2013 is likely to be another challenging year for property-related businesses. Numbers of completed property transactions in England and Wales during each 2012 continue to be way down on the heady days of 2007 (less than half in many months), meaning that there may simply be insufficient residential estate agency sales income within the UK to sustain anywhere near the numbers of branches and firms that exist at present.
Just before Christmas, I reread my favourite non-fiction book “Moments of Truth” by Jan Carlzon – one that I first enjoyed many years ago and which has helped me improve the way I run my businesses more than any other.
As I devoured for the sixth or seventh time the words of wisdom on each of the 135 pages, it struck me that every estate agency proprietor should do the same.
Jan Carlzon took over Scandinavian Airlines in 1981 – a company on the verge of losing $20 million. One year later, it was making a profit of $54 million. That turnaround is quite extraordinary in both size and speed. Better still, the way he achieved it was simple and straightforward. It was all about understanding and maximising what he called the “moments of truth” – in other words, every single interaction that a customer has with a company, whether it lasts only a few seconds or more, needs to be a positive experience - better than they expected and better than the competition deliver.
I have run dozens of seminars on the “Moments of Truth” principles and encouraged estate agency proprietors and managers to apply them to their own operation. Conveniently the initials of “Moments of Truth” are “M.O.T.” – and by giving your business an annual “M.O.T.” in the same way as you do a car, you can ensure that your business is operating as efficiently and smoothly as possible. Those owners that have done so frequently report back that having carried out the three key stages of listing, reviewing and perfecting the “moments” that customers experience, an upturn in business levels inevitably follows.
Just listing the “moments” is a time-consuming task but an essential one. Think about sales and rental applicants and all the interactions they have with your firm from their first visit to your website, to contacting the branch, to receiving information from you, to arranging viewings and so on.
Vendors and landlords have a vast list of experiences with you from their first awareness of your brand, to booking a valuation appointment, to the appointment itself, to the point of instruction, to feedback calls and many many more.
Once these have all been listed, it is crucial to conduct a review to see exactly what your customer’s real experience is like (perhaps by way of “mystery shopper” exercises or customer feedback forms), and then to take steps to perfect each “moment”. The steps taken towards perfection need not cost any money – rather an investment of time, energy and diligence.
Once you embrace this concept (and ideally read the book!), you will find yourself experiencing your own “moments of truth” when you are a customer. I experience them daily – many are far from positive.
Recently I went into a well-known High Street bookshop (which I imagine is not having their most profitable period given the competition from online suppliers) to look for a particular book. Failing to locate it, I approached an assistant behind a till and asked if she could help me. I gave her the title and author. Without explanation (nor eye contact nor smile), she tapped away on her keyboard for two minutes or so, asked me again for the name of the book and who wrote it (mildly irritating) and finally handed me a small printed ticket. She then explained that I might find the book in “a number of places” in the shop, all of which I had already looked in. Finally, when I asked her whether she could confirm that they had it in stock, she told me their “system can’t tell us that”. Genius!
I went home and bought it online. In the most challenging of times for the retail sector, the shop has lost a transaction (and a future customer) in minutes. If only they stocked Jan Carlzon’s book and made their staff read it!
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