As we’ve blogged before, word of mouth recommendations are the holy grail for any estate agent. In yesterday’s #FeefoPropertyDebate, eMoov revealed that nearly a quarter of its monthly revenue comes from its ‘refer a friend’ scheme, which has no direct associated costs. “A customer-centric policy is incredibly cost-effective in comparison to other advertising mediums,” says eMoov’s James Lockett.
With customer service such a talking point among ambitious estate agents, online review platform Feefo assembled a panel of property experts to discuss customer service in estate agency, and how tech is affecting the sphere.
Who was on the panel?
- Graham Norwood, property journalist
- Julie Morrissey, Customer Service Manager, eMoov
- Iain McKenzie, CEO, The Guild of Property Professionals
- Paul Wearmouth, Sales and customer service speaker, coach and author
- James Wyatt, Partner, Barton Wyatt
What did they discuss?
In the two hour debate, discussion ranged from the contentious online/traditional relationship to the importance of staff training. Among many others (which you can read about here), three topics really got the conversation flowing.
1) There's room for both high street and online agents - but onlines need to keep integrity in mind
With an audience bustling to debate this, the coexistence of traditional and online agents was bound to keep the panel busy. From Julie Morrisey's insistence that eMoov would maintain human-to-human relationships, to Iain McKenzie's assertion that online agency marketing lacks integrity, the whole spectrum was covered. But who said what?
- Graham Norwood: “Online agents may be more likely to be tech-rich, but both claim to put the customer first.”
- James Wyatt: “There’s a place for onlines, and a place for a full service agent. We don’t have a problem with online agents. We’re not battling up against them, because our customer base isn’t interested in that kind of model. Most of our purchasers want to deal with people face-to-face.”
- Iain McKenzie: “Cost is only an issue in the absence of value.”
- James Wyatt: “The extraordinary customer service a buyer or seller gets from a traditional agent is expensive. It’s not unusual for us to be called out to meet at 7am. We’re expensive for a reason. I’ve had people say ‘you must be making a fortune!’ but that’s not necessarily true; so much money goes into the customer service that customers in my field need.”
- Iain McKenzie: “Onlines are a fantastic proposition for the customer, as long as they’re delivered with integrity. Sometimes, onlines can be more costly than high street agents, particularly where transaction timelines are concerned. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so agents with integrity will vet them properly. There’s a risk onlines run there: if their role weakens a chain, the whole online agent industry risks damnation by association. Onlines should have the courage and conviction to advise someone goes for a hybrid or traditional.”
2) Reviews are gold dust - even if they're not great
With 70% of 25-34 year olds saying they look to reviews when selecting an estate agent, your past buyers and sellers can be your best marketing tool - or, if they weren't so happy, could play a pivotal role in transforming your offering. The good news? 88% of people say they were happy with the service they had from the last agent they worked with.
- Julie Morrissey: “75-78% of people who get in touch with eMoov have heard of us through word of mouth or online reviews.”
- Rolf Groenewold (audience member, FocalAgent): "Word of mouth is the greatest form of marketing, and you've got to deliver the unexpected to get that."
- Paul Wearmouth: “If something’s good for the customer, it’s good for your reputation, and your business.”
- Julie Morrissey: “Reviews should always actively influence your service. We always feed straight back to our technical team when a customer makes a great suggestion.”
- James Lockett (audience member, eMoov): “In our TripAdvisor culture, reviews represent a revenue stream of their own.”
- Graham Norwood: “Social media monitoring is important, but what kind of overhead impact does this have on a one, two or three branch agency?”
3) Mixing PropTech with a personal touch will give your buyers and sellers the best experience
Younger buyers and sellers may be more inclined towards tech solutions but, as pointed out by McKenzie, the most prolific movers are actually 45-65 year olds. The blend of PropTech and the personal touch needs to be carefully thought through.
- Iain McKenzie: “Online efficiency is great, but an agent needs to be able to vet viewers beforehand for safety and reliability.”
- Julie Morrissey: “We’ll never get rid of the human element. We need to bear in mind that not everyone is tech-friendly, and continue to deliver a great service to them.”
- James Wyatt: “Virtual Reality is fantastic. We’re using it in lettings for Americans on business transfers. In fact, of those responsive to VR, you find that 80% are American. They’re ahead of us in that respect, but it’s only a matter of time.”
- Iain McKenzie: “The saying ‘a picture never lies’ isn’t necessarily true in today’s world [as photos are now heavily edited]. But with Virtual Reality, there's no editing.”
- Rolf Groenewold (audience member, FocalAgent): “VR isn’t a case of ‘if?’; it’s ‘when?’”