It’s official – the property market is back open for business. Estate agents have started to unfurlough staff and many are making their way back to the office and out on the road.
Encouragingly, data also suggests that demand for property has returned and enquiry levels are surpassing life before lockdown.
Figures from Moneypenny – which helps agents to improve the client experience through call answering and live chat technology – reveal that call volumes have spiked by almost a quarter year-on-year and increased by 20% when compared to figures before lockdown.
However, while consumer appetite for buying and selling property may be high, it’s vital to recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak has sparked some fundamental changes to client behaviour.
There have been significant shifts in requirements and preferences and by tuning into these, agents can respond more strategically – accelerating business recovery and delivering a first class client experience.
We value human interaction
Even at the beginning of lockdown, call duration in the property sector peaked – largely due to callers having more time on their hands, homebuyers wanting reassurance about their plans and people wanting to feel more connected to others.
The pandemic experience has created a new expectation of the brands and businesses we interact with, helped by the copious ‘caring’ adverts that have filled our screens over recent weeks.
As a consequence, we want more authentic and personal connections and we can expect this desire for much meaningful human contact to remain, particularly when it comes to letting, buying and selling property. In fact, during lockdown some estate agents even turned their attentions to helping businesses in their local communities through live Zoom chats, as a way to show a human and supportive response to the crisis.
Peter Lawrence from Lawrence Rand Estate Agents, which serves Eastcote, Ickenham, Pinner, Ruislip and Ruislip Manor, told me: “Lots of small businesses are suffering so we decided to interview them via Zoom and push their businesses out to the community via our social platforms and database.”
“We’ve also been speaking to the community as a whole to make sure they’re OK, provide a friendly voice at the end of the phone and even make some doorstep deliveries. A combination of the phone and other digital tools are helping us to stay feeling connected.”
Some 59% of people consider being treated as an individual as more important than how quickly their needs are met or an issue resolved. We want to deal with real people who can show empathy and urgency and who make us feel important and valued.
This is demonstrated perfectly through our universal dislike of impersonal voicemail. Our research insights show that 69% of people will hang up if they are put through to voicemail and even if someone does leave a message, there’s no guarantee it will be answered.
Meanwhile, a third of people only listen to voicemails from those they know. If someone isn’t available immediately, a friendly individual taking a message offers a positive and human experience. For estate agents often out of the office on viewings, this is a timely reminder that voicemail just won’t do.
This desire to talk also presents an opportunity for agents, as longer interactions – be they over the phone, via live chat or even through video conferencing – can provide invaluable client insights and new opportunities. It is possible to gauge buyer confidence, improve the understanding of audience segments and tailor products and services accordingly.
We are inherently impatient
Agents are now working to get stalled purchases over the line, find new homes where chains have collapsed and respond to new enquiries for homebuyers seeking more space.
According to Moneypenny property data, 42% of current calls to estate agents are new enquiries, with enquirers requesting property details, viewing appointments or valuations. Live chat volumes are also up 90% over the same period.
With demand growing again, it’s important to remember that people are inherently impatient so active homebuyers will expect quick responses to their enquiries. It is vital for agents to have the resource in place to cope. That means answering every call and handling live chats around the clock. Being contactable is crucial to a fast recovery.
We like to talk about ourselves
Live chat conversations include more personal information than through any other marketing channel. Live chatters discuss their homebuying circumstances openly, share their concerns and offer up valuable insights. This presents a significant opportunity to nurture homebuyers through the sales process and show agents as caring, empathetic and expert.
Live chats might reveal the sensitive events that have forced someone to need a quick sale, the reasons for a complex wish list for their new property or why a homebuyer is so concerned or anxious about an imminent purchase.
Live chat also helps to make websites work harder by turning visitors into enquirers at all times of day and night, plus it can be used to triage enquiries to keep volumes away from the phones – particularly useful for those agents operating with a reduced team.
We still prefer the phone for new business
Despite a boom in the use of social media to contact businesses, the telephone still remains the most important communication method for customers to connect with businesses in the UK. In fact, our research shows that 43% of UK businesses say phone calls are even more important due to the lockdown.
Ensuring that calls are answered professionally and efficiently will be critical to speedy business recovery and ultimate survival. Our Value of a Call report found that 40% of all new phone calls to estate agents result in a valuation or viewing request, with 10% of agents claiming this figure to be even higher at 80%. Quite simply, missed calls mean missed clients, missed commission and damaged reputation.
The rise of Google’s Click to Call function has played its part here, too. Our figures from earlier this year revealed that estate agents receive 35% more calls than five years ago thanks to property portals encouraging people to ‘click to call’. People may conduct preliminary property research online, but still want and need to talk to an agent once they know what they want. The phone is still king.
We want reassurance and expertise
The desire for reassurance is one of the top reasons why customers call businesses, according to our Value of a Call report.
Even as lockdown restrictions loosen, economic uncertainty will continue and so homebuyers will need ongoing support and expertise. Reassurance comes from being accessible and efficient at all times.
For property agents, this might mean the use of helplines. Setting up a helpline shows commitment and expertise and provide reassurance, all while dealing with heightened demand for particular services or advice, and maintaining the human touch.
The pandemic experience has forced everyone to re-evaluate what matters. The letting and estate agents that offer the human touch and are accessible, friendly and caring, will do well. It starts with responding to homebuyers’ expectations, catering for their new behaviours and perhaps most importantly of all, answering the phone.
*Samantha Jones is head of field sales at Moneypenny