Mind your own "busyness"

Mind your own "busyness"

Many agents I talk to are so busy right now that I wonder how many of you will have time to read this newsletter! But do try - we have aimed it at those of you whose "busyness" may ultimately affect the quality of your "business". The results of working at full tilt are not always positive, so take 15 minutes, make a cup of tea, sit somewhere quietly and read on. It could be the best investment of your time this week...

How to wear two hats at once…

The “dual role” of team leader and main valuer is performed by hundreds of individuals across the country, and is arguably one of the toughest. It is one I have carried out myself on a number of occasions over the past 30 years and it demands a high level of skill, self-organisation and focus.

It is not all bad news however. The dual role is achievable, but there are a series of steps necessary to make it a success.

Firstly, it is crucial for you as the leader of the company to have identified and implemented clear standards of behaviour and procedure in the key areas of business and to communicate these in unambiguous terms to the whole team – ideally in writing. Secondly, you need to monitor these standards on a regular (in some cases, daily) basis. You must manage the staff closely against these standards to ensure adherence is constant. Finally, you need a lieutenant to take responsibility for all the aforementioned activities in your absence.

Before looking at each of these elements in turn, it is interesting to note what happens when such elements are absent from an estate agency’s culture.

I carried out two Mystery Shopper exercises a while ago – one on the telephone, the other via email – on two separate agents, each of whom had multiple offices.

The telephone exercise revealed that offices within the same company were handling applicants in a wide variety of ways in terms of the calls themselves and the follow-up service. Even the way the phone was answered differed from branch to branch, and the quality of the conversation (fact-finding, benefit selling, gaining commitment – all the absolutely vital selling skills) ranged from reasonably good to totally unacceptable.

The email project where I posed as a motivated applicant enquiring via a well-known property portal, resulted in entirely different response times from one office to the next – between 15 minutes and four days – and a huge range of diverse information being sent in a variety of formats. One firm sent property information through which was different in format at each of their offices leading to a real mish-mash and inconsistencies being experienced by the applicant when the emails arrived. Consider how this approach differs from the consistency of a high quality retail outlet like John Lewis or Apple, where standards are the same at all their nationwide operations.

The follow-up to both Mystery Shopper exercises also comprised very varied levels of service from a phone call the following day through to no information being received at all.

The problem with both these firms once we dug a little deeper was a lack of clear performance standards. There was a sense that people should just “do the best they could” or get things done “as soon as possible” – woolly language like this led to lack of clarity and inevitable differing levels of work.

As part of the Mystery Shopper exercise, a report is submitted which includes appropriate recommendation – in the aforementioned cases, the first step was to agree relevant service standards and then communicate them clearly to the staff responsible for maintaining them. One firm actually went as far as designing, agreeing, printing and laminating a superb “Customer Service Charter” which all staff have a copy of, understand and adhere to.

The initial implementation of standards is one step on the road to success; monitoring and managing them through are the others.

One of the aforementioned firms has now introduced the sensible policy that every newly registered applicant (whether sales or rental) is checked by the manager to ensure quality control. He/she can quickly spot a member of staff’s shortcomings and address them accordingly to ensure they eventually achieve required standards.

Managing the situation is likely to involve constant one-to-one coaching against the expected standards, praising where praise is due, addressing areas of weakness and in extreme cases, taking a hard line when a prolonged failure to reach standards is seen.

Lastly you should identify, appoint and train a “Lieutenant” (actually, you may want to give them a more traditional title like “Assistant Manager”!) to do all of the above when you are not there. He/she should have the same hunger for high levels of customer service and exceptional standards as you. You can then pass the baton to them each time you walk out the door, knowing that they will carry out your role until your return.

As an “absent” manager who finds himself out on the road and running an office from a distance, these steps will ensure that the work is carried out to the best possible level whether you are there or not. You will enjoy the peace of mind that this brings and almost inevitably become even more effective yourself as a result.

