Don’t allow technology to become your enemy

My article last month about how companies are using Covid as an excuse to reduce service levels generated quite a few responses. So this month I am going to develop this theme further.

Last month, I dealt with things that companies are doing or not doing that have clearly got nothing to do with Covid. This month, I will deal with more subtle changes that are irritating to customers and ultimately will damage the interests of the companies that are making them. For example, my local pub has made a raft of changes all of which have made it a less pleasant place to visit. We used to book by phone. They had my number programmed into their system so that they could pretend to recognise me and say, “Hello, Mr Walker” and we could request our favourite table. Now, we must book online and we just get the table that we are given.

On arrival, a waiter or waitress would greet us, show us to our table and tell us enthusiastically about what was good on the menu today. Now, you have to order your food yourself through a stupid app. There is no banter or rapport or congratulations on your great choice of dishes – there is only the same small telephone screen that I stare at for most of my working day.

Because there is no contact on arrival, there is no conversation when the food arrives so the waiters and waitresses might as well be robots. Perhaps one day soon they will be replaced by them.

There is much less opportunity for the waiting staff to encourage us to have a dessert or a coffee, so we don’t bother. And finally, because they don’t take cash anymore, it is much harder to leave a tip so we’ve stopped doing that too.

The food is still nice and the room is very pretty but, all in all, the experience of going out to dinner is much less pleasant than it used to be so we go there much less often than we used to and, when we do go, we spend maybe 25% less than we used to. I am sure that other regulars feel the same way and in time this will decimate their profitability.

Exactly the same thing is now happening in estate agency. Take the initial registration process. My first boss used to tell me that registering an applicant was my opportunity to convert the applicant from someone who wanted to buy a house into someone who wanted to buy a house from me. We used to spend 10 or 15 minutes registering a good applicant, getting to know their requirements and building rapport. We also used to try hard to get a valuation on their existing property or a mortgage lead. Now, most applicants are encouraged to register online and the rapport-building and cross-selling opportunities have been lost.

An accompanied viewing was also seen as a great rapport-building and cross-selling opportunity. We would always try to get the applicant to meet us at our office so that there was an opportunity to sell them viewings on other properties and have another go at getting a valuation or a mortgage referral. The journey to the property rapport-building opportunity and most crucially of all, their feedback on the property that they saw gave us a great opportunity to refine their requirements for the future.

Now, agents are being encouraged to swap real viewings for virtual viewings which give none of these opportunities. It was estimated by one of the accompanied viewing companies that each viewing costs an average of £23. If a property needs ten viewings to sell, then the agent to their mind is wasting £230. But this is simply not true. By using the viewing to increase the profitability that the applicant will buy a property from you or to cross-sell opportunities, you will earn back the £23 many times over.

I am not suggesting that we return to a golden age when all viewings were conducted on horseback. What I am saying though is that the new technology needs to be used with care. If you are dealing with a rental flat with twenty prospective tenants who want to view it, then a virtual viewing might be entirely appropriate. At the very least, you might insist that the applicants have a virtual viewing before they have a real one. However, if you are selling an expensive house to buyers who may have properties yet to sell, then a virtual viewing is almost certainly not the right way to go about it.

The way that you use all the new technology that is available will be fundamental to the success of your business.

Adam Walker is a management consultant and business transfer agent who has specialised in the property sector for more than forty years.

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