Over the past year I've had so many conversations with agents telling me how they feel that offering a premium customer service is becoming more and more integral to their future success.
I’ve also read with interest comments from industry experts, such as those by Peter Knight, which have touched on this too.
According to statistics that Peter shared from Rob Symes of Rightmove at EA Masters, the very best agents achieve 136% more Rightmove leads than average, sell over 90% of the properties they list and sell them 60% faster than average – fairly compelling figures.
Of course, there are many elements which make up what a 'great' agent looks like. Excellent communication, always delivering on promises, proven and measurable credentials, knowledge of the local and wider property markets and emotional intelligence to list a few key attributes - but ultimately, at the heart of this also has to lie great relationships. The ability to really get under the skin of your customers and look at the whole picture; not just what they are telling you they need now, but their history, their future plans and the reasons why.
A little while ago a colleague told me a story about an agent who a friend of a friend had used which illustrates this perfectly. Looking to buy her first property, the friend and her husband visited a number of estate agents in their local area. One in particular stood out. Why? Well, in addition to listening to what they were looking for, the agent dug deeper and asked what their long-term goals were.
It turns out they weren’t planning to stay in their first house for long, more viewing it as a stepping stone before having a family. Based on that, the agent recommended they opt for a property they could renovate to maximise their investment and found them a great house in their favoured location.
Once the sale went through, the agent kept in touch with the couple, and a few years later they got back in touch to sell their property. However, not far from their completion date one of them lost their job.
Determined that she wouldn’t let the sale fall through, the agent went above and beyond to do everything she could to help all the while keeping in touch with them so they knew exactly what was happening. More than that, she became a friend in their time of need; someone they could rely on and trust.
This type of personal relationship was not only essential to winning their custom in the first place but also demonstrates why it is the pipeline to long-term success.
People buy people, not just ‘price’ or ‘products’ and as well as now having a life-long client in this couple, people like me, who don't even know them personally, are telling their story far and wide.
Stewart Simpson, Sales Director at Simpsons, which was crowned Best Overall – Sales and Lettings winner in the Best Estate Agent Guide at this year’s EA Masters, said: "The ability to build excellent client relationships is intrinsically linked to being able to provide a great service.”
“It’s only by doing this and really getting to know a customer that we can offer them the best possible service. A large part of this is communication. For us, that means readily being in touch with our buyers and sellers, providing them with good feedback, ensuring they never have to chase us up and that we’re always the first to give them an update.”
“I only have to look at our Google reviews to see how integral client relationships are to our success. Hardly any of them mention the price we managed to sell their house for or our fees – even though these are important factors – what they focus on is the service they received.”
“Things like how well we communicated with them, how they felt throughout the whole experience and that they trusted us. As a result, we receive lots of our business through referrals.”
“We had a perfect example of this today - a lady arrived in our office and asked us to put her house on the market. No ‘maybe’ or ‘I’d like to enquire’, just a straightforward request.”
“It turns out we’d sold her next-door neighbour’s house and they’d recommended us to her. By the time she left, we’d booked an appointment for the valuation and a photographer to take her marketing shots. This is the ultimate goal and compliment.”
Stephen Brown, former estate agent and director of Stephen J Brown Consultancy who has over 25 years’ experience in the industry, added: "I’ve spoken at six conferences this year, all about the same subject – the importance of having a proper stay in touch policy.”
“At the start of each discussion, I ask the audience to stand up if they own a property, and typically about 75% of the room do. I then ask if they bought the property through an agent."
"Again, the majority stay standing. Finally, I ask if they have had a telephone call from the agent since the sale was completed. Out of an entire room only a handful remain on their feet. It never fails to amaze me and I see the same results across the UK.”
“Every agent should have a proper stay in touch policy, and one that adds value. Future sellers are the buyers, and if agents aren’t staying in contact with them, what incentive are they giving customers to be loyal?”
“It’s about asking questions, talking to people and creating a great first impression which you then consistently build on. Tell people what you’re doing in the community, give them advice on the local market, provide insight and advice on any legislation changes that may affect them or even send them an ‘anniversary card’ once a year inviting them to take advantage of a free appraisal.”
“Property is a people business. Agents need to demonstrate their worth and look at the future.”
This ability to provide an exceptional experience is only set to become more important too.
The Customers 2020 report, for instance, estimates that in just two years’ time the key differentiating factor between businesses won’t be price or products; but client experience.
It’s this desire to exceed expectations and build meaningful connections that will separate the good from the truly great and continue to strengthen their reputations.
None of the above happens by accident but going beyond ‘good’ and aiming for ‘exceptional’ is the key to earning long, happy and loyal customers.
*Samantha Jones is Commercial Manager for Property at telephone answering specialist Moneypenny.