Outsourcing important business functions such as marketing, HR and IT to attract cost savings, leverage expertise and gain greater competitive advantage is commonplace among estate agents.
However, until recently, there has been a reluctance within the market to outsource aspects of customer service.
Up and down the country, time-poor agents are more stretched than ever before and putting themselves at risk of damaging reputation as a result of substandard customer service.
By investing in external support, they can free up time to focus on more lucrative tasks, safe in the knowledge that any client queries or potential leads are being handled with care.
But, how can they be sure that outsourced customer service remains on brand?
Traditionally, the biggest motivation for outsourcing was all about cost-savings, but now there’s an acceptance that outsourcing can also be about innovation and collaboration, with a view to improving business functions and even integrating new products and services.
Outsourcing used to be a dirty word, but its image has changed. Outsourcing now refers to agile partnerships, where strategic relationships help businesses to address their challenges and take advantage of new services, technologies and thinking they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
This is particularly true of the field we operate in, with telephone answering, live chat and switchboard services, and it means we can offer estate agents of all sizes access to artificial intelligence-generated telephony services to help them improve customer service, capture leads and stay one step ahead of the competition.
Much of this shift in attitude towards outsourcing can be attributed to changing consumer behaviour. The impact of continually-evolving new technologies, heightened levels of choice and a 24/7 ‘always on’ mentality have made it crucial for the property sector to rethink how it delivers value and meets customers’ needs.
What’s more, as more and more new estate agents appear on our high streets and online, it’s never been more crucial to put customer service first.
Price is no longer the main deciding factor for consumers. Research shows that 86% of customers would pay up to 25% more for a better customer service experience and by 2020, customer service will have overtaken product and price as a key differentiator. Today’s customers are typically well-informed, demanding, and without brand loyalty and it is why customer care is coming to the fore as a business-critical discipline worth outsourcing.
Outsourcing presents a huge opportunity for estate agents and the benefits are clear:
1. Meet clients’ needs and expectations - In a 24/7 age, consumers do not feel the constraints of traditional 9-5 office hours and will research and reach-out to professionals at all times of day and night – this is particularly true of house-hunters.
Apps such as Rightmove put the house buying process into the palm of their hand and give them the chance to contact estate agents at all hours, from anywhere.
Outsourcing call handling and live chat eliminates the worry of providing round-the-clock in-house resource and can offer a consistent 24/7 service using customers’ preferred channels.
2. Quality, professionalism and consistency - Tardy responses to phone calls are among consumers’ regular gripes and can have a huge impact on property sales - as a matter of hours can make or break the purchase or sale of a home.
Outsourcing customer care guarantees consistency and a high quality experience, smoothing out the bumps that occur when agents are busy or out of the office on viewings.
According to our research, 69% of callers choose to hang up rather than leave a voicemail message, so missed calls are extremely costly both in terms of business and reputation – you only get one chance to make a first impression!
3. Protect the ‘experience’ – Buying or selling a home is exciting and stressful in equal measure. It’s an estate agent’s job to smooth over any cracks and provide a seamless experience whenever a client gets in touch.
Outsourcing telephone answering, even if just at peak times, allows in-house staff to continue giving warm face-to-face customer service while simultaneously avoiding calls ringing out or reaching voicemail.
If a client calls with a concern and is unable to speak to the correct person, leaving a message with a friendly, knowledgeable telephone answering agent will leave them feeling confident that their business is valued and protect brand reputation.
4. Make your website presence work harder – A well-timed live chat pop-up can help to turn website visitors into potential new clients at any hour of the day.
While the most popular enquiries to estate agents via telephone relate to house viewings, 30% of live chat can be attributed to valuable new enquiries, most of which concern valuations, viewings and requests for additional property information.
Moreover, enquirers via live chat tend to offer more personal information than through any other marketing channel, which presents an opportunity to improve customer understanding and nurture prospects through the sales cycle.
Outsourcing live chat makes it easy to provide 24/7 customer care, meet changing consumer demands and improve your website’s ROI.
5. Flexibility and agility - Outsourcing doesn’t have to be an all or nothing option – finding a partner that offers overflow support or resource which you can turn on and off as your needs flex, is a huge part of the value of having an outsourced solution.
Outsourcing also provides a means for smaller agents to make use of tech-led services such as AI powered telephony, that would normally be outside their reach, creating greater organisational agility and competitive advantage.
Ensuring a positive partnership
Building a successful partnership with an outsourced partner starts with agreeing the parameters of the relationship, which should include identifying the business challenge to address, what success looks like and the breadth of services and support that are required.
It’s also helpful to clarify the brand tone of voice and customer care commitments up front so that a clear brief and day-to-day operating manual can be agreed.
Estate agents should also look for a partner with strong sector experience and proven success in delivering tangible impact within the property market. Excellent customer care relies on a true understanding of customers’ needs to enable a partner to work as a seamless extension to your team – already familiar with terminology, common challenges and the value of rapid response and professionalism.
For customer care, in particular, telephone answering and live chat support estate agents on the front line – shaping first impressions, engaging clients, bringing brand values to life, capturing enquiries, increasing the likelihood of converting leads and developing valuable, longstanding relationships.
*Joanne Tattum is Business Relationship Manager at Moneypenny, which helps estate agents to improve client experience through call answering and live chat technology.