Despite Covid, our industry is currently experiencing a tremendous resurgence in activity by the evaluation of work-life balance, city versus countryside, more outside space, bigger accommodation, upsizing, downsizing and low interest rates in addition to the 3d’s and the Stamp Duty holiday. Agencies are reporting burgeoning pipelines, voluminous levels of sales and lettings enquiries, viewing and valuation diaries stretched, and some are even employing additional staff members to cope with the levels of business. All is well.
Following specific analysis exercises for a long-term client, it became apparent from the results that if you scratch beneath the surface, even within some of the best agencies in the UK, things are not all that they seem. Many agencies have now begun to simply process requests rather than proactively manage and handle applicants, vendors and landlords.
And what can be wrong with this I hear you ask? “People enquire, we simply accommodate and they either buy or let or they do not.” “They can even book directly online.” “We are busier now than we have ever been so what is the problem?”
These were the statements another client of mine retorted during a catch-up session recently. He was refreshingly jubilant at the size of his pipeline. He did have two major concerns. Firstly, his staff were extremely stressed, busy, and over tired. Secondly, clients were not using the ancillary services. This was costing him serious income and affecting his sale progression timescales.
Aware of the trends elsewhere I suggested we started to take a deeper look into things. We studied the office CCTV together for a period of time and listened to random phone calls. I asked him what he had observed? He noted they were obviously busy. I then asked him to collate six pieces of data: the phone logs, applicant lists, and valuation lists for the first 14 days in February and the first 14 days this month.
When the workload increases, so too does the pressure to cut corners.
Next, he was to look at them and comment. Once again, nothing unusual was apparent. There were more calls and more applicants and more valuations than before, but he knew that! I then asked him to consider for the third time, however I needed him to dig much deeper and in order to illustrate this I reached into my bag and retrieved a book about Neville Chamberlain which an author friend had gifted to me the day before. Placing it on the desk I was met with a puzzled expression. I challenged him to tell me the detailed narrative of the book and to answer questions about Chamberlain. He was not allowed to open the book and had just 120 seconds to do so.
He studied the illustrated cover, then the description on the back, but was unable to articulate anything of meaningful value, just vague impressions based upon scant information. There was of course no way he could answer the questions without reading the book and certainly not in under two minutes in any event. Giving up, he asked me what he should do next? My answer was simply “think about the book”.
Two days later he sent me a text. “I read the entire book then realised what you really wanted me to see. If the applicant or vendor was the book, we are not even opening the cover nor taking the time to read the pages. We are taking everything on assumption and not understanding our clients.” The last four words said, ‘I get it – qualification.’
His average phone call time had reduced from over 3.5 minutes in February to under two minutes in October, not because his staff were efficient, but because they were not having meaningful conversations. They were rushing to finish a good call to take the next one which was often just a message.
The importance of qualification
A well-trained team who used to be in control, produce superb results and exude confidence had converted into a stressful, reactive, order-taking environment which was gradually spiralling out of control. Poorly qualified applicants had price, accommodation and area at best and valuations which used to take 15 minutes to arrange with voluminous information, now completed in two minutes to non-serious sellers with only basic property details.
As a result, they had no relationship or understanding of the individual trigger points to upsell and improve ancillary services. Their own solicitors and financial services were therefore not involved in the chains which made a long job even longer and risked more sales cancelling. This is, thankfully, now in reverse.
When things are busy you have to accept you cannot service and please everyone and hard decisions have to be made.
The real issue was getting him to understand what to look for, how to look, where to look and what to do about it.
Qualification is one of the most important parts of the job and when the workload increases so too does the pressure to cut corners. Bad habits learned are often hard to unlearn. As more shortcuts take place and results are seemingly still achieved, systems and structures begin to fall apart and the very foundations that made the company a great performer can soon become eroded.
The question is, would you build a house on a foundation of quicksand?