support and constantly develop the solution.
Three distinct sets of challenges were reflected in the project: • The property industry faces credibility and reputational issues around lack of training and qualifications. In a business the size of Countrywide, these shortcomings can not only result in operational failings but also generate a significant volume of costly, time-consuming complaints. • Countrywide’s internal communications between its 38 subsidiary companies and its specialists (such as its legal team) were highly manual and often paper-based. This was causing miscommunication, information loss, and delays in responses to customers that, in the wake of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2006, could result in hefty regulatory fines. • The IT solution created – AgencyPro – was initially developed internally. Transition needed to assume total ownership of complex third-party code, and further develop and support it to keep step with business and operational changes that can happen literally overnight. This would also entail, in due course, transforming AgencyPro into an external service that could be marketed to others in the property industry, and, potentially, elsewhere.
Transition’s long-term relationship with Countrywide goes back to 2007, and this led to Transition being chosen to take on all support and development for AgencyPro in 2011. Accessible from all devices, AgencyPro is an online service for estate agents that combines City & Guilds-accredited online training and certification with streamlined complaints handling, portal-style collaboration, and extensive management information (MI). AgencyPro gives extensive insight into practitioners’ training, experience and qualifications, and delivers the Continual Professional Development (CPD) to satisfy industry requirements so that agents are being properly trained to do their jobs. It also helps to retain existing staff and attract new talent, and enables best-practice learning to be fed back into the business, shared, and collaborated on, as the basis for continuous improvement. AgencyPro is entirely cloud-based – meaning that it incurs no on-premise server costs or software licensing and upgrade overheads – and is securely hosted through Six Degrees Group.
The application has rapidly proven its mettle, not only to the more than 15,000 individuals who have used it, but also in terms of the endorsement it has received from the industry’s own Redress and Trade Body heavyweights, including the Property Ombudsman and the National Association of Estate Agents. The online training and certification that AgencyPro automates and enforces enables agents to deliver a far more professional and efficient service than ever before – not least in the complaints handling process, where it has brought down the average cost of each claim substantially! Internal satisfaction with the system is also high; users like the fact that they can upload, manage and share material and information that is helpful to them without any need for IT support, and some 86% of respondents now strongly believe that the training and qualifications add value to their job. Mark Summers, co-creator and Head of Operations for AgencyPro, is vocal about Transition’s critical role in ensuring that the application delivered what was required of it – and more besides. He comments: “Transition has helped us to boost the credibility of the estate agency business by developing the system to enable us to deliver formal qualification as an integral part of practice. It has also enabled us to create a platform that is powerful and robust enough for us to market it to other regulated industries – surveying, parking, and so on – which is what we’re now doing.” “But then if you look at Transition’s track record, this progression of internal project to marketable product is an area in which they have a great deal of experience.” He is forthright about how working with Transition differs from his experience of other IT providers, too. “Other IT providers are good at delivering what you’ve asked for and nothing more – or sometimes not even that!” he observes. “Transition, on the other hand, are proactive – we can go to them with a business requirement that we may not be sure how to deliver and they’ll look at it three-dimensionally, identifying additions to the development that they know we’ll need and remove whatever’s superfluous.” Mark is also keen to mention what he calls the “phenomenal” agility and flexibility he encountered when working with Transition to develop and support AgencyPro. “As just one example”, he explains, “we recently needed an urgent and completely unforeseen audit of 900 branch managers carried out, and a comprehensive report generated, to comply with an issue raised by the Competition and Markets Authority.” “Transition worked through the night to build the additional development needed. The entire project was delivered in less than 48 hours, which helped enable us to build a stronger defence and avoid higher penalties.” He concludes: “Transition are very much part of my team, they are my IT department and my development resource. They’ve always gone above and beyond in terms of customer service and always exceed expectations.”
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