Estate agents….

To Let signs

from flickr Creative Commons: ©2009 Boyce Duprey

Estate agents are the perfect example of why intermediaries are best avoided when dealing with information exchange. In our quest to find a larger property to rent, we have viewed a house that largely suits our needs. We feel however that’s it’s still overpriced so put in an offer which we felt was more reasonable and stressed that it would be for an 18 month rental period.  Our calculations tell us that if the landlady fails to rent the house in the next 2.5 months (which is possible as it is oddly quirky and has been on the market for some time), then she will then be worse off than if she accepted our slightly lower offer immediately. We duly explained this to the estate agent and waited for the response.

Nothing was forthcoming, so I followed it up with a phone call.  That’s where we encountered the following problems:

  • there seem to be 3 different people at the estate agent’s office dealing with this one property so it’s hard to ensure that the information we passed on about renting it for an 18 month period has been shared either between them or in their conversations with the landlady
  • the house is up for sale with a different office of the same estate agency, so we don’t know if enquiries from them are passed between the 2 offices or available on a centralised system
  • we don’t know what notes have been made centrally about this property or communications interested parties and with the landlady, so it never feels as though we get the whole picture about the current house situation and it’s hard to be convinced that the estate agents know either.

All of these leads to a feeling of mistrust.  When the negotiation phase has to take place through intermediaries, a lot of your power is lost. You don’t know if the information you passed on gets to the other party.  You don’t know if the tone in which you make an offer is translated through the estate agent.  You do know however, that the estate agent has their own agenda and may not give you the whole picture in return.

Did the offer which the estate agents made on our behalf accurately represent our offer? Did they highlight the benefits of: a confirmed long rental period; the promise that we would leave the house in better condition than we rented it; the guaranteed income that would ensure the landlady was better off taking our offer now than holding out for a further 2.5 months when she might secure the rental price she is asking but perhaps only for 6 months? We don’t know, but we rather suspect they may have just mentioned our monthly price and ‘omitted’ the rest.  In which case, it’s no wonder the landlady turned it down flat!

Not being able to ensure the representation of yourself is accurate is unsettling.  Not knowing who really knows the current accurate picture of the discussions with the landlady is frustrating.

So how can you ensure your customers don’t feel this way about your customer service?

  • where it suits, ensure that one person deals with a particular order or customer.  We all know the frustration when having to use call centres in having to explain the problem every single time you ring up
  • ensure that there is a centralised point where information is gathered.  Ideally this will be some kind of customer database which links to orders and customers and where all notes can be written easily
  • make sure that the notes made on a customer/order record are easily retrievable and visible to anyone accessing that account
  • where relevant explain a little about your database system.  Your customer doesn’t know how you store and organise your information.  If you do it well, this is a selling point as it increases their trust in you and your company. If the estate agent told me that they could see the record for the property I was interested in and they could give an account of the calls to the landlady and the exact offers made as noted by their own colleagues, I would feel reassured that information wasn’t getting lost
  • train your staff to understand why it is important to make a note of phone calls with customers or suppliers.  Within reason, train them to include all necessary detail rather than writing vague statements that others can’t understand

Remember: the knowledge of your staff and the information that they can take in and retrieve, acts in part as the memory of your company. If your customers feel that your company has amnesia, then they will find it hard to trust you and won’t rate your customer service highly.  Talk to us to find out more about improving your customer service through better organisation and retrieval of  your customers’ information; we’d love to help!

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