It’s been nine years since we created a dedicated team of property receptionists to answer telephone calls on behalf of agents, and 12 months since we launched our Live Chat service.
Over this time we’ve seen a number of trends emerge, and while it’s relatively early days in terms of data for both channels, the findings paint an interesting picture of when and why clients are choosing to use these routes to get in touch with agents.
The first of these observations are the peak periods our property receptionists receive the most enquiries. On average, 9am-11am is our busiest time during the day for telephone calls with live chat seeing a spike later in the day between 12pm-3pm.
Similarly there is a slight difference in the evenings with 5pm-7pm accounting for the most phone enquiries, and 6pm-9pm the time our receptionists handle the highest number of chats.
At weekends these peak times predictably shift back a little, with the largest volume of telephone calls coming through between 10am-1pm and live chat proving busiest between 11am-2pm.
Tim Foulkes, CEO of Howard Cundey LIVE, explains: “We have seen customer expectations and trends change significantly over the years. Today we are finding clients want to be able to engage with us when it’s convenient for them.”
“Typically we see our highest level of phone enquiries in the mornings when people want to ‘get ahead on their day' and later in the afternoon as they finish work, while our live chat is busiest early afternoon when people are on their lunch break in work and later on in the evening once they're home and have a chance to look online.”
The time of year of course, also affects the volume of calls and live chats we handle for estate agents. Looking back at our data for 2018, the volumes of both began to rise steadily from April echoing typical market trends with August and May accounting for the two busiest months.
In fact, August saw our property receptionists answer a record number of telephone calls on Tuesday August 28, following the Summer Bank Holiday. More unusual seasonal issues also impact these volumes. We saw an increase of both calls and live chats, for instance, back in February and March when the ‘Beast from the East’ blew its way across the UK and many agents relied on these methods of communication when they struggled to reach their offices.
This differs for every agent, but as a general rule of thumb the most popular enquiries we tend to receive over the phone are house-hunters looking to arrange viewings or request particulars.
Ongoing issues or more complex enquiries are also often favoured on the phone, especially when customers want to speak to a specific person.
For live chat, an average of 30% of all property chats are new enquiries. The majority of these are concerning valuations, viewings and requests for additional information on a property.
One thing we hadn’t anticipated though was the level of information clients would be willing to share over chats, often deliberately choosing the method to discuss more sensitive situations/information, perhaps because they feel it offers an added layer of discretion with no risk of being overheard when in the office or in public spaces.
We are also seeing a growing number of agents rely on live chat - either in addition to or in place of a telephone number - for support with out-of-hours emergencies and the feedback we’ve received has been positive.
Matt Nicol, Managing Director of Nicol & Co Estate Agents, said: “Live chat provides us with an immediate way to communicate with clients out of hours and has been especially useful for urgent enquiries when the office is closed.”
“We were recently alerted to a live chat from a rather panicked tenant after realising they were locked out of their house. As a result we were able to send a member of our lettings team to the tenant’s property with a spare key to quickly resolve the situation.”
Overall the large majority of our property clients, around 92%, choose to rely on us for overflow support when it comes to answering telephone calls. Of these, however, many pick a few set hours per day to route all of their calls to us so they can focus on prospecting sessions.
For live chat, this flips with around 87% of agents opting to fully outsource their chats and the remaining 13% electing to handle them in-house in the first instance with our receptionists picking up online enquiries when they’re busy or out of the office.
It will be interesting to see how these trends continue to evolve over the coming months too, what (if any) new patterns will emerge and how both communication channels will be used by both consumers and agents. Either way, we’ll be watching with fascination.
*Samantha Jones is Commercial Manager for Property at telephone answering specialist Moneypenny.