Agents: How to stop people forgetting to sign out keys

If you feel like you’ll never get your staff to toe the line, try these suggestions

“I just can’t get my staff to do things properly” has to be just about the biggest complaint I hear from estate agency owners and lettings managers as I travel the country.

For many, getting people to sign out keys every time is a constant battle. At the same time, most people realise that getting this right is the single most important way to prevent keys going missing.

Though it’s easy to say “I’ll never get my negs to do it right” and accept it as a “fact of life”, in reality, signing out keys is just a simple organisational habit that you can embed without a great deal of effort. Here are the top things successful agents do to ensure that keys are issued correctly every time.

Locking keys to the board is the wrong place to start!

Locking pegboard systemSome assume that the best way to ensure people always sign out keys is to lock them into the cabinet, and that nothing short of this will work. The good news is that there are many (much cheaper) things you can do first.

In fact, physically locking keys down can have its own problems, such as the impracticality of the space needed for a chunky board and the cost.  You not only have to pay for the board (the most popular brand costs £280 for just 25 keys on Amazon), but you also need the special key rings and pegs to make it work.

Even peg locking mechanisms are often worked around when the staff are in a hurry.

Whilst a physical locking system can and does make sense for some, I only suggest coming back to it once you’ve tried all the other things below.

Stop ‘locking’ and start with ‘looking’ for the key

You probably know the many obvious security reasons for not writing your property addresses on keys, did you know that this (still alarmingly common) practice could also make your staff less likely to sign them out?

If it’s too easy identify that they’ve got the right key, people will get into a bad habit of grabbing it and running, certain in the knowledge that they have the right one.  Though it might save them a few seconds of time, it will leave you both out of compliance and exposed to all the risks of losing keys.  If they have to do a little work to find the key, but it’s then super easy to sign it out whilst they’re at it, then why wouldn’t they?

By contrast, if they have to look up the key in one place, only to need to go somewhere else to actually sign it out, then that all-important second step will almost always be skipped.

If you’re still using a paper list to find keys, keeping the list right next to your sign-out log is a must (but please remember to keep this list secure and lock it away at night!).

If your CRM offers you a basic sign-out log, then you might be able to use that. However…

Beware of too many clicks (or keep a pen handy)

Taking the path of least resistance is not just human nature, it’s a fundamental law of nature in general (think rivers, electricity, even evolution).  Anything that slows people down, even a little, is less likely to get done.  It’s absolutely critical that the process of finding a key, signing it out and getting out the door for that viewing can be accomplished with the absolute minimum of effort.

If you have an electronic tool for key tracking (e.g. the CRM system we talked about earlier) make sure that it is as rapid as humanly possible to get from knowing which key you need, to getting it signed out.  This can be measured in the number of clicks or key strokes to get the job done.  More than 3 of either and it’s time to find a faster option!

If you’re stuck with pen and paper, there are still ways to cut down the friction.  Just keeping a working pen tied to your logbook can make a surprisingly big difference.  You might also think about the amount of information someone needs to fill in.  Name, date and signature are about all you can ask for, or the friction is too high (yes, you’ll be sacrificing other important and useful information, but that’s better than keys not being signed out at all!).

Visual cues trigger the right habits

We’re all driven by our habits, and all good habits start with a trigger.  Most of us don’t have to think to brush our teeth in the morning, we just do it out of habit.   We want to make it a habit for the team to always sign keys out, so we need to trigger them to do it (there are many books on this subject- my favourite is Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”).

If you’ve already changed the computer system, or re-positioned the key book, then those changes themselves might be enough to trigger people to a new way of doing things.  Often it’s a good idea to add a visual stimulus, here are some common examples:

  • If you have a key room, (or a back room where keys are stored) a prominent poster asking “Have you signed the keys out?” should trigger the right response in the short term
  • Changing the keys themselves can also be helpful, for example add a brightly coloured tag

Reward good behaviours…

Once you’ve done all the physical things to get the right behaviour in place, don’t forget to show your appreciation as things start to improve.  The way you do that will probably depend on each individual within your team.  Rewards can be monetary, or you could try out a service like PerkBox, but don’t forget good old fashioned praise and sugary treats!

…And follow up the mistakes

The final important way to get people to toe the line (once you’ve made it as easy as possible to do so) is that you quickly pick up on the occasions when the process isn’t being followed.  Nobody likes to be seen to be getting it wrong, so you must take advantage of this to keep the right process front of mind in the early days.

Having someone with authority to actively monitor how well the keys are being managed is crucial, and often overlooked.  If people think nobody is watching, they’ll be inclined to cut corners.  On the other hand, if they know it will be noticed when they don’t do things properly, they are far more likely to put in the extra effort to get it right.

If you see people not following the process well, then you can follow up with them either individually or collectively.

In some circumstances (particularly with sales staff) negative incentives have been shown to work quite well. These often take the form of fines for not being signed out.  Turning the process into a game can also work, providing a special bonus for those people who handle keys well, and “naming and shaming” the worst performers. Whether this is right for you will depend on your business culture.

“What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker

You might have been wondering about how you know when things are going right or wrong.  Getting hold of the right information quickly is probably the biggest reason to use a dedicated key management system, as it is built to provide the right information to you.  However, it isn’t impossible to do it using paper and spreadsheets (it just might take a bit longer).  Depending on your CRM system, you might also be able to print useful property reports out (though many are sadly lacking good features for this).

