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What's going on at Countrywide – will retail work for estate agency?

What Countrywide are getting at is that they want to think more like retailers to engage better with customers. 

If this is their true interpretation then I wholeheartedly agree that it is the only way forward. 

They do, however, have a massive job on on their hands to create a culture of truly thinking and more importantly, behaving like retailers.

Countrywide is a massive organisation, any cultural change for them is like turning an aircraft carrier and often by the time they get to their goal, the more nimble agents have moved faster and with more conviction to adapt to ever changing customer needs and desires. 

The retail theory means constant reinvention which will be very difficult for Countrywide to achieve, but not impossible.

The more entrepreneurial independent estate agents have been thinking like retailers for decades, they move fast and they don't have shareholders to hold them back. 

Those who have always built everything from a customer journey perspective unsurprisingly nearly always win and win big.

For example, thinking like a retailer means designing everything to make it easier and clearer for the customer to do business with you – shops, websites, systems, processes and much more all designed from a customer's perspective. 

Putting the customer first is the mantra of many, however very few really achieve this aim every time. 

Take a look at shop space for example. In most cases, these are rarely designed from a customer perspective. Countrywide has a massive estate to redesign, and in my opinion their websites lag way behind the functionality and usability of the best estate agents out there.

A good retailer has a clear offering, a defined service standard and in most cases makes it as easy as possible for the client to do business with them. 

The very best retailers have a defined culture from top to bottom that customers buy into and want to do business with. 

Countrywide has over 50 brands – do they create one culture or 52? This is a question they have never really got to grips with.

I saw significant conflict on this very subject while I was MD for their Thames Subsidiary – a desire to accept geography and brands were unique but the accounting element always meant that in the end one size fits all.

Countrywide are being very brave to talk about their future being in retail, it appears they are serious about it and Alison Platt is showing an unnerving determination to change things.

The question is can she do it quickly enough and with enough quality for it to actually manifest itself on the shop floor and can she keep doing it as future changes are needed?

They will need a brilliant, agile and determined team at the top. Alison Platt has shown her teeth in her drive to achieve this aim. 

Real talent has been lost but she clearly has a vision and she knows what she wants and she has to be admired for taking the hard route and not flinching when easier decisions could have been made.

However, I believe it is the team at the coal face that will deliver the retail offering and where policies will be determined as a success or failure. 

This is the biggest challenge for Countrywide, they will need innovative recruitment and retention processes and right now there is a real need for the current troops to feel engaged and involved in the retail journey. 

What I can see is a conflict between what is being said at the very top and what is happening at the sharp end where the customers engage. 

If this is not sorted it is hard to see Countrywide building market share and returning value to its shareholders.

Change is slow in such a big organisation but if they can pull it off, it could truly transform Countrywide and possibly the industry as whole.

I hope they achieve their aim but not for the shareholders, for the customers and the team. 

If they prioritise in that order they have a chance of achieving something outstanding, and long-term the shareholders will get their rewards.

*Iain White is an estate agency trainer and mentor at Agency Mentors

@agencymentors / facebook.com/Agency-Mentors-154305918272820

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