Do you remember the days when a telephonist was an essential part of your team? This full-time employee manned the phone, filtered callers before they were transferred to various departments and took messages when employees were out at lunch (do you remember lunch breaks?).
Now people can circumnavigate the landline by emailing, texting or instant messaging but before you think I’m calling the death of the phone call, I’m not. I conducted a quick straw poll to establish when someone might pick up the ‘phone and the answers included ‘for something really important’, ‘when I want to speak to a human’ and ‘when I don’t want anything misinterpreted’.
Moving home is loaded with the above intentions and quite frequently, time is of the essence. Emails, instant messages and even enquiries sent via portals have a huge weakness. Although they are sent immediately, there’s no guarantee when they’ll be read. They may sit in an inbox until the end of the working day – even the end of the working week.
All agents using our answering service have a decent flow of calls… and require careful handling, especially as we find high-end property buyers only do business on the phone. Peter Radcliffe, Founder, Office Front.
Speaking on the telephone, however, gives someone certainty that their decisions, requests or feelings have been processed in the moment. Peter Radcliffe, the founder of Office Front, says the ‘phone –and the person answering it – are a major part of the home moving process, even if the enquiry started online.
Calls carry a premium
“All agents using our answering service have a decent flow of calls from prospective and current clients,” comments Peter. “The calls tend to be ‘high value’ – people making offers, booking valuations and instructing agents – and require careful handling, especially as we find high end property buyers only do business on the phone.” Peter also adds that calling is still the preferred way of agents contacting other agents, which is vital when it comes to sales progression.
Like many of the call answering services now available, Office Front allocates a team of receptionists to an agent, ensuring the ‘phone is always answered. As well as notifying the agent that they have taken a message, by either SMS, email or a call to the agent, Office Front can ‘patch’ a call. This means the receptionist will take details of who’s on the line, put the caller on hold and give the agent the choice of whether to accept the call or not. It’s the closest match to employing an in-house receptionist, at a reduced cost, and patching acts as a great filter when it comes to prioritising time.
Hanging on the telephone?
We’ve established that telephone calls still convey the most important news, so are agents prepared for the shrill rings? While analysis from Arlington Data showed 17.5% of calls within the property industry go unanswered, an independent OnePoll survey commissioned by AnswerConnect revealed a more worrying trend in lettings.
Of those questioned, 84% of renters preferred speaking to a real person, not an automated ‘bot, and 94% cited the ‘phone as the most popular means of getting in contact with agents. Despite this, 31% of tenants who tried to contact their letting agent with an out-of-hours emergency didn’t receive an immediate response.
AnswerConnect’s Angela Fee says that in an era of instant gratification, clients can interpret unanswered calls or having to leave a voicemail as a lack of attentiveness and commitment. “Not answering a call impacts a client’s perception of an agency’s reliability and responsiveness.”
Intelligent call routing allows our handlers to transfer calls directly to specific people based on caller intent, ensuring any queries are handled efficiently and minimising wait time. Angela Fee, Head of Marketing, AnswerConnect.
“In reality, however, property professionals answer as many calls as they can,” she says, “but between hosting viewings, listing properties and dealing with tenant enquiries, there’s rarely enough time to answer every call. That’s not to say property professionals avoid calls. Our research shows the average estate agent spends three hours on the ‘phone every day.”
Taking telephony to the next level
Thankfully, the crossover between outsourced telephony and technology offers a highly sophisticated experience that a caller would find difficult to distinguish from an agent-employed receptionist.
Video chats blend features from traditional phone calls – like instant availability and call transferring – with screen sharing.
Frustrations born out of not speaking to the right person the first time can be mitigated by using today’s telephony services. “AnswerConnect’s intelligent call routing allows our call handlers to transfer calls directly to specific people based on caller intent, ensuring any queries are handled efficiently and minimising wait times,” comments Angela.
Agents can also take advantage of AnswerConnect’s software integrations, which allows their telephonists to book appointments directly on behalf of callers – made possible thanks to scheduling tools that sync with agents’ diaries.
Turning mobiles into landlines
James Routledge at Global 4 Communications says his job is to empower agents to be able to support home movers from anywhere, not just from the office, using tech as the facilitator. “With the inevitable arrival of internet telephony as a nationwide standard in the near future, agents can take advantage of the additional features it offers,” says James. “This includes the capability to consume telephony service across a multitude of interfaces, encompassing mobile and desktop applications.”
Our user-friendly on-hold feature plays a pre-recorded message to the caller, detailing other services the agent offers, such as conveyancing or finance partnerships. James Routledge, Sales Director, Global 4.
Technology of this nature is invaluable when the office is light on staff, whether that’s due to workload, resources or annual leave. For example, Global 4’s feature-rich smartphone app routes an agent’s landline extension to their personal mobile. It also allows them to make outbound calls from their device, displaying the agent’s business phone number on the receiver’s screen, and not their personal one.
James also highlights that telephony features can assist in customer satisfaction and cross-selling. “We understand that market conditions are challenging and it’s critical that clients are fully aware of all the services an agent offers – this helps them maximise additional revenue per transaction.”
“Our user-friendly on-hold feature plays a pre-recorded message to the caller, detailing other services the agent offers, such as conveyancing or finance partnerships,” James adds that ‘press 1 for sales, 2 for lettings’ greetings menus can also be used to funnel calls to the right department, rather than the caller being passed from person-to-person.
