You don’t need me to tell you that the competition amongst agents for business is becoming more and more cutthroat and in many places there seems to be a race to the bottom between agents as far as fees are concerned (I heard &250 quoted as a sale fee by a high street agent just yesterday!).
Not only that, but the competition is becoming more and more varied as new players move into the sector with online and discount options.
It really is a time of change and it is clear that in many places the market is segmenting into cheap “process-driven” options and high quality customer service estate agents. The fear I have is that agents who stay in what I call the “mushy middle” in terms of their service offering with little differentiation in reality from their competitors, will get caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.
We have already seen this development in the retail sector, with the development of online and discount retailing at the bottom of the market such as ASDA and LIDL and premium brands to serve the top income quartile in Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. This has resulted in problems for the big supermarkets like Sainsburys and Tescos who lack clear definition in terms of the value customer proposition being seen as neither the cheapest nor the most distinctive in terms of quality.
The problem is that the only cost effective way of creating differentiation in reality is to develop the resources and processes we already have in order to deliver a higher level of service to clients. It still shocks me how many agents confuse working hard with customer satisfaction and in reality are not developing higher level customer service standards. There are too many agents who delude themselves that they have a compelling customer proposition when in reality they are providing a level of service that does not justify premium fees in the new landscape.
So what do we need to do?
Well, if we are to develop a high service option, we need to review the “moments of truth” our customers experience when they are in contact or are aware of our company and we need to ensure that as much as possible the experience they have at each stage is “bespoke” to the individual.
We then need to compare what we do at each stage to what our competitors do .Particularly in terms of the quality of the human interaction that takes place at each stage. Is the valuation/instruction process and experience we provide our customers with noticeably different from that of our competitors?
For example, do we always give a lettings valuation as well as a sales valuation on all marketing appraisals? Do we design the details and select photos alongside the client face to face? Have we replaced online or telephone interaction with face to face meetings and personal notes and solutions? Do we give our customer a transparent, documented and bespoke marketing programme clearly dated as to when things will happen and how the process will be reviewed?
As well as looking at the processes and routines we undertake as agents, are we really solving the customers’ problems?
Very few people call out an agent purely to find out what their house is worth (even if they say they do). The real need they have is to be advised fully on all aspects of moving, to identify how they can achieve the maximum price for their property, and to be reassured that we can help them avoid or handle any problems they may face in moving - for example, finding a property to move to. Every agent will tell clients they can sell their property, but to give awesome and differentiated service, we need to have new levels of knowledge and skill , combined with clearly different experiences at each stage of the process that are not merely marginally different from the experience they have with our fast improving competition.
New levels of customer service require the ability to accept that what worked in the last five years will not be competitive in five years time. The most effective survival strategy, although undoubtedly the toughest to achieve, for “traditional” Estate Agents is to make this transformation in customer service and value proposition your number one priority now, before the future becomes the present.