Here are some thoughts on what to track:

  • How many keys are being signed out each day – is that what you expect?
  • Do you have more viewings, inspections and other visits scheduled in a day than you have keys signed out in the log?
  • Check at the end of the day which keys are outstanding – is this what you expect?
  • Are there any keys who have been signed out for a really long time? Who is responsible for following them up?

How long does it take to get key management right?

Most people find that after implementing the above steps, the effect on the way people sign out keys is pretty instant. If you start monitoring how people take and return keys, you could find the problem solved in under 2 weeks.  The challenge is to keep it going.

It’s worth investing the time to check on keys every single day in the first few weeks.  Following that, once you’re confident everything is working well, you’ll find you don’t need to check as frequently (and the process of  checking is much easier).  It’s super important that someone in your company is responsible for checking on the process regularly – check out this article for more on why, who and how to get someone in charge of keys.

Need any help with getting keys right?  Why not get in touch?

We’re working on a few free tools to help you and we’d also be happy to put you in touch with customers who’ve been through the process already.

Keyzapp Quick Facts: Beyond Barcodes

What does Keyzapp bring over and above the traditional barcode system?

Barcodes were all the rage in the late ‘90s. Some enterprising agents and software makers began using barcodes to track keys and some of those systems are still around today. Barcodes were just the first step- they make some things easier, but key-based headaches have continued in many places that use them.

Keyzapp represents a major step forward. Here’s why:

You’re not tied to a single computer

Most barcode systems require special equipment & software, meaning you can only use it one or two computers. Keyzapp works on all computers, (scanners are optional) and almost every phone or tablet on the market today*

This is far more convenient- staff can look up keys at their desk and sign them out when they get to the cabinet.

Track every key movement

Most of us transfer keys in more than one way Sometimes, they are passed between people when outside of the office. Because Keyzapp works anywhere, these events can be audited and captured as well.

Absolute scanning simplicity

With barcodes you often have to open up your software click inside a particular box for a key scan – this is fiddly and hard to learn. With Keyzapp, simply tap the fob on the reader or phone and you’ll be taken to the right place without even touching the keyboard!**

Lower administration

Many barcode systems require you to print your own barcodes. This passes the cost and a time-consuming process to your team; they have to open the software, manage a stock of labels, print the barcode (then unload the labels) and then attach it to keys. Keyzapp’s fobs and stickers come pre printed and coded, you simply attach them to your keys and start scanning.

Lower cost hardware

Our NFC readers for PCs and Mac, are typically half the cost of the cheapest barcode scanner. With Keyzapp, your smart phone can scan fobs at no extra cost.

In summary…

Upgrading from barcodes to Keyzapp gives you:

  • Far greater convenience and flexibility
  • No admin headaches
  • Ability to track more activities
  • A faster, more user friendly experience
  • Bang for your buck

What really makes Keyzapp work is the way it enables your people to follow your key process consistently every single time, so you have complete peace of mind. Book a demo today to see how it can help you.

A big day – an easy system

In a small way yesterday was a big day. After several months of planning and preparation we shot the final parts of our new promotional video and made our new web site live.

As part of these activities I had to look at and review Keyzapp as a system. Sometimes you can get caught up in business activities and you lose sight of the fundamental product. Nicki, who will be seen on the video using Keyzapp, had to learn how it works; after only a few minutes she was looking up and issuing keys like a professional.

In the evening Tim and Emma published our latest web site and I am particularly pleased by the revised “How it works” page, not a massive change but I think does a good job introducing people to how easy Keyzapp is.

Yesterday was a big day for me because in looking at the process again with new eyes I am very proud of the system we have created, particularly with how easy it is to learn and use.

* Where else can you look up a property and locate the keys in a matter of a few key presses?

* Where else can you scan a key fob and ID card and to issue a set of keys in a few seconds? What is more the system is just as easy to use without key fobs and ID cards.

* Returning keys is the easiest part of all– one click and you are done. Real time saving!

A big day for me, it reinforced how easy our key management system is – I am proud of it.

Your key management system will change soon

One thing we can be sure of is your business environment will change.  If I look back 15 years the business environment was very different from today, 15 years before that it is almost unrecognisable.  I was going to start this blog by saying that people do not like change, but this is really not true.  Facebook started in 2004, Twitter started in 2006 and the first iPhone came out in 2007, look how big they are now. If we take Twitter as an example, 0 users in 2006 to 500 million in 2012, only 6 years.

The change being brought about by these technologies is still in it’s infancy in the business environment, but it shows that people can adopt changes very quickly.  People are more resistant to change in the business environment for many reasons, but despite this resistance our business environment is changing quite quickly.

In many businesses the system to manage keys has been the same for over 100 years; keys are issued and returned using a paper log book to record and manage them.  This has already changed for some high security organisations but for many they still use the 100 year old paper log book.  If you still use a paper log book, change is only round the corner.  The question is not will I change my key management system but why, how and when; questions that I will return to in future posts.

New technologies mean that information can be read from key fobs and ID cards easily, quickly and cheaply.  When you combine this with the internet, mobile devices and cloud computing, you can be assured the pace of change is about to pick up.

Managing keys electronically saves time and improves accuracy; this in turn enables you to give a better service to your customers, both Landlords and Tenants.