I’ve been involved with a residential property management firm in Birmingham who have been looking into slicker ways of dealing with enquiries on the internet, particularly from existing tenants and residents as opposed to say any new-business enquires (however it will indirectly help with new business as it’s an important service that can be offered for new clients).

It’s taken a full step back to get the principles right first before rushing into techie-talk on how it’s all done, and involved consultation with marketing companies as well as residents and clients. The conclusion was three important angles that can be looked at independently or together; infact, to some degree they progress in importance and cost, almost an ‘upgrade’ in terms of how slick you really want to get with managing enquiries on the web. So here they are:

1. Basic enquiries from a website. It’s a typical series of boxes that someone adds their information into like name, telephone number, address, email address, and comments box. With managing lots of different properties one question was whether to have a drop-down list of these to choose from, as although this may be easier when submitting information it is very transparent with all the firm’s client list there. You could also look into predictive-typing instead, or just let people type from scratch and make the field compulsory to fill in.

You then need to look at what happens to all this information, typically pinged on an email to whoever needs to see it. After this, to look at where these forms are found, not only directly on the website but maybe other popular areas like a Facebook page and links within emails, and when it is on your main website whether there is a special area just for this service or a particular property as opposed to just a general area at the side of every page say. Another technical point as well was to make sure that it’s all fully mobile compatible, particularly within this context as most residents would be accessing through this method.

2. Online email ticketing system. One example recommended by a resident was www.zendesk.com which I spent a little time on with a trial account, and had a call from a representative. The idea is that you pay so much per month for being able to use their online email ticketing system so anyone can send an email and it is linked to however many other people’s email as well. Its white-label in that you can brand it to your own company, and you can set up information points to have said a FAQ and documents-page to download - it’s kind of a customer-support function that can involve lots of other people as necessary. One downside though is that it would take time to fully understand, not just the basics, but the ins and outs of it, and going beyond just the video clips and guides, but spending a fair amount of time just trialling and seeing how it goes.

3. Telephone call-centre support. This is admitably off line, but still related to the online world. Out of hours, it will help provide a back-up call centre to take calls. The number could simply be mentioned on the standard message on the main phone out of hours, and the emphasis being on dealing with emergencies out of hours. A good script would be needed so they know what to say, including any unique pieces of information about the property. You’re then into the realms of maybe a communal-access spreadsheet in the cloud, maybe shared from Google Drive, and the call centre being able to make the most of sending emails online if possible rather that call numbers, maybe even using any ticketing system already in use on the previous point.