Would you want to do business with you…?

These are questions I ask in a couple of the training sessions that I run – from a consumer end, what are we really like to do business with; how do our clients truly  rate the way that we respond to and interact with them.

And – are we brave enough to really want to know?

I’ve had a couple of customer service experiences recently which have varied widely.  I’ve had to email two companies I’d had dealings with to seek either a refund or a replacement of goods I’d bought.

As frustrating as it was to have to deal with this by email rather than by phone, one firm replied to me within a business day and the replacement of the item could not have been easier – I had a barcode emailed to me, took both it and the broken item to the post office and within a week I’d not only received the replacement article but also a follow up call to ensure its arrival and my satisfaction with both it and the way I’d been attended to.  

One thing which was drilled into me when I started in the industry in the Neolithic period was the importance of service – I can still remember Neil McPherson standing in front of a group of us and saying that when he started in real estate in 1969, agents had a terrible reputation for not keeping in touch with their clients, and 15 years later, when I started, not much had changed.  Fast forward some 35 years or so, and guess what – the needle has shifted only marginally; which came to light when one of the real estate portals surveyed both agents and their clients on the customer service experience from both sides of the equation.

Not surprisingly, the majority of estate agency directors who responded (80% or so) said that they felt that the agency provided either very good or excellent customer service; the number of consumers who thought this was the case was, well, alarmingly different – only 8% of the respondents felt that the service levels were near their expectations. 

Surveys I’ve conducted in the last few years at various firms I’ve been involved with mirror that result too, and one I conducted just as the pandemic was hitting last year showed that again, agents are letting themselves down by not doing the basics – there was a long list of shortcomings in the eyes of our clients and future consumers.

The easiest thing for us to do is have conversations, we use words – it’s what we do as an industry and it should come naturally to us, yet we tend to lose sight of a very basic human need and forget (or neglect) to keep contact with our clients; we’ve got so many means by which to do this and the technology that is now available to us to make our jobs more streamlined far outstrips the tech that was around even a couple of years ago, so our jobs should be easier than they ever were. We should have more time in our day to be the communicators we’re expected to be, but the most basic of our clients needs is the human one and it seems still not to be met fully – emails and text messages and the like have their place, but nothing replaces the sound of the human voice – and our clients are crying out to us for meaningful, relevant conversations – not just the “hi there… are you thinking of buying or selling or leasing?”, they want to feel part of something bigger, that you’re  treating them as part of a community and building a relationship with them by giving them information on what is relevant and important to them; and there’s a very simple way to find that out what that is.

This is always going to be a human-first business regardless of how much improvement there is in technology, and excellence in client service extends past basic communication; it’s also the ability to handle and resolve issues as and when they arise, it’s being positive in our approach and using our knowledge of our client and their needs to serve them better than others in the industry can. 

This way we can start to rupture the stereotypes of the industry and, having consulted to a number of firms in the last 18 months, the firms who have improved their client satisfaction rating are those who have been proactive with their clients.

Excellence in the client relationship only occurs when the client is served so well that they have a positive, powerful and emotional response to the interaction and would willingly repeat it – from a business’ perspective, this takes the investment of time, energy, staff, coaching and recognition, and in a world where we are all providing essentially the same product (our time and ability to sell, lease or manage the property) there only a few areas in this industry where the intending client can distinguish between differing firms so unless we can show value, they’ll generally make that distinction on price.

Real estate doesn’t have the sole rights to client service excellence, and to show us how it’s done well we only need to look outside of our industry for models and thought in this area, let’s look to firms in other industries which deal with the customer experience and who have positioned themselves at the forefront of their fields and garnered reputations for the way they interact with the people who give their businesses life. There are some brilliant, shining examples for us to follow if we only look for them.

We make a lot of noise in our promotional material about how our landlords and vendors experience is, but when was the last time any of us surveyed our buyers (especially those who missed the property) – and our tenants – to find out how they felt about the way they’d been dealt with, and really listen to the feedback on areas where we can improve.

With the number of NPS and CSAT surveys readily available, there are plenty of tools around which measure the experiences of our clients (and by this I mean everyone we deal with), or you can do as I’ve done in previous roles and design your own through some of the proprietary software or sites and seek your feedback that way; 

But are we really ready to hear what our clients think?

Who wants to go first?  

oh…  ps – The other company hasn’t replied to 3 emails over a couple of weeks, my tracking system shows each one has been opened.