Trust me, I’m an estate agent…

“Trustability” (my favourite word for 2015) is at the top of the list of key attributes of an effective agent, particularly in light of the confusion that many of the public are feeling over where the market is going.

More than ever before, there is a need for agents to be seen as experts and providers of clear, professional, unambiguous advice on the market, thereby illustrating their competence and authority in providing the right course of action that their client(s) should take.

Our “Is there a doctor in the house?” course focuses on how an agent can increase their credibility and win more clients by raising the standards of their conduct, knowledge and behaviour.

The issue of trust is not new. I can remember an interesting experience from 12 years ago which still serves as a reminder as to the lack of trust in the industry as a whole.

It is rare for me to lose my temper in the face of any professional or personal scenario. However, on this occasion I confess that I did.

Allow me to set the scene. An estate agency firm had booked me to deliver a two-day “Excellence in Customer Service” course for ten of their newish recruits.

On the morning of the first day, we had a lively discussion about what qualities make for an excellent estate agent, and the delegates duly came up with a list of attributes such as professionalism, adaptability, tenacity and so forth. These were recorded on the flipchart for ongoing reference during the course.

We all departed at the close of day one and reconvened the following morning.

Unbeknown to us, our conference room had been used for some form of function the previous evening, and guests had enjoyed themselves with the flipchart and marker pens.

One person had decided it would be highly amusing to embellish our list of the qualities of an excellent estate agent with a few suggestions of their own.

These included “no discernible talent”, “ability to talk bull”, “patronising manner”, “arrogance”, “good liar” and “fake tan”!

The reasons for my anger were twofold.

Firstly, this experience reawakened my frustration that a percentage of the public have such a dim view of mostly such a hardworking group of professionals.

Secondly, that I would have to rewrite the list to exclude these additions – it seemed inappropriate to leave the fledgling negotiators with the impression that these “qualities” deserved to feature on the list.

However, I had a flash of inspiration (not a common occurrence) and left the list as it was. As the trainees arrived for day two, they spotted the amendments and a discussion ensued as to how estate agents were perceived by the public and crucially how hard we have to work to change that perception. What a great lesson for that group of new starters to learn in the embryonic stage of their career!

Trust is often defined as “belief or confidence in the honesty, goodness and skill of a person, organisation or thing” and if we accept this version, it is clear that our actions and words must be geared towards creating a feeling in the customer that we are “honest, good and skilled” in everything we do.

A customer’s initial dealings with an estate agent will be typically via email, over the phone or possibly face to face in the office.

I was a partner within an estate agency myself up until a few weeks ago, and always tried to reinforce with our troops the critical nature of making an outstanding first impression to take the early steps in building trust with a customer.

Given, as previously alluded to, that some of these customers will not be expecting great things from their experience with an estate agent, standing out from the competition is paramount.

This can be achieved by some very simple actions.

An upbeat tone and positive greeting when taking a phone call should be the minimum standard (but sadly our mystery shopper calls prove otherwise). Responding promptly to emails and letters, while being attentive to spelling and grammar, serves a similar purpose.

Standing up and meeting the customer in the front of the office, thereby removing the “barrier” of the desk, shows enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. Shaking hands and giving your business card at the outset displays professionalism.

It is important to visualise every customer as wearing a sign around their neck which reads “Make me feel important!”

However, the key to building trust predominantly lies in delivery on promises.

It is worryingly easy to make throwaway comments like “I’ll call you back before lunch…” or “I’ll send you an email shortly…” and then allow circumstances or lack of personal organisation to lead to failure to do so, leaving the customer with the impression that you don’t care and that you cannot be trusted with the most basic of tasks.

The agent who fails to fulfil their promises will be kept busy with disgruntled customers and complaints, thereby utilising valuable time which could otherwise be more productively spent.

On the other hand, the agent who adopts a reverse strategy of exceeding their promises will be active in making business happen. We train agents in the UPOD approach – under promise, over deliver.

A broad knowledge of the property industry allows the best agents to weave certain facts and statistics into conversations with customers and thereby stand apart from the average agent.

Exceptional agents acquire new industry knowledge every day by way of Google alerts, Twitter or Property Industry Eye. Such knowledge is sure to impress and start to create trust in the agent’s capabilities.

In addition, being straight with people pays off in the long run. It is better to impart bad news swiftly and openly, though some agents fail in this area.

Overvaluing property to secure instructions continues, but there is every likelihood that the unsold client will ultimately instruct a realistic agent in the long run, as they have an increased desire for honest advice. “Honesty is the best policy” is an adage that has stood the test of time.

By adhering to the sort of approaches above, the customer’s resultant heightened perception of you and your firm will lead you to secure their business, both now and in the future, as well as the business of many other recommended parties.

Julian O’Dell

TM training & development

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