This week we revealed that the Duet build to rent development in Manchester is the highest-rated residential building on HomeViews. Following our interview with the building’s interior designer Helen Berresford we caught up with Allsop’s Dougie Orton-Wade to understand his role as general manager and why his residents rate Duet so highly.
HV: Dougie, congratulations on Duet being rated the best residential building in the UK by residents. Before managing Duet you also managed our previous highest-rated building The Trilogy?
HV: What did your career look like before managing The Trilogy team?
I had spent 13 years in fashion retail management, including time at Superdry and Topshop/Topman at Arcadia. Following that I had a short stint in student accommodation for 18 months.
That time taught me a lot about building management, but it’s obviously a high turnover of residents. That makes it hard to build communities. I wanted something that was more long-term, where I could provide great service and create more engagement for residents for longer.
HV: What would you say you learned in your previous roles that helped you achieve such success at The Trilogy and Duet?
The skillset learned in retail actually lends itself well to building management – especially for build to rent. That combination of the operational side with a customer service focus is why we’re seeing a lot of build to rent roles being filled by people from a retail background.
As with retail, everybody who walks through the door at Duet is a potential customer so it’s very important that our standards are maintained 24 hours a day. A lot of our service element stems from the team. We have a relatively small team on site but it’s my job to get everybody bought into what we’re trying to achieve and up to speed on how we will achieve that.
On the operational side retail involves lots of structure – managing stock levels, staff schedules, floor plans… it’s the same for building management. You’ve got to make sure you’re organised and compliant with all sorts of health and safety and facilities elements.
HV: How has the wider culture at Allsop helped you to achieve what you have at Duet and The Trilogy?
Our company culture is all about people. It’s all about giving people the autonomy and the flexibility to achieve what they want to achieve – letting the employees have a voice and be able to deliver their ideas.
It is a very mature, professional and caring environment. Senior management is quite a close-knit, small group of people so you do feel very close to them as well. You feel part of something – you feel like you can make a difference.
Allsop operates four build to rent assets and each one is different in how it runs, this is recognized by Allsop and we’re trusted to tailor our services to our individual demographics. We do have brand operating guidelines but if we believe something will work for our development then Allsop will give us the freedom to explore it.
HV: A lot of our reviews for Duet talk about the team and the sense of community in the building. Tell us a bit about the team you’ve built and how that contributes to its success.
I’m really lucky to have the team I do at Duet. They’re just all amazing and have their own amazing skill set, but all are on board with what we’re trying to do.
We manage pretty much everything on-site with a team of seven of us. Our team has to be versatile – customer service, lettings, accounting and maintenance schedules, facilities… They have to be on board with all of that.
Alex is our lettings manager. She’s solely responsible for leasing the building, as well as achieving the right demographic, which helps to increase the community feel. Alex’s role is a major part of our service as lettings is where the customer journey begins. She does an amazing job and provides a fantastic service to all potential residents with a genuine care for helping people find their perfect next home.
Bex is the assistant general manager and she is heavily involved with all of the community engagement side along with the day to day operation of the site. She manages our social media, creates the events calendar and gathers feedback from residents to help us improve our offering. Again, Bex does a fantastic job and as a true ‘people person’ she achieves great results from both the team and residents at Duet.
And then we’ve got what we call RSAs, or Resident Services Agents, covering reception 24 hours a day.
The RSAs are arguably the most important people in our whole machine because they are on the front lines 24 hours a day. Everyone has a very strong skill set when it comes to customer service, but they’re also very versatile and can support management in many other areas of the business. Our RSA’s are more than just team members to residents, they are friends who are there to help and support 24 hours a day.
HV: How have you adapted to the ‘new normal’ we’re seeing and what are your plans for the next six months?
It has been difficult, as most of our service is all around community and experience. That being said, there’s not been one service that we’ve had to completely cut, it’s been about creatively tailoring delivery to adapt to the environment.
We knew that we already had existing systems in place and residents actively engage with each other through our internal resident’s portal, as well as on social media. This medium has been further enhanced recently and in response we’ve seen big increases in app usage over these last few months.
In a strange way the ‘new normal’ has brought people closer together. It’s encouraging more communication – and not just for residents but from us. We communicate regularly through the portal and we’ve personally called every single resident during this period to just check in and make sure everything’s okay. We’re collecting more insight from resident feedback and interacting more intensely on a one to one basis.
Previously, we were doing two live on-site events a week and now they’re all virtual events. We’ve enjoyed higher attendance with virtual events, being easier to join and with more people staying at home. Regardless of how social distancing measures are reduced, we’ll still be doing virtual events because they’ve been a huge success. We also now have things like video and Instagram tours for potential residents.
HV: You mentioned collecting data from the app – what are the other ways you collect and use feedback from residents?
We’ve been having daily management meetings throughout this period and always have a weekly meeting – customer service is a big focus of that. We analyse all reviews, as well as verbal and email/app feedback.
The HomeViews platform is really useful for us because I am a perfectionist, as are most of the people I work with. So, even in the five-star reviews, we look for those tiny comments that might give insight into something we can improve on.
Because the HomeViews platform is more detailed, more thorough, and they’re verified residents, we can see real-life, genuine feedback in there. And we can really utilise that to move forward and improve our service.
HV: We’ve seen that one of the main reasons for buildings being rated highly on HomeViews is responsiveness when it comes to issues. How do you stay on top of that?
Residents log issues on our building management app that comes directly to our front desk and then we respond within two hours.
Our team receive notifications for those requests so we don’t miss a thing. Any emails go to the main dashboard on the reception desk, so those responses get managed 24 hours a day.
Because we’re brand new and still under our warranty period, we do have protocols we have to follow through with our suppliers and contractors. So it is hard sometimes to know exactly when certain issues may get resolved, but what people want more than anything is communication and a prompt response to say, “We are looking into this for you.” We’ll then keep in contact with residents and provide regular updates on their requests until it is complete.
HV: Lastly, what aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
To be honest, it is about people. It’s in the team and in the service. All the elements of people are my passion – seeing people happy but also seeing people grow as well, whether it be a resident or a team member.
I also love the versatility of the role. One minute I’m discussing resident engagement strategy with the team, the next an in-depth review of a maintenance contract, to then a laugh and joke with a resident over coffee to hosting an industry tour. Every day is filled with lots of different elements and I get to have a little say or a little understanding of what goes on in every part.
The property industry, and especially build to rent, is going to go from strength to strength. It’s a very exciting industry to work in and is growing rapidly.
HV: That’s interesting you talk so much about people as a focus. In our interview with Helen Berresford [of Sheppard Robson – architects and interior designers of Duet], she talked a lot about their people-focused approach in the design of the building.
We all know how important customer service is and how important reviews are to people. If people are happy, they’ll stay with us.
Creating the community is the easiest way to do that. If people love their home and make friends where they live, they’re a lot less likely to want to move, so that’s a key focus.
New build to rent developments are popping up all over Manchester now – lots of competition in the next couple of years. Competition is healthy. We know that our high standards need to continue day in, day out and competition is a healthy way of keeping us at the top of our game.
Hear from Helen Berresford, interior designer and part of the architecture team at ID:SR responsible for the Duet building. Read reviews and find out more about Duet and The Trilogy, or explore all the More. Superenting developments.
HomeViews provides verified resident reviews of the UK’s housing developments. We’re working with developers, landlords and the Government to recognise high performers and help to improve standards in the built environment.