It’s a highly competitive environment out there, where there's a constant and never-ending struggle that every agency manager, director or owner has to face.
That struggle is to keep a balance between delivering profit against delivering outstanding customer service.
But I believe that the agencies who don’t give in to putting profits above service will ultimately win in this business climate.
So, why do I believe customer service is so important?
Experts in the industry keep telling me that it’s not about customer service anymore, apparently it’s out of date and now it’s all about the ‘customer experience’ – sounds a lot sexier, doesn’t it?
I don’t believe they’re the same thing. Customer experience is all about improving the customer journey and, inevitably, nowadays that means improving the online experience.
There’s some great PropTech products out there that help agents achieve that, but importantly those products also free up time for agents to focus on service levels. The customer experience is important but the customer service agents deliver through human interaction is what sets them apart from the competition.
The property sector is very different from most, we work in what is essentially a conflict industry where there are always two opposing parties – a seller and a buyer, a landlord and a tenant. There will always be obstacles and problems to solve and they can only be solved by great customer service delivered by experienced property professionals.
So, what do I mean by delivering great customer service? Well, I literally mean treating your customers like you'd treat your own family or your close friends (I’m assuming here you get on with your family and that you’ve got friends!).
What do we do for family and friends that we don’t do for others? We go out of our way for them - and that’s what giving great service is all about. When you go out of your way for someone, you start a relationship and once you have a relationship, you begin to build trust and when you’ve got your client’s trust, you’ve got them for life.
I believe you have to want to give great service – it’s connected to the type of people we are. The way we treat our customers is indicative of the way we look at life in general.
I don’t think it’s a science, I can’t give you a list of things that will definitely improve your service levels, but I can give you some key reasons why it’s so important for your agency.
Here’s my list of seven reasons why a great customer service should be at the heart of everything your agency does.
1. Word-of-mouth advertising is the most valuable form of marketing
You absolutely cannot buy word-of-mouth recommendations – they are priceless. You may not have the chance to do business with one of your vendors for years to come, but in the meantime, they are the best sales team you have.
They’re out there every day, as are your landlords and tenants if you do lettings, either talking with friends, family or work colleagues or communicating with them on social media. Get the service spot on and they will recommend you for years to come.
2. Great customer service results in a reduction of overall problems
By getting great customer service right at the beginning of the process, you are drastically reducing the likelihood of problems arising during the customer journey.
Treat customers indifferently, and there will almost certainly be problems at one point or another.
3. Excellent customer service improves public perception and builds trust in your brand
Most agency owners and directors I know care passionately about their public perception, their reputation and their brand. You absolutely have to ensure high quality customer service.
Not only does this result in positive reviews and recommendations, but it helps to establish your agency in the minds of anyone searching for other property products and services or information. Remember what I said earlier? Great service = trust.
4. You’re more likely to retain your staff for longer
Staff pay very careful attention to how a company treats its customers. When they see their employer treating customers as they would expect to be treated themselves, it motivates them, it makes them proud to be part of the team and makes them more likely to work for you harder and longer.
When staff are taught to undercut and discount customers for whatever reason, it does quite the opposite.
Don’t forget you are the key influencer on the service culture in your agency. The way you interact with customers is watched very closely by your team and has a huge influence on how they interact with clients.
5. Great customer service opens doors for other opportunities
Treating your customers like gold is infectious. It opens doors for new partnerships especially when other businesses see just how well you take care of your customers.
It says a lot about your agency, the values you stand for and other businesses naturally want to be associated with that.
6. Customer service is more important than price
We always see this whenever consumer studies and surveys take place. They always find that customer service is ranked higher than price.
Get the service right and clients will be willing to pay for more for it.
7. Great customer service stops ‘buts’ in customer recommendations
Customer service always has a massive impact on recommendations. If you’ve been difficult to do business with, then if a customer does recommend you there’ll always be a ‘but’.
Here are a couple of examples of what I mean;
“Very good at what they do, probably the best in the area. BUT feedback from all viewings is paramount, regardless of positive or negative information. A phone call or e-mail would be appreciated.”
“In terms of letting the property and any dealings that I have with the sales team I would rate them as excellent. BUT the management side of the business is only average hence the scores given.”
As you can see from the above when someone gives you a recommendation and adds a 'but' a negative comment always follows and that effectively changes what started as a recommendation into a reason not to use your agency.
So those are my seven key reasons why customer service is so important to your agency.
Clearly, if you want to make strides with your business you really do have to place the customer at the heart of everything you do.
At The ESTAS, we’re proud to say we believe in old-fashioned values like customer service. We know how hard it is to deliver it, week-in, week-out, and that’s why we put the spotlight on property firms who are committed to providing excellent service.
*Simon Brown is founder of The ESTAS Group, the customer feedback platform and award scheme for property professionals