Customers are becoming more demanding

Every so often I experience situations, which as a customer irritate and infuriate me beyond belief. But they help to remind me of the critical nature of certain elements of customer service, and can be used to help agents avoid the classic pitfalls encountered when dealing with customers.

 I well remember being one of the Brits stranded abroad in 2010 due to the volcanic ash cloud – my stay in Egypt was extended by six days – and witnessed the best and worst of customer service during that time. The entire experience hinged upon the quality of communication by the companies involved.


 The volcanic ash crisis began two days into my family holiday, which I booked through a small independent tour operator. Once we had been informed that our return flight had been cancelled, we sought information from the firm about our best course of action, as well as guidance on what financial assistance we might receive. The tour operator simply told us to contact the airline involved and seemed entirely disinterested in our plight.

 The airline was impossible to contact despite numerous attempts, which meant that our only source of information was the company’s website accessed via my mobile phone, which was of little use anyway as it failed to answer our key concerns.


 With no communication from the tour operator or airline, we were left to discuss our situation with fellow hotel guests, which is when we discovered that the extent of their troubles depended on which tour operator and airline they had booked with.

 Some were informed immediately that their accommodation and food would be paid for and to continue to stay at the hotel and await further instructions, but that the airline would get them home as quickly as possible. Updates were then emailed to the hotel each morning about which flights were scheduled to depart that day.

 Other guests, ourselves included, were left totally in the dark, which meant that we were forced to rebook our rooms on a daily basis by phoning the tour operator in the UK. We eventually decided to book new flights with another company in case our original airline failed to honour its responsibilities.

 The chasm in the quality of communication displayed by various organisations seemed remarkable and was directly responsible for the amount of stress, uncertainty and dissatisfaction experienced by their customers.

 After protracted negotiations with my tour operator and airline about reimbursement, I was left totally dissatisfied with the outcome. Needless to say, I have never dealt (and will never deal) with either again and will ensure I advise as many other potential customers as possible to avoid them and thereby avoid the nightmare that we encountered.

 The initial problem was clearly not their fault – but the way they handled its effects certainly was.


We are now subject to real-time information streams due to the evolution of technology, which means that we are confounded when we find ourselves in situations where information is limited.

 Landlord and vendor clients who switch from one agent to another will frequently cite lack of contact as the driving force for their desire to change their allegiances. Countless friends, acquaintances and family members of mine have bemoaned their experiences with agents, who have failed to keep in touch with them during their search for a property.

 Similarly, conveyancers are frequently criticised for their slow approach, which seemingly nothing happens for days or even weeks on end – at least that is clients’ perception when they are not informed of progress behind the scenes.


 The key to a business avoiding such problems is to ensure clear communication at every possible stage of the process. Try to ensure that you provide vendor and landlord clients with viewing feedback within 24 hours (by email if it helps speed up the process), plus weekly telephone updates and fortnightly written progress reviews, while ensuring that buyers are updated constantly via the telephone, email, text alerts and appointment reminders, which all help to build and strengthen relationships.

 Agency surveys suggest that a majority of agency customers desire weekly contact but would probably settle for fortnightly as a minimum. Whatever the frequency of your client contact, it is crucial that you manage expectations at the start of the relationship, which means that you should agree contact and communication standards with clients before disillusionment sets in and the inevitable loss of business is suffered.

To train or not to train?

The most effective training in any industry is that which focuses on the needs of the company and has clearly defined objectives as to what that training is going to achieve. Behavioural change for the better, by way of enhanced knowledge and skills, will no doubt be at the heart of any such programme but the clearer the goals, the more likely the training is to succeed.

An example of this is a project I embarked upon early last year where the objectives were unambiguously set down from the dawn of the training. Namely, to increase the appraisal to instruction conversion rate from 41 per cent to 50 per cent while maintaining a minimum average commission percentage of 1.5% and an instructions to exchange ratio of 65 per cent. With these key goals clarified at the outset, all training content and principles needed to be directly linked to the achievement thereof – in other words, ideas or techniques which had no bearing on the objective (however interesting they might be) had no place in that particular training course.

