It's all about the service
THE ramping up of activity has seen the property market become the hot topic in the media with much debate on property bubbles, house shortages and the demand for good investments.
Most agents are under pressure to merely service the amount of property coming on the market with the resulting numbers of enquiries and viewings.
But agents and all property professionals must ensure that they maintain high standards of service in order to capitalise on the upturn.
Estate agents are in the unusual position of having two types of 'client'. The first is the client who pays their fee directly, but the other 'clients' are the enquirers, viewers and buyers who pay that fee indirectly.
A developer of any scheme is engaging their agent to represent them and their brand so will be most anxious to know that enquirers about their property are being handled professionally. A handful of complaints to the property owner will quickly tell him that his agents are understaffed or undertrained.
Estate agents do not have a great public image as regards service, which often emanates from the frustration people have when they are underbidders.
To some extent this is unavoidable as bidders when negotiating tend to say things like "and €400,000 is my final offer. Don't come back to me at over €400,000."
When the property is then sold to someone else for €405,000, they are apoplectic and insist that the agent should have known that they didn't really mean that €400,000 was their final bid – they were just negotiating. So what can agents do to assess and improve their customer service?
If we take the case of the owner of the property, the first thing to consider is "what are the most important parts of our service to this client?" The sale price achieved is an obvious factor but the timescale for achieving the sale will vary as some clients want a quick sale and others will wait much longer in order to get a higher price.
Vendors also have very different expectations as to the level of contact from their agent: some vendors will expect a phone call after every viewing whereas other clients are happy with a report every fortnight and will be annoyed by interruptions in between.
For vendors and enquirers alike, it's worth charting their key interactions with your firm and assessing how you are performing at those 'moments of truth' where they form an impression of you.
The first contact is probably with your website: Is it easy to navigate? Is your phone number clearly displayed?
The next contact is with your reception: How does the front of our office appear? What do we say to visitors? How many rings before we answer the phone? Do our staff have all the information on the property?
The requirements of the Property Regulator and ISO 9000, which many firms have, are a step towards managing client expectations.
However, simply asking your staff to identify the 'moments of truth' in their day's work will raise awareness and deliver higher standards.
The important thing is that the agent understands his clients' expectations and focuses effort on what the client believes is most important. After 30 years in the business, in my view what a vendor wants most from his agent is. . . enthusiasm!
IN YEATS COUNTRY
I was pleased to return to the north-west last week to speak at a conference for the Kavanagh Group in Sligo.
The Kavanagh Group are Ireland's largest independent retailer with holdings including 16 supermarkets in Ireland and Britain and over 1,100 staff.
Managing director Noel Kavanagh told me that despite pressure from discounters the group's SuperValu Stores are holding market share and growing customer numbers, which he attributes to their focus on excellent customer service.
I noticed a lot of vacant shops on Sligo's O'Connell Street and coincidentally the next day I found myself contributing to another Newstalk radio programme where Bobby Kerr is doing great work highlighting the issue of struggling town centres.
Walter Murphy of Murphy and Sons auctioneers told me that business is tough for Sligo's retailers.
Whilst rents are down 75pc from the peak, occupiers are being deterred by high rates bills, sometimes representing half of the rent.
Commercial investments are selling readily to cash purchasers and estate agents Bannon have just agreed the sale of the landlord's interest in a mixed use development on Castle Street for close to the asking price of €3.75m.