Agents are consistently being told that they need to get on board with change. And one could quite easily make the argument that the biggest aspect of change agents must embrace is communication.
A vital part of the sales and lettings process and something that has changed rapidly over the last decade, communication can often be the difference between a good or bad agent experience for a consumer.
Just take a look at The Property Ombudsman's annual report in recent years – ‘communication and record keeping’ has been the top reason for complaints against sales agents in each of the last four years, appearing in the top two for complaints against letting agents over the same period.
Prior to that, the reports for 2013 and 2014 show ‘communications failure’ as the top reason for complaints made against both sales and letting agents.
It's clear to see, then, that if agents don't get their communication strategy right it can cause problems.
Throw into the mix the way technology has impacted the way we communicate with each other – for example, the death of voicemail and the rise of WhatsApp - and it's no wonder that many agents will be asking themselves what is the best way to communicate with clients in 2020.
How do consumers want to be communicated with?
It's important to stress that there should be no one size fits all approach to agency communication - everyone is different and has preferences. That said, there are some trends that all proactive agents should be taking note of.
Recent Zoopla data shows 47% of people (60% of Londoners) continue to look for properties using email - through alerts - while there has also been a rise in social media browsing, with 12% of consumers now using Facebook to look for homes.
It therefore makes sense that agents continue to focus on using email as a primary source of communicating with consumers, while thinking about how they can harness their social media presence to speak to more people.
Another growing trend is the use of WhatsApp, which is a particularly popular communication channel between millennial tenants and their landlords and agents.
If you send a WhatsApp message to a younger consumer, don’t be surprised if they respond promptly. On the flipside, there's no guarantee your call will get picked up by younger clients and certainly don't expect a call back.
Of course, phone communication remains central to the moving process, particularly at crunch time of a transaction when a degree of urgency and clarity is often required.
Live chat has also become important as it reflects how many consumers are now communicating with other brands in different sectors. It also provides you with the means to speak to people outside of traditional office hours as, according to Moneypenny, 38% of live chat conversations take place out of hours and at weekends.
The agents who have the best communication strategy will make sure they can be contacted via all the relevant touch points so they can communicate with consumers via their preferred medium.
Don't alienate sections of your client base
Getting on board with new technology trends shouldn't come at the expense of sections of your client base or compromise the long-standing communication values of your brand.
For example, if you’ve been dealing with a client for many years and they like to be sent things in the post or have long phone conversations, don't forgo this. A key aim of good agency is to build trust and relationships that cement your position as a consumer’s go-to property specialist for life.
People will have picked you out for a reason and the way you communicate is likely to play a big part in this. Therefore, when considering your strategy, you shouldn’t completely change the way you approach personal interactions. Rather, you should think about the ways in which you communicate - are they efficient and effective?
If you take a tech-led approach to communication, there's no reason why it shouldn't continue to reflect your brand. Just because mediums such as WhatsApp, Facebook or live chat are less formal, doesn't mean your communication standards should go out the window.
Consumers' expectations are higher than ever when it comes to communication, so make sure that you embrace your whole spectrum of customers and stay true to the roots and ethos of your brand.
What are the communication challenges for agents?
Adapting to new habits of communication will be a challenge for most agencies. Striking the balance between modern mediums and traditional alternatives will be the name of the game moving forward.
One specific challenge agents may find themselves increasingly exposed to is getting hold of people - particularly during traditional working hours. Many people - particularly the younger generations - just don't like picking up the phone, especially if they are at work.
As mentioned above, it can be more fruitful to target these customers with text messages or instant messaging services.
Agencies also need to make sure the way they communicate reflects other industries. Consumers increasingly want things 'now' and you need to be equipped to facilitate this.
This concept feeds into a shifting society where more people work flexibly and don't want to be constrained by the traditional working week and the 9-5. Do you have the communication strategy in place to keep these consumers happy?
What’s more, the rise in the number of self-employed agents without the support of an established business, means keeping on top of communication may become difficult - especially if they want to scale their operation.
Communication will always be a two-way street
One thing no agent will need reminding of is that effective communication works both ways and that the consumer also has responsibilities.
Sometimes consumers will be so poor at communicating that no matter how good your strategy is, it can be hard to get a positive result.
Therefore, it can help to remind buyers and sellers exactly what your role is and that your intention is to work with them to get the best out of the process. We have produced a guide here that several agents have found useful to share with consumers.
No matter how methods of communication develop over the next few years, it’s important to remember that the way you interact with your clients will remain crucial to your long-term success.
*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans.