JULIAN SAYS: Trust is cited as the single biggest reason why a client instructs an agent, and also plays a massive part in house hunters’ decisions on what to view and even offer on.
Brand awareness, consistency and effectiveness through all sorts of methods, including social media, create a backdrop of credibility and quality, which in turn will bring applicants to you and get you through doors of valuation opportunities. But once those opportunities have presented themselves, the most important single factor in whether an agent wins business from those people, is the relationship of trust they feel has been built between themselves and the human being representing the estate agency.
THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
I have trained the skills and principles of trust-building for many years and have clear focus on the necessary ingredients. However, every now and then, it is fascinating to have my views tested by chance encounters with people who have recently interacted with estate agents. One such conversation took place just a few days ago – there are great lessons to be learnt from it.
Whatever innovations, technology and marketing tricks you use, it’s all about the customer relationship!
The person is well known to me and is outside the property industry. She has no agenda beyond “telling it like it is.” Her story of buying an investment property is therefore an interesting one.
Having come into some money, she decided to buy an investment property in an area which she recognised had future potential but with which she was unfamiliar. Naturally, her search’s starting point was the portals. This proved a mixed experience – elements that she thought essential included floorplans, plenty of high quality photos, info on lease length, management charges and how long the property had been on the market. The percentage of the aforementioned information provided by agents varied massively – this had a huge influence on her impression of the quality of each agent, and crucially on her decision whether to enquire or indeed to view.
She would phone an agent, aiming to glean further information – the level of interest in the property, vendors’ plans and circumstances (timescales were a key consideration) and clarification of any other issues – but these were not great experiences in most cases.
For example, she spoke to estate agency teams who knew nothing about the property and as nobody else was available, they said somebody would call her back. Sometimes that call never came, on other occasions it would happen almost immediately. Naturally the difference in response time and quality had a huge impact upon her view as to the efficiency and calibre of the agents involved. On occasions, she would be forced to call back a second time, only for the mixed experiences to be repeated.
When she had conversations with agents, they revealed a chasm between firms/staff in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes. She was particularly surprised at the disparity in agents’ approach to questioning (or qualification as I label it). The best agents asked more questions, explained why they were doing so and ensured she felt it was all about helping her. These agents were then in a better position to suggest other suitable properties. Sometimes the thoroughness of the better agents allowed them to point out that the property she was calling about was in fact unsuitable, whereas others on their books were worth viewing. This level of honesty accelerated the feeling of trust from the customer towards those agents.
As a result, despite buying her investment property via an online agent (who was lucky enough to have the right property but, according to my acquaintance “did next to nothing at any stage of the process”), she handed the property straight over to be managed by the agent who had most impressed her, and crucially whom she most trusted.
It was intriguing to note that she automatically agreed to viewing appointments when the trusted agents proactively contacted her by phone with new instructions, reductions etc.. However, when called, albeit rarely, by the untrusted agents, she responded by asking them to email her the details – really saying “I don’t trust you to make a decision on what I should view.”
There may be nothing revolutionary in the tale, but it should remind us that “today’s applicant is tomorrow’s client” and that, whatever innovations, technological advances and marketing tricks you invest in, the human to human interaction and trust-building remain at the very heart of running a successful agency.