In a trading statement earlier this year, Purplebricks outlined its intention to create ‘lifetime relationships’ with its customers in a bid to keep the brand front and centre in vendors’ minds between one move and the next.
In an interview with the Press Association in July, the company’s CEO, Michael Bruce, expanded on the strategy and floated the idea of a branded dashboard that allows customers to see all their household suppliers in one place.
Although Purplebrick’s approach to keeping in touch with past vendors is clearly very different to that of traditional agents, the desire to build longlasting relationships is present in all sectors of the property business. The central dilemma faced by agents remains the same whether online or high street: how can one capitalise on good service when they are in a business where people only need their service once in a blue moon? Given that a Zoopla poll last year revealed the average Brit moves home only once every 23 years, it’s hard to see how anyone’s business could survive if the idea was that by simply ensuring your customers were happy they’d come back.
Of course, the idea hasn’t always been that if you do a good job customers themselves will return, but rather that they might recommend you to other customers and this remains true today, albeit in today’s increasingly online world, the means to achieving this has changed somewhat.
Social media, in particular, is causing a shift, says Jane Gardner, MD at estate agent marketing agency JP Gardner & Associates. “If somebody goes into the hairdressers and says, ‘I’m thinking about moving’, the hairdresser might be one of your local contacts that you tweet to or share information with and they might say, ‘why don’t you go to XYZ’, so it is changing the way that people are getting their brand out there and dealing with it.”
The highest level of communication demonstrates that their custom remains important, ensures loyalty and, maybe, recommendations. James Priestley, Priestleys Estate Agents.
James Priestley, Director at Priestley’s Estate Agents in Yorkshire, says past customers are also important in this regard. “Offering the highest level of ongoing communication demonstrates that their previous custom remains important, which ensures their loyalty and, in some instances, encourages recommendations. This is especially important given the rise in social media and its role in spreading word of mouth about businesses.”
Given that we live in a world where almost no one books a holiday without reference to TripAdvisor, reviews have also become an increasingly important tool for agents. According to Ben Marley, Head of Market Development at review platform Feefo, with 4,400 estate agents signed up, reviews offer multiple benefits to agents.
“There are three pillars behind what agents like about it:
- it reaffirms what they thought they knew about their service;
- it is really good for staff morale;
- as a business in an extremely overcrowded market it is a way that they are really able to demonstrate that they are as good as they say they are.”
But review sites take work and this won’t always entail simply writing “thank you for your kind words” in response to glowing reviews. Marley says in the case of a negative review, agents need to make sure they respond appropriately. “Responding to negative feedback is imperative because how you handle that negative feedback can really set you apart as a business in terms of it being constructive and demonstrating the reason why a certain situation happened.”
He also adds: “People don’t trust a brand that only has positive five star reviews and actually want to see a bit of a balance to see they are a genuine and authentic company.”
Domenic Versace, Sales Manager at raterAgent, which has 3,500 agents signed up, says many of the more negative reviews are posted by renters, often blaming an agent for something that is actually a landlord’s fault. However, he points out that agents should remember that those renting today are likely to be buying tomorrow. “There is no question that when the younger generation of renters turn into buyers and sellers they will already have been influenced by reviews at an earlier age so it will become even more important.”
Agents must also work hard at getting the reviews in the first place. “We have quite a few agents that have hundreds of reviews that get put through to our platform. The more active agents are more assertive – they go out and ask people for a review.”
We believe in giving customers useful content to help them to extract the most from their property portfolio while also instilling trust. Andrew Matin, Harrisons.
Apart from simply providing a recommendation to potential customers, Andrew Matin, Managing Director at Harrisons Property London in Canary Wharf, says there are added benefits. “Our preferred customer reviews partner is Feefo, because it offers a practical solution to gathering client feedback that is verified and independent. Feefo is also a Google Premier Partner, which directly benefits our visibility online and enables us to prominently showcase our proud achievements in customer satisfaction.”
However, while many see reviews as a useful way for agents to demonstrate their customer care levels, the lack of a TripAdvisor-sized market leader causes confusion, says Gardner. “There are too many to choose from, a bit of a mishmash with estate agents and reviews sites, it is all over the place. You go on one site and it will say 5/5 and another site for the same agent will say 2/5. There is not much consistency and it has to be addressed.”
NUMBERS DON’T LIE
The lack of experience buyers and sellers have with agents may mean their reviews are fundamentally flawed. Colby Short, co-founder and CEO of GetAgent, says, “If I review an agent, I can tell you if I enjoyed working with them, but can I say if I could have got more with a different agent? I would leave them a good review but I may have got £20K more with someone else. The average Tom, Dick or Harry isn’t going to be able to decipher if an agent has done a good job. It’s like wine. If you’ve never tried wine before, you can tell me if you like the taste, but you can’t tell me if it is good wine or not. It is the same with estate agents – people don’t have enough datasets to say whether an estate agent is good or not.”
The premise behind Short’s company is that rather than rate agents based on customer reviews, it compares Land Registry data against Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket listings to show potential vendors which agents in their area have sold the most properties, how quickly they typically sell them and what percentage of the asking price they usually achieve.
“We feel strongly that the only way to rate estate agents is not subjectively, but objectively,” says Short.
While all of these websites are aimed at using previous customers’ experiences to bring in new customers, that’s not to say agents shouldn’t also focus on keeping in touch with their previous customers directly. While the average person may move infrequently, there are vendors who move much more often.
80% of buyers are happy with the agent they bought it from – but it’s a self-selecting definition, as buyers, by definition the property sale was successful. Tom Staff, Hello Again.
“The idea of creating lifetime relationships is becoming a hot topic in the industry,” says Tom Staff, co-founder at Hello Again. “I think agents are generally starting to wake up to the idea that they have been neglecting some of the easier sources of their instructions.”
The easier sources to which Staff refers are previous purchasers. “About 80 per cent of people who buy a house are happy with the agent they bought it from and that is not because agents are particularly good, but it is a self-selecting sample. If they were purchasers by definition the property sale was successful,” he says.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
While many agents have long kept in touch with previous buyers via mailshots, Christmas cards and the like, Hello Again’s proposition is to send them a bespoke property report on the anniversary of a buyer’s move-in date. It provides an estimate of what the property is now worth, recent transactions in the area and information about regional and national house prices.
“If you contact a past purchaser you are overwhelmingly likely to contact them at a point when they have no intention of selling and therefore saying anything like, ‘would you like a valuation’, ‘would you like to know the value of your home’, or ‘are you thinking of selling’, that is the mindset of agents at the moment and we feel that is completely wrong. The objective should be to provide them a service during that time, so each time you are sending them something useful and then when the time comes when they are thinking of reselling they will ring you because you provided that service.”
This approach could be particular canny in the post-GDPR implementation world, where agents need to make sure those on their database opt in to receiving information from them – if you’re providing something useful they are much more likely to do so.
At Harrisons, Andrew Matin says this is the strategy he has adopted — as those working in the agency are investors themselves, their knowledge and the content they provide is therefore considered useful to those on its database. “Our communication with customers is relevant and informative, so the vast majority have continued to subscribe in the advent of GDPR. We believe in giving something back to clients in the form of useful content that will help them extract the most from their property portfolio while also instilling trust.”
Keeping your brand front and centre with past clients undoubtedly remains important, but not only for the reason of being their first port of call when they next look to market – by maintaining a relationship with them after completion you’ve more chance of getting them to review you or recommend you online, which could sway the decision of someone looking to market right now.