A training needs analysis is the key starting point – it is worrying how few managers know how to assess training needs. This ‘training gap’ is actually relatively straightforward to identify – it is the difference between where the employee is now, and where you want them to be.

A lot of training in estate agency is, at the risk of sounding harsh, slightly ‘after the horse has bolted’. Some new entrants receive nothing bar a few hours “on the job” training which really only entails a chat with a more experienced colleague. On the other hand, an induction programme for new starters (whether industry experienced or otherwise) ensures that those recruits hit the ground running and that managers/directors do not have the pressure of dreaming up ad hoc training approaches each time an employee comes on board.

We have designed and supplied induction training materials and manuals to a number of agents and it is no coincidence that their staff turnover is lower as a result. Employees who are inducted properly and receive ongoing training support inevitably stay longer and ultimately the company will benefit from higher staff retention and a team who feels they are being invested in and developed.

In short, any training programme needs to be geared towards specific behavioural change – in other words, that the attendees will genuinely do things differently as a result of the training. This could be that they qualify applicants to an exceptional standard, that they improve their ability to secure viewings or referrals to mortgage advisers or conveyancers, or that they become more competent at negotiating offers between clients and applicants.

Once you have decided what the specific behavioural change is, you have two options – to design and deliver a training course yourself, or to outsource to specialist training providers. Whilst the former will seem an attractive option from an initial cost perspective, it may, potentially, be a false economy in the long run, as the effects on behaviour will be less likely to be achieved.

  It is often forgotten that the staff who will be attending the course should be informed as to why that is happening – some may see it as a punishment if you don’t explain the rationale to them properly. Remember the ‘WIIFM Rule’ – your staff may well be thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’ and it is your responsibility to answer that question positively to eliminate any resistance to the idea.

A training course should be an interactive, engaging, stimulating and enjoyable event – some I have witnessed (and attended) over the years have failed to tick a single one of those boxes!

If you do decide to do it yourself, ensure that it doesn’t become a ‘tell’ session – this will achieve little or nothing.

A session on each of the key areas of essential skills and knowledge needs to be included, and within each of those, discussion and deliberation, ideas and conclusions, and agreed action plans should be driven by the group as much as by the trainer. Agreed changes are far better ‘owned’ if they are reached by consensus rather than coercion.

Outsourcing is likely to be an easier more effective, although admittedly on the face of it more costly, option. Of course, it is important when assessing the true cost of a training programme, to calculate what time and input might be necessary when carrying out a ‘DIY’ approach. The management hours going into designing, writing and delivering the training will soon mount up and thus the outsourced option may not be as expensive as initially thought.

Given market conditions and taking into account the improvement in performance that a well-structured and delivered training course can bring, the question ought not to be ‘Can we afford to train our staff?” but rather “Can we afford not to?”

To find out about training solutions for your company, please call 01480 405583 or email admin@tm-traininganddevelopment.co.uk

2014 Tour Date

That date and course details in full are...

Wednesday 4th June St Neots

Winning Quality Instructions (full day course with Julian O'Dell)

It will cover:

* Getting through more doors
* Best practice principles for before, during and after your appraisals
* Differentiating you and your proposition from your competitors
* Handling objections and closing successfully
* Securing the optimum fee

We look forward to seeing you!

(There are only a limited number of spaces available.)

 Each session costs &170 plus VAT per delegate to include lunch.

To book or for more information contact us on 01480 405583, email us at admin@tm-traininganddevelopment.co.uk or visit our website http://www.tmtraininganddevelopment.co.uk/online-booking.php


Thought for the day...

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock,
the stream always wins; not through strength,
but through persistence.”

~ Buddha