Any company working within the property industry needs to keep on top of their customer service if they want to continue to thrive and retain their competitive edge.
When Zoopla’s agent partners were asked what they needed to work on to differentiate themselves from the competition back in May, the top answer (55% of sample) was ‘my service to my clients’.
But what does good customer service truly look like to consumers and agents alike? Zoopla recently surveyed a group of online house hunters to find out, and here are the results.
The most crucial contributor to good customer experience was comprehensive access to the agent’s service on mobile, via app or mobile web (75% of respondents).
Getting timely answers to queries in a proactive way from an estate agent was the next most pressing need among the group (52%) while getting a quick response was the next (51%), followed by a choice of communication methods such as email, SMS, a branch/office or live chat (39%).
And perhaps surprisingly given today’s ongoing digital revolution, nearly a third of respondents said they sought the ‘personal touch’ via face to face and phone discussions, as well as being able to deal with agents outside normal business hours.
But does this research marry up with what agents think makes great customer service? We spoke with three property professionals to find out.
Natasha Willis, Head of Property Management at prime London company Aykroyd & Co says her customer service strategy is to take ‘going the extra mile’ to extreme lengths. While many property managers will help landlords and tenants in unusual circumstances.
“The industry has become very centralised and de-personalised but I’m the opposite of that,” she says. This has included chasing a British Gas engineer down the street, doing tenants’ shopping so they have something to eat after returning from a late flight and, on one occasion, helping pack up a six-bedroom house in central London for a landlord.
Her company, which specialises in both vacant and traditional property management, is carving out a niche in the market with this approach. “It’s all about being personable – if there are issues at the property then I go down there to talk with the tenants about it,” she says.
The strategy seems to be well received; tenants regularly invite Natasha in for lunch or even dinner when she’s doing property inspections or if she’s there to sort out a problem.
Jonathan Handford, MD of Leamington Spa agency Fine & Country, says the secret to good customer service is motivation.
“Our associates here at Fine & Country are self-employed and therefore every sale is important to them and consequently they cherish and nurture everything from the start of the process,” he says.
Handford also says his negotiators hold the hand of clients all the way through from valuation to completion rather than customers being forced to deal with several different people as the sale progresses.
“I think it’s really important that sellers have that single point of contact because they don’t have to explain things to people over and over again, and things don’t get lost in translation,” he adds.
To help facilitate this, Handford uses WhatsApp groups for each sale which are used initially by just the negotiator and vendor, and then later has third parties such as the solicitor added so that issues can be solved immediately.
“Some of our agents also upload videos to these WhatsApp groups to let vendors know about viewings and other activity during a sale. People respond really well to that.”
Simon Barnes of agency H Barnes & Co says his company takes a different approach to customer support. His company focuses on the client rather than the property and achieves that because it ensures negotiators have no more than five active customers at any one time.
“Any more than that and it’s difficult to give people a good service, so we deal with clients on a one-on-one basis to give them the best service possible.”
Simon is also keen not to send out ‘blanket’ emails to his customers and wants to ensure, if they are looking to buy, that they are only sent relevant properties that fit their brief as they become available.
“Many of our clients don’t want to be inundated with property brochures, so we don’t just throw mud at a wall and hope for the best.”
Despite recent technological leaps forward home buyers, vendors, landlords and tenants still like the personal touch, something Zoopla’s research shows a third expect as standard.
On the other hand, they also want to do much of the interaction on their smartphones which 78% of people in the UK use to access the internet.
The clear take-out for agents is that they need to focus on ‘mobile’ if they want to provide excellent customer service, however they do it.