Centaline sales agents turn industry bloggers
By Carol Ko 26-Nov-2010
On the first day that Kelvin Tsang (picture) joined Centaline, his boss said to him: "We do not sell properties, we just sell information." Tsang currently works as director (information services) of Centaline Group, one of the largest property agencies in Hong Kong, and recently oversaw the company’s move into the social networking space via a ground-breaking industry blog service.
Tsang joined Centaline in 1991 as a property sales agent. Eight years later, he requested to be transferred to the then IT department -- the Data Bank and Management Department, when he started gaining interest in IT. Recalling his boss' advice as he came on board, Tsang said, "What he meant was, we do not provide any property for sale, we are just serving as the middlemen as property agents. And this has a lot to do with the exchange of information."
Centaline's IT organization today has between 400 and 500 staff. Together they provide core applications, mobile applications and Web applications such as the company’s Centamap online map service to both internal and external users.
Centamap is a digital map of Hong Kong that is open for public access. It was built together with the Hong Kong Lands Department and was the first digital map available in the city. In its third-generation, visitors can search the map for roads, bus and van routes, eateries, schools, buildings, and even look up for commercial and industrial properties that are available for sale or lease.
Business case for Centamap
"The company holds huge amounts of information about properties: addresses, background information, and transaction information. These were collected by our staff at Centaline's branch offices across all districts. Then at one point, we thought it would be great to integrate all this information into Centamap with our mapping technologies," he said.
|"It is no easy task to motivate frontline sales agents to actively update their blogs, and to add new property listings frequently."|
-- Kelvin Tsang, director (information services), Centaline Group
When the IT department began to provide index search services in Centamap in 2007, the page views began to surge by 150% on a year-on-year basis. In recent years, the Web traffic growth has maintained at 30% year-on-year.
Back in 2007, Centamap was used primarily for brand building without any real business goal. "In the long run, Centamap would likely face very limited new development given the existing lack of potential growth in business value," said Tsang.
So in 2008, Centaline launched a Web portal called the Agent Personal Prime Property Blog (代理個人筍盤 Blog). Tsang said the concept of the Blog was simple: "We are introducing properties to customers in the form of a blog. The Blog operates like a sales agent’s own property-focused Facebook page, connecting all 4,000 Centaline frontline sales agents to the customer. It provides a platform to consolidate and present all individual property sales agents' Blog pages."
Accessible from the Centaline Web portal, each sales agent/blogger is identified by his or her portrait photo, name, mobile phone number, and his/her relevant industry awards. Each sales agent will list about 50 recommended available properties in his/her responsible district. Each property is given a description of its price, area, floor number, number of rooms, any available city or harbour views and car park space, together with its location marked on Centamap displayed on the same page. To help visualize the property, each site is provided with about 10 to 20 pictures taken of the actual apartment. (See Figure 1 below)
"Centamap is updated daily and the daily click rate is 30,000. In this way, the Blog provides a way to integrate Centamap into our main business," Tsang said.
Figure 1. Screenshot of Centaline’s Agent Personal Prime Property Blog
(Source: Centaline Group)