Century 21 Northwest boosts agent productivity, lowers costs with unified communications platform.
Founded more than 25 years ago, Century 21 Northwest is today one of the largest Century 21 franchises in Arizona. With its Glendale office serving as the hub, the franchise relies on more than 60 agents to provide the residential real estate services that have consistently landed it on Century 21's top-producers list. After adding property management to its service portfolio, the firm now manages hundreds of single-family residences and small multiuse facilities, and is branching out into multifamily properties.
Until recently, however, Century 21 Northwest's outdated telecommunications system was jeopardizing the firm's efforts to stay connected with customers. Not only was the system costly to maintain and reconfigure, it lacked the features and flexibility that its agents required. Says Century 21 Northwest president John Crow, "Research tells us that in the real estate industry, leads have a lifecycle of about 12 minutes. This means that if you can't respond to an inquiry in that amount of time, your customer will perceive that you're not interested and move on."
But without the ability to move calls to mobile devices, save caller information, or provide outside access to company voicemail, Century 21 Northwest was risking missing that 12-minute deadline. Says Crow, "I knew we were losing business because of botched hand-offs due to a cumbersome process that involved taking down messages, getting those messages to agents in the field, and then hoping the parties would be able to connect quickly. We needed accessibility and mobility across all channels, and the ability to provide direct links between customers and agents, and we had neither." In addition, Crow was looking to enhance communications with off-site workers by adding video phones to its communications network.
When Crow explained Century 21 Northwest's communications needs to network services provider and Cisco partner, NextNet Partners, that company immediately suggested Cisco® Business Edition 3000 as a cost-effective, easy-to-use replacement for the existing private branch exchange (PBX) system. Thrilled at the prospect of a communications platform that the company could administer on its own and eager for the more robust messaging and mobility features that it promised, Crow agreed to make Cisco Business Edition 3000 a part of the complete network solution NextNet Partners was delivering using Cisco products.
Century 21 Northwest office manager Krishta King still marvels at how quickly and easily the new communications platform was deployed. "NextNet Partners came in on a Sunday night to install Cisco Business Edition 3000, and when we came in the next morning, our new phone system was up and running," she says. The new system included IP video phones (Cisco Unified IP Phone 8945) for two-thirds of the staff and enhanced IP phones (Cisco Unified IP Phone 6945) for the remainder.
The firm's staff cites a range of favorite features, many of which are available through Cisco Unified Attendant Console Compact Edition. Crow, for example, revels in the caller ID feature, calling it a "huge enhancement" to customer service and staff productivity. "Since everyone can see who's calling on the main line, agents can intercept calls before they hit the switchboard," he says. "It's like having eyes in the back of your head."
Century 21 Northwest broker Rodica Bartels, who manages a small army of agents for the franchise, cites the ability to extend calls out to brokers' mobile devices without redialing and the enhanced voicemail provided by Cisco Unity® Connection as top features. Says Bartels, "We were really struggling with our previous system, and overnight things got better with Cisco Business Edition 3000. Suddenly, we were able to hand off calls smoothly, regardless of location."
Agents in the field are also finding it easier to stay personally connected. Says Crow, "The Cisco video phones have been very helpful in easing communications with remote workers and making them feel part of the team."
"With the window for creating customer relationships as narrow as it's ever been, the importance of connecting consumers directly with agents has never been greater," says Crow. "Cisco Business Edition 3000 enables us to make those seamless connections, and that in turn gives us a significant edge over our competitors."
Adding to that competitive advantage is the increase in employee productivity that has occurred since deploying the new communications platform. "Now that adding a person to the phone system is a 10- to 15-minute task that can be done in-house, we're saving $500 per month in fees paid to outside vendors as well as getting back the time we spent waiting for those changes to be made," says Crow. "And that's not all. Thanks to the 20 percent increase in productivity we've experienced through improved call flow, I've been able to re-deploy some of our personnel resources into growing rather than managing the business. It's too early to quantify the benefits of that, but I believe they will be substantial."
Having a communications platform that is easy to set up and administer also means that Century 21 Northwest can now react to changing business demands quickly, a trait that has proved particularly useful in its property management business. Says Crow, "It used to take seven to ten business days to get someone out to set up a phone system for a new tenant or business. Now with Cisco Business Edition 3000, we can do it ourselves in minutes and start collecting rent immediately."
Cisco Business Edition 3000 offers so many new capabilities to Century 21 Northwest that Crow and his colleagues have yet to explore them all. Crow, for example, is looking forward to running reports on called numbers to understand the impacts of marketing campaigns. Beyond that, Century 21 Northwest is ready to go wherever its Cisco infrastructure can take it. Says Crow, "We're looking into cloud-based software and virtual concierge services, but whatever we decide on, we're confident that our Cisco network and communications infrastructure will allow us to serve our customers and our business well into the future."