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Office 365: Helping real estate agents succeed by keeping them connected to people and information

OB Jacobi, President of Windermere Real Estate

OB Jacobi, President of Windermere Real Estate

For Windermere’s 6,000 real estate brokers, the difference between success and failure is their ability to stay connected to a complex matrix of people and information. With Microsoft Office 365, brokers now rely on one easy solution to stay on top of countless details and hundreds of contacts. And, with a next-generation application that Windermere Solutions is building with Office 365, brokers will soon be able to manage more of their daily lives online.

At Windermere, “staying in flow” is the ability for real estate brokers to personally stay in touch with hundreds of contacts. “Our company is built on lifelong relationships, not one sale,” says OB Jacobi, President of Windermere Real Estate. “We want to be there for the life of the customer…and of their kids. Helping our people stay in touch with their contacts is paramount to us.”

For real estate brokers, building those lifelong relationships means being responsible for every task involved in helping people buy and sell their homes. It’s a job of endless details—where every real estate transaction can be a paperwork and coordination nightmare.

In their relationship-building, detail-intense job, real estate brokers have always been early adopters of mobile technology. That’s why Windermere brokers were eager to use their mobile devices to keep in touch with their prospects and customers and more efficiently process complex documents.

Broker Ted Deitz explains it this way: “Our lives were inundated with minutiae that we had to track ourselves by using a spreadsheet, stacks of business cards, and some reminders in our calendar.” With a system like that, agents often had the feeling that they’d forgotten something. “But now that we have Office 365,” says York Baur, CEO of Windermere Solutions (Windermere Real Estate’s IT partner), “we’re able to make our brokers’ lives easier with a seamless experience across their devices.”

The goal: To help real estate brokers be more successful

Since Windermere’s inception 40 years ago, it has focused on giving its entrepreneurial real estate brokers the best possible tools. Today, president OB Jacobi oversees its network of 300 real estate offices from Mexico to Alaska. “For years, we’ve worked to provide technology that simplified our brokers’ jobs and helped them deepen relationships—but we could never fully get there,” he says. “In 2013, the ‘stars aligned’ and we were ready to take our technology to the next level by going to the cloud.”

Key business decisions had to be made before Windermere could make that transition. “Any email migration is painful,” says York. “And because we had 6,000 mailboxes, there was a huge incentive to not shift providers unless we had to. Also, cost was an issue because POP email accounts are relatively cheap. So we had to make sure that any changes we made would pay off in a pain-value analysis.”

Windermere's Northlake Office, Seattle WA

Windermere’s Northlake Office, Seattle WA

The new platform had to have a few essential capabilities, such as calendaring and contact management. “Because relationships are essential, a broker’s database of contacts is their business,” York says. “We had to carefully consider a few options before choosing the solution. Yes, we needed a certain feature set, but we also needed the ability to develop on top of whatever platform we chose.”

The final choice came down to Microsoft and Google, York says. “The reason we went with Microsoft was because of its history and experience in email, calendaring, and contacts.”

Now email helps build deeper relationships while simplifying tasks

Windermere brokers now use Microsoft Office 365 to manage their email, calendar, and contacts. In many cases, sophisticated contact capabilities have spurred users to do something they’ve never done before—organize their database of contacts. “Just that alone has caused huge positive behavior changes in the user base,” York says.

Ted has experienced some of these positive changes himself. “The exciting thing for me is that the user interface is really simple. There was no learning curve! And it’s a universal experience across my tablet, phone, and laptop.”

York adds, “The transformation I’m seeing with our user base is due to the shared calendaring, a constant and powerful contact database, and the ability to access everything across their devices.”

What’s next: Building the next-generation real estate application on Office 365

Broker in a Box is the code name of the application that Windermere Solutions is building on top of Office 365. Broker in a Box promises to bring OB’s vision to life: helping brokers develop lifelong and lucrative relationships with their customers by helping them execute unique business and marketing plans.

As a broker, Ted is enthusiastic about the solution’s potential. “Having transaction coordination, marketing, and accounting all plugged in to Office 365 will be the Holy Grail for real estate brokers. I’m thrilled with the applications we have so far, but what Broker in a Box will be able to add is going to be a real game-changer for our industry!”

Technical Summary

Windermere Real Estate uses Office 365 to improve efficiency and productivity for its brokers. The organization is using Microsoft Exchange Online for secure business-class email, calendaring, and contact management.