Focus on clients is too often an afterthought in the business world
Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30
I've finally cracked it. After 35 years in business, mostly in property, I've realised the key to success. While running a business is challenging and complex, business is also cruelly simple. Sometimes we're so busy on operational issues that we 'can't see the wood for the trees', and we're not doing the most important thing.
The solution is to be found in opening another department.
To explain, let's look at some of the issues involved in running an estate agents. The firm needs to be licensed, bonded and regulated. Then we need staff, so massive energy is put into recruiting people. The staff put huge effort into studying and becoming qualified, and then they have to be licensed.
We also need premises, so lots of time is spent in finding the right locations, negotiating leases, paying rent and maintaining and insuring buildings. We also need professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance. Then we need banking arrangements.
Now we need to decide what services we will offer. What markets will we be in? Will we be solely commercial, or a mix with new homes and residential? Will we provide valuations and do compulsory purchase work?
Then we need to position ourselves in the market. What will our fee strategy be? Do we want a higher volume of transactions at lower fees, or more select instructions at higher fees?
Now we have to address our branding, our logos and our stationery. Then we need to advertise our services, so marketing plans are prepared.
To run the firm and to support all of the service departments we open - offices, retail and investment departments etc - we will have an accounts department, a marketing/PR department, a HR department, an IT department, a research department, secretaries, PAs, receptionists, graphic designers and people who put up signboards.
Organising all of this is our board of directors, who devote lots of time to running the business and take days out to devise strategy. There's lots of goal setting, succession planning, and layers of associate directors and departmental heads.
Now we're ready to bring our comprehensive offering to the market. But could we have left out the most important department? Because when we bring our services to the market, the most important thing is that our clients must like us!
If they don't like us, they won't give us their business. And the more clients like us, the more business they will give us.
Isn't it funny that firms don't have a department for the most important thing? The Clients Must Like Us Department! In practice, the HR department will be expected to come up with some training on customer service and personal development and they do their best, but it's strategically an afterthought, when it should be the No.1 priority.
The same thing applies to architects, engineers, project managers, and indeed to all businesses. However, the Clients Must Like Us Department is even more crucial in property because the instructions are 'high value', and take months to complete, so there's lots of ongoing contact. Estate agents actually have two 'clients', in that buyers have to like you as well.
Very large organisations establish Customer Service Departments, but this can be very dangerous as the rest of the staff can assume that 'customer service' is not their job. Those departments end up as Complaints Departments, trying to sort out problems that the frontline staff should never have allowed happen.
At the very least, I suggest spending less time and energy on background issues, which have less impact on clients, and inspire each of your staff to open a Clients Must Like Us Department in their own head. They'll have to open a branch office in their chest, too, because The Clients Must Like Us Department also operates on gut instinct and what you feel in your heart.
Business can be cruelly simple.