Consumer habits have changed massively over the past few years, and regardless of which market you operate in, being able to adapt and change to meet the ever-demanding needs of consumers is a must if any business is going to survive, let alone thrive.
Lidl and Aldi are great examples of this. They have been competing against the big four supermarkets for many years and some would argue that the big four are now competing against them.
The German supermarkets knew they were in a highly competitive market and, while the other supermarkets were focused on adding premium brands and providing lots of choice, such as banking and insurance, Lidl and Aldi looked at the changing shopping habits of consumers. They focused on a smaller, budget product range with the ‘excitement’ of weekly offers on household goods.
The point here is the importance of knowing your market, your customers and not letting your competition take you in a direction away from your strategy, your goals and your business focus.
We all know that the housing market is not the easiest place to be operating in at the moment; it’s a restless market with buyers putting their plans on hold and playing the waiting game. Fewer fees available and those few are subject to fierce downward pressure.
If you only want to survive, then just do some occasional tweaks to your processes. Use 2nd class stamps. Switch to VOIP. You might get lucky…
But, if you want to thrive that’s another thing all together. Now is the time to take action.
The pure pay to list online agents have reported significant challenges in recent times. Forced by the nature of their business models to have to spend massively on advertising they have not succeeded in generating enough market share to turn a profit. And, in a shrinking/Brexit constipated market, they are being hit very hard.
This is where agile, quick-thinking (and more importantly action-taking) agents have an advantage.
A small business has the advantage that they are able to spend better and act faster and can therefore integrate technology and systems that help improve customer service and run more efficient and productive agencies. They are not hide bound by development schedules in their IT department stretching months ahead. They can act now.
Consumers are looking to transact more and more online 24/7. We now all interact with information and processes on phones, tablets and even occasionally still a PC and are not restricted on when or where we choose to do it.
But none of us work 24/7, so that’s where agents can win, with technology that automates customer service 24/7, giving the customer the serviced experience when they are available on the device they just happen to be using.
Technology can help agents to deliver a better service with a greater level of personalisation leading to a better visitor experience – but without committing more manpower to it.
There is an ever-growing choice of applications that are available to plug into agency websites, many of which can genuinely deliver process improvement, automation and some even use artificial intelligence.
Take the following scenario. It’s 11:00pm and a potential buyer is looking at properties, they find one they like and send an email to the agent. And then they wait until the following morning for a reply.
They’ve already waited too long.
Already today we can automatically send an instant email, appearing to come from the agent, straight back to the applicant: “Thank you for your enquiry, please tell me your position. Do you need a mortgage? Do you need to sell something? Is it sold already?”
While you sleep your site has started customer nurturing and accelerated it. As many as 70% of applicants engage this way, out of hours, qualifying themselves.
Instead of waiting for staff to come in after a night or weekend away from their desk, the potential buyer has already had a reply, the negotiator has received a qualified lead and no one has had their first coffee yet!
Automated processes aren’t exclusive to sales agents. Lettings agents too can take advantage of tools that enable tenants to report faults at any time and automatically start the repair process. It creates a full audit history of the report and automatically records it into the agent’s CRM system.
In short, via an agent’s website, a whole stack of work can be handled by technology, better, cheaper and faster than before. allowing the agent to redeploy resources to doing more revenue creating work and at the same time giving the consumer a superior customer experience.
But there is more…
To truly thrive, agents should be looking now at how to really further enhance customer experience and at how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to take things to the next level, automatically nurturing the customer journey.
The demand for 24/7 engagement with consumers leads us to think that agents need to invest more in automation and artificial intelligence technology.
AI is an area that is growing massively year upon year. With AI being used successfully in many every day activities without individuals even being aware of its use, it should be a key consideration for any forward-thinking agent looking to get ahead of the competition.
There is no need to wait for this kind of technology it’s already available. Agents are using AI in multiple ways:
- Digital mortgage advisors
- Instant online valuations
- Automated chatbots that can help agents to identify vendors and landlords as they hit their website and capture their details as an additional form of contact
- Lead nurturing, analysing prospect behaviours to identify when they have the highest propensity to instruct
But what does the future hold?
For agents, a key area of AI being developed is lead generation – helping to automate learning and predictions, identifying prospects that are likely to sell their home. Good AI and automations systems find sellers and mortgage leads from simple applicant enquiries.
And once they have been identified, some of the tedious and time-consuming admin can be fulfilled by AI completing checklists, CRM data, email follow up, helping save the agent time.
There are dozens of widgets and calculators you can scatter around a website, but it is worth finding the ones that make the biggest difference to a customer’s journey, improve your conversion numbers and pay for themselves.
In order to thrive today, agents have got to be thinking about tomorrow, next month, next year and beyond. With online technology progressing at the speed it is, today’s tools are almost yesterday’s news.
Agents should speak with their website provider to find out what tools and systems can be put in place now to meet the desirable outcomes of the website visitor and the website owner. They should be watching for the future tech to implement, enabling a far superior customer service, increasing productivity and setting them apart from their competition.
*Mike Smithson is managing director of The Property Jungle