Go that extra step with client service if you want to be outstanding
The right moves...
Estate agents, and all firms involved in the property sector, are selling their professional services to their clients, in competition with other firms. It's always interesting to ask a firm 'So, which of the firms you are competing with, provides the best service?'
Surprisingly, there is rarely consensus on who the best firm in any sector is - despite the fact that most of the companies have known each other for decades. In fact, most firms put themselves 'top of the league', and, of course, most of them are wrong. The reality is that most firms provide a very similar standard of service. And therein lies the opportunity.
I was reminded of this by the recent publication of the CXI Ireland 2017 Customer Experience Report. It makes for interesting reading.
Unfortunately, the survey doesn't include customers of firms in the property business because, as CXI told me, not enough of the people surveyed would have done business with a property services provider within the previous year.
Nonetheless, there are valuable lessons to be learned; for example, the top ten rated brands in Ireland all have real people answering the phone, rather than the automated systems, which so many of us hate.
The report also concludes that the companies which deliver the best customer experience ultimately create greater shareholder value.
When one considers that the quality of the service we provide should be top priority, I don't believe that firms pay enough attention to constantly trying to improve what they do. A big difficulty in doing that is the absence of feedback from clients. Consequently, organisations have no idea how they are performing in relation to their competitors.
In my years in estate agency I became interested in quality systems such as the 'quality mark' and ISO 9000. One of the benefits of these systems is that they require organisations to constantly measure how they are performing and to keep trying to improve. For professional services firms, this usually means asking clients to rate you on questionnaires.
Unfortunately, repeat clients get tired of filling out surveys, with the result that the flow of information dries up.
The best way to establish how you are doing compared to your competitors is to engage 'mystery shoppers' who pose as potential clients, enquirers and viewers. Now you can get objective scoring of your pitches for business, the quality of your staff, your letters and reports, the efficiency of your telephone answering etc, all ranked alongside your competitors.
Ideally, you should involve all your staff in the process, because there is nothing like a league table to spark a bit of positive competition. And if you invite your staff to come up with their own ideas on how they can do better, and implement them, you will have a highly motivated team, fully engaged, and doing their best at every opportunity.
Normally, when you 'mystery shop' yourself versus your competitors, you will find that all the leading players are clustered around the same score, perhaps eight out of 10. Can you think of an absolutely outstanding player in the sectors of the industry you know? Probably not.
Now, eight out of 10 may well represent a very good standard of service, but you are only providing the average standard of service in your area.
The opportunity here is that you don't have to become twice as good to excel, you only have to 'tweak the dial' to a nine out of 10, and hold it there, to become outstanding.
Now you need to inspire all your team to start thinking about all the things they can do to improve the client's experience - things which when combined will see your clients regard you as outstanding.
If you focus on this, my experience, both in estate agency and other businesses, is that you will begin to move ahead of your competitors after two quarters of measurement.
We all know that providing a high quality service is important, but is the new interest in the customer experience just the latest fad? Well, not according to a report by business analysts Forrester, whose 'Customer Experience Revenue Growth 2016' report compares pairs of companies in the US, where one company had better customer-experience scores than the other, from 2010-15.
Forrester analysed their financial performances and discovered that the companies with the better customer experience scores had, on average, 14pc better financial performance.
Is the 'average' service good enough for your clients, or would you like to be outstanding?