We all like to use the 'best' business in town, but there's a real trap if we mistake the busiest for the best. A business that starts out with a fabulous reputation, and wins customers fast off the back of it, can fall equally fast if they fail to manage their customer experience, and their customers' expectations.
A good customer experience is exactly as it says. It's good. Always, When you are quiet or bursting at the seams, under-staffed or over-subscribed, day or night, evenings and weekends.
My recent personal experience comes from the property market, where the stamp duty holiday has caused unprecedented levels of sales activity over the last few months, with estate agents busier than ever. But the temptation to make hay while the sun shines for some, may not always be good for business.
As the end of the stamp duty holiday nears and Rightmove this week reports a 0.9% month-on-month drop in asking prices, now more than ever is the time for estate agents to be doing everything they can to protect their inventory and give their vendors and landlords the focus and attention they expect.
I recently gave notice to the estate agent marketing my rental property, because I was getting virtually no feedback about viewings, and there had been scant communication and no real sales strategy applied since the flat went on sale back in August. A long way off the best customer experience I had been expecting.
The response to my complaint to the branch director was that the agency had been “too busy” to give me the service I was expecting, citing a record number of instructions since the stamp duty holiday began, from the usual ongoing 50 to 60 to, at one point, an unmanageable 150 instructions.
The branch director said: “It’s not really an excuse, but there has been such a phenomenal amount of property on the market over the last few months it’s been very hard to give the level of service we would be able to normally.”
Tellingly, he also admitted: “It’s hard to say no when someone gives you the opportunity to market their property but perhaps that’s what we ought to have done.”
So it seems clear to me that for every new instruction above a certain level, there is potentially a corresponding decline in customer service for the rest of the portfolio, and each estate agent must rise to the challenge of managing customer experience above that certain level. The best agencies will maximise revenue by putting in place a good customer experience strategy to support the increase in customer numbers without neglecting their existing client base or damaging their reputation.
So what is a good customer experience?
A clear marketing strategy to sell the property should be communicated, and there should be at least a weekly call to see how things are going. Managing customer expectations is crucial, and checking to see how the customer perceives your ongoing performance and whether those expectations are changing is a key part of this.
At the very least, a vendor should be told the outcome of every viewing within an hour or two of it happening, whether by phone, a quick text message or email. Nowadays, customer expectations of communication are sky high, and if you don't measure up, even if you believe you are delivering the overall result, your reputation will suffer.
If an estate agent is struggling to manage some of these things, then perhaps it’s time to get help setting out a plan to meet good customer experience expectations.
While it may be too late to prevent vendors moving their business elsewhere for estate agencies like mine, who fell for this temptation, estate agents should now be taking measures to re-engage with their current vendors and landlords, and give them the level of service and support they expect.
If or when the SDLT holiday comes to an end at some point, 2020 has already taught us a lesson that consumers are determined to press ahead with home moves, as needs and preferences change in a new world, and their expectations of customer experience are getting higher. Whether we see a buoyant ongoing market, or a drop in asking prices and a decline in instructions, no business including estate agents can afford to neglect customer experience. The future of every business depends upon it.