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‘Service over software’

“It has been a mixed start to the year for our estate agency. Activity is down on last year particularly on sales. It is clear that 2018 is not going to be easy and I am aware I need to ensure my team are prepared for the battle ahead. Your thoughts would be welcome!”

Julian O'Dell

Customer service image

JULIAN SAYS: Unfortunately I think you may well be right about 2018 being tricky. Recent figures in the trade press make alarming reading The Land Registry reported earlier this year that the number of property transactions across the UK fell by 12.9 per cent annually and just days later, mortgage approvals were reported to have fallen to the lowest levels since January 2015.

Julian O'Dell image

Julian O’Dell

Confidence in the property market is brittle and some financial analysts have cited Brexit as a factor – an issue that looks like rumbling on for good while yet.

Some agents are equipped for the challenges that the 2018 market is likely to present but sadly many are not. I fear there will be casualties in terms of businesses and individuals.

That’s the bad news – what about the good news? Well, even in the doldrums of 2008, a significant number of people moved house and whilst that number of ‘must move’ people may be smaller in 2018 than in previous years, it represents survival to the agents who identify those customers, service them better than their competition and create sales as a result. Agents who wait for things to happen will struggle, proactive ‘make things happen’ will be fine.

KEY DISCIPLINES

We have spent a lot of time over the past year training negotiators in the key discipline of questioning customers to ensure that the ‘make you money’ are separated from the ‘cost you money’. This critical qualification process has slipped down the pecking order of priorities for many agents according to our extensive mystery shopping and to the hundreds of incoming Rightmove calls we assessed in recent months.

This performance gap leads inevitably to a shortcoming in sales approach. After all, if you don’t know key information about your customers’ needs, how can you meet those needs with appropriate properties and/or services?

Many agents have become reliant on the portals and software to be their sales force. In a market such as 2018, that is a dangerous strategy. Estate agency is not about pinging emails at consumers in the hope that they will respond with viewing requests hand over fist. This ‘spray and pray’ approach is lazy, unskilled and falls way short of a genuine proactive sales culture. Estate agency is not about being polite dispensers of information but that is the trap many of fallen into.

“Have you registered with us?” is a crass question posed to a new customer at the start of the conversation but it is the most common in our research – hardly empathetic, courteous or engaging. Whatever happened to “Yes I would be delighted to help you. Thanks for calling our company. My name is David, may I take yours…”

So what do your team need to do to get results? It may sound trite and it will alarm some of the ‘new breed’ but it is all about getting back to basics.

Greet customers enthusiastically and courteously, understand that they have a sign hanging around their neck which only the best agents can read (it says “I am important and want to be respected”) and gear your behaviour to account for that principle, take control of conversations by setting a clear agenda so that your customer understands where the conversation is going and the benefits thereof, qualify using open and TED questions to ensure you successfully establish their motivation, ability and needs, listen and summarise what you understand to be the key information and create a relationship of trust by delivering on every promise and keeping in telephone contact with your priority customers.

SERVICE OVER SOFTWARE

Humans should always outsell software – your team should be able to look beyond the ‘matches’ on the ‘system’ and create business by realising that despite the fact that the 12 Sycamore Drive doesn’t fit the bill on paper because your customer needs a garage for their sports car, and the property doesn’t have one, it will still be one to promote to them because it is £30,000 below their maximum and they can add a garage just as several people who have bought through you in that road have done in the past. A computer won’t make that sale happen – sadly lots of human agents won’t be able to either because they have failed to apply these techniques so won’t know enough about their customers to make that connection.

‘Service over software’ is a mantra we are imparting more and more on our consultancy and training travels – those who embrace it are seeing better sales results.

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development.

March 26, 2018