In our increasingly digital age of constant connectivity, consumers have been conditioned to expect immediate access to information. Within the highly competitive real estate industry, it’s always a challenge to keep the balance between making profit while delivering excellent customer service.
Despite the economic downturn, the UK property market is still growing. Turnover was £69.5 billion in 2018, ranking real estate fourth place (with Countrywide plc registered the largest revenue in 2018, at £627 million). The number of real estate enterprises increased by 3.6% annually from 2010 to 2017, with 96,113 enterprises registered in 2017.
Why is the customer experience so crucial?
Prioritising the customer experience (CX) is a key differentiator to success in the property sector. Buying, selling or even renting a house can be a stressful time, and customers will have questions, concerns, suggestions and requests for updates that they want answers to immediately. A day’s delay in getting back to a client may not have been an issue a few years ago, but in a tough market like real estate, a seamless CX and ease of engagement with an estate agent is critical.
Advances in technology have made it possible for potential home buyers to look for homes online, on a variety of websites, compare prices and features and even take virtual tours. Because these initial automated steps are now so accessible, customers have higher standards and more demanding expectations for the entire buying or selling process. However, word of mouth referrals and a good reputation are still an integral part of the estate agent sales process, especially for local, independent businesses, so making sure that they are excelling in all areas of customer service is still paramount.
Initial property searches start online
Millennials now make up 66% of the market for first-time homebuyers, and 99% of those looking for homes initially use the Internet to research properties.
Estate agents need to be able to provide the information in the way that millennials want to consume. Social media such as Facebook and even WhatsApp have become popular ways of sharing property details and finding buyers. It’s critical that estate agents have the ability to integrate social media tools and apps into the buying and selling process if they want to successfully acquire new customers. If new marketing channels are viewed as opportunities rather than threats, market reach can be increased by leveraging digital marketing and using analytics to understand the buyers’ needs.
As well as reaching potential new customers via the Internet, estate agents can maximise their online presence throughout the entire sales process, for example, setting up viewings and making appointments, providing further information on properties and keeping clients updated on property availability. Online services can also enhance the customer experience in the rental market by registering any problems with landlords and providing updates on the status of maintenance and repair issues.
What about online entrants?
The market share of online agents at the end of 2018 stabilised at just 7.2% of all exchanges (Source: The TwentyCi National Property & Homemover Report Q4 2018 ). When it was launched, Purplebricks was a front runner of this business model, only operating online and charging a fixed fee, paid upfront, whether a property sold or not. While there’s clearly a small market for online-only estate agencies, the business model has not yet taken off in a big way. The vast majority of buyers and sellers still end up turning to estate agents for a bespoke, personal service, where they can benefit from human interaction, expertise and advice. For today’s consumers, it’s all about having the choice of how they communicate, be it online or in person, rather than being forced to communicate in only one way.
The importance of a centralised contact centre
Property organisations are now looking to centralise their contact centre technology so that the branch staff can concentrate their resources on improving service levels, with walk-in enquiries and viewings. The main advantage of a fully interactive contact centre platform is that it allows customers to oversee every aspect of their transaction as it happens. They can access this service at any time of the day or night, at the touch of a button, without being restricted to the traditional estate agent’s opening hours. The UK’s property consumers are looking for choice, convenience and flexibility in how they search the market.
Bringing it all together: the omnichannel experience
The optimal CX strategy must be real-time, customisable, omnichannel and multi-platform. Understanding how consumers behave and react to information enables estate agents to predict over time which communications channels deliver the best customer experience.
48% of real estate firms surveyed cited keeping up with technology as one of the biggest challenges facing their firm in the next two years (Source: 2017 Profile of Real Estate Firms, National Association of Realtors).
A superior CX strategy is all about creating a powerful partnership of property experts who are focused on serving the immediate needs of the customer and improving the home buying, selling and rental process with omnichannel technology.
An omnichannel solution will enable customers to self-serve, across websites, mobile apps and chatbots. By understanding the customers’ requirements, estate agents can predict their questions, issues and challenges and therefore build systems that allow customers to obtain the information they require quickly and efficiently.
It is also vital for estate agents to have access to all of their customer interactions, whether via walk-in enquiries, online or on the phone. They need to be able to easily transition from a web enquiry to a personal call or face-to-face meeting, with full access to the customer’s history, via integrated CX technology such as the CRM system, Salesforce.
The customer experience remains at the core of real estate
There is a dramatic shift towards improving the customer experience in the property sector. It is an industry built on nurturing customer relationships, so providing a great customer experience is imperative to delivering customer satisfaction, maintaining retention levels, managing your reputation and growing your real estate business.
Omnichannel communications and innovations in technology can undoubtedly create a positive experience for sellers and buyers alike, helping you stay ahead of the competition.
Contact your Mitel representative to find out more about how you can improve the real estate customer experience, or download this eBook.