While the nirvana may be answering every call that’s made to an agent, how the call is answered is also part of achieving stand-out customer service. James adds that many of Global 4’s clients use its call recording facility to assess staff performance. “Our agency customers can filter telephone calls based upon a host of parameters, including date, time, caller telephone number and specific agent. From there, agents can listen back to and export calls to aid in their evaluation process, which helps agents improve the client experience.
Outbound calls covered
So far the focus has been on agents and their availability to take a call but the telephone has proactive uses as well as reactive. Moneypenny has carved a successful name for itself as a call answering service but, excuse the pun, it has dialled up its services to include outbound telephone marketing.
Sharon Boyle is head of the property sector at Moneypenny, which works with more than 2,500 estate agents, commercial agents, housebuilders and housing associations across the UK. She feels outbound calling is a crucial part of agency life, whether that’s prospecting for new instructions, following up valuation requests, checking that databases are up to date or simply keeping in touch with historic home movers.
We can work with prequalifying questions, such as whether the buyer has a property to sell, if they’re a cash purchaser and whether mortgage advice is required. Sharon Boyle, Head of Property, Moneypenny .
“We launched our outbound service in partnership with Area because agents were telling us how time poor they are. More than ever, agents need to have the flexibility to outsource tasks so that opportunities don’t fall between the cracks.”
Leads on speed dial
Sharon says that when leads management is done badly, it can result in a leaky sales funnel as well as irritation from people who feel they’ve been waiting too long for a call back or follow-up. “By outsourcing this function, Moneypenny can call prospective buyers and sellers on behalf of agents while their interest is high, maximising an agent’s proactive sales efforts.”
The Moneypenny outbound call team can identify the most valuable opportunities and escalate them accordingly, as well as converting cold leads into prospects and even keeping in touch with past clients by ‘phone. The latter nurtures long-term leads and ensures the agent is at the forefront of movers’ minds when they re-enter the buying and selling cycle.
“Our outbound call services are seamless,” adds Sharon, as when one of our team calls, the agent’s branch telephone number is displayed. “We’re ready to be fully briefed by the agent and can work with pre-qualifying questions, such as whether the buyer has a property to sell, if they’re a cash purchaser and whether mortgage advice is required.”
The call about the call
Ahh the phrase ‘never miss a lead’ is a classic but agents do. So, Callwell has developed a service to ensure agents are alerted with a ‘phone call every time an enquiry is submitted via a portal or the agent’s own website.
The service is in response to dire figures surrounding response rates. “In a pre-pandemic mystery shop among agents, responses to enquiries was as low as 33%,” says Callwell’s Lesley Weatherhead. “Additionally, if you have ever mystery shopped branches or taken part in some of the leading industry events, you will know missed opportunities is an ongoing problem.”
Once the agent answers the phone, we play a message saying the name of the applicant, where the lead is from and what type of lead it is. Lesley Weatherhead, Sales Director, Callwell.
Lesley says leads are missed for a variety of reasons – staff shortages, inefficiency within systems, poorly managed leads coming from multiple sources and even apathy towards new business – but in today’s market, any glimmer of an instruction needs exploiting.
The phone is at the heart of Callwell’s lead management service. It collects leads from the portals and an agent’s own website, and automatically calls the agent within 45 seconds of the enquiry being made.
“Once the agent answers the phone, we play a message saying the name of the applicant, where the lead is from and what type of lead it is. The agent is then asked to press 1 to connect with the applicant. This gives you time to look at the Callwell inbox to see the most recent lead and read any additional information,” says Lesley. “The system is very flexible and you can specify whether the call goes through to an agent’s landline or mobile.”
Red alert at the right time
Lesley adds that the speed at which an agent can call a lead has clear advantages: “Evidence shows that when an agent presses 1 to be connected to the applicant/vendor, there is an 80% certainty of the applicant answering. With valuation leads, 70% of calls finish with an appointment being booked.”
“Timing is everything and if you’re in a city centre location, larger agents will ensure their speed of response is 10 minutes or less. If you’re not responding that quickly, you could be missing out on business.” Agents can also see which member of staff has claimed the enquiry, what action was taken, whether the call was successfully connected and also view a call history log.
THE HYBRID IS HERE
Video chat is the hybrid communication tool that fits in the gap between phone calls and face-to-face meetings. While video chat has been embraced socially, thanks to FaceTime and WhatsApp, its role in business – specifically property – has been less clear.
That’s up until Crave developed an easy way for clients to start an instant video chat with agents. A live chat button or QR code can be added to email signatures, property listings, web pages and even a sign board. When a client clicks/scans this, it starts an almost immediate video chat with the designated agent – no app or extra software required.
“From experience so far, agents have conducted video chats at the initial interaction stage, when vendors are instructing an agent and when someone’s enquiring about an available property,” says Crave’s Gareth Hughes.
“Video chats blend features from traditional phone calls – like instant availability and call transferring – with screen sharing (allowing the agent to show the caller other details while connected) or flipping the camera for a walk around (ideal if the agent is at a property). Of course, unlike with phone calls, you’re able to actually see faces, which we know cements trust and develops relationships. Personally, I think the quicker you can build a personal connection, the less likely a vendor is to use the competition.”