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Stay afloat in the Estate & Letting Agent industry with a solid inbound digital strategy

11, Jun 2020

The UK housing market had been subdued by an undercurrent of economic uncertainty throughout the BREXIT negotiations and the lead up to the 2019 general elections, driving caution into buyers and sellers with house price growth at a six year low1. Prospects for a productive spring and summer market were good until the Covid-19 lockdown brought everything to a standstill. In fact, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors have stated that anticipated near-term sales have dropped to their weakness level in more than two decades3. With agency offices closed and a skeleton staff working from home, agency owners will be having to look hard at their business operations in order to ensure they rebound from this crisis as strong as ever. From a competitive standpoint there are more estate agents now than during the boom years of the 1980s but the average frequency with which people are moving house has dropped from every 8 years during those buoyant times down to 23 years on average today2. Market conditions aside, another major challenge facing estate agents is keeping ahead of the technology curve with the increased competition from non-traditional market participants.

For decades the high street agent was the go-to source for local property knowledge, price trends and market conditions, but the internet has challenged these core values by putting information into consumer’s hands through property and comparison websites such as Zoopla and real estate portals such as Rightmove.

In order to deliver fresh competitive differentiation, agencies should be looking closely now at their digital strategy to determine ways in which it can be used to drive the best possible Customer Experience and maintain their position as the local property expert.

Is your Social Media strategy truly bi-directional?

It is probably safe to say that all estate agents today have embraced the internet and social media as an outbound means to advertise available properties and lettings. However, inbound social capabilities remain poor. Typically, agencies will have implemented a chat function on their website powered by a bespoke back end web integration, but very few have considered ways to allow prospective customers to communicate with them through their preferred social media applications such as WhatsApp, Messenger and Skype. With the vast majority of consumers today accessing information through mobile devices and communicating with friends and family over a range of media rich applications the adoption of social media to improve Customer Experience in real estate is a powerful one. A simple example could be the ability to drag and drop the complete photo gallery for a particular property to a buyer’s WhatsApp or Messenger account.

How can you efficiently manage multiple inbound social channels?

Implementing one or two inbound social media channels may seem a relatively easy undertaking but social platforms are a fashion in their own right with certain platforms being favoured within age groups and applications dropping in and out of vogue. You may well find that multiple platforms are required to reach your letting and first time buyer audience through to your premium property customers. This is where a social channel aggregation tool that provides your agents with a single interface for all media channels is vital. Furthermore, a good aggregation tool with allow for new social channels to be added seamlessly as required.

The benefits of a social media aggregation tools do not end with communications efficiency. Each of our customer interactions provides valuable insight into their needs which can help to personalise any information we deliver to them in the future. If inbound social channels are handled in isolation we are likely to be creating silos of information about our customers and prospects which makes the task of profiling their needs much more difficult.

What about real-time or bespoke virtual tours?

The use of video tours as a property sales tool is long established but very few agencies have the capability for their agents to conduct a video walkthrough on demand. Certainly during the UK lockdown virtual viewings are the only option for maintaining momentum on a pipeline of new offers while agencies struggle to hang on to the agreed sales from February and early March. A modern Unified Communications platform should provide the capability for instant video conferencing with a common interface that can operate across laptop, desktop and mobile devices. Again the ability to deliver a video segment to a client over their preferred social media channel can really elevate the Customer Experience you are able to deliver. This could be a live 2-way video walkthrough, a pre-recorded tour, or a return visit to help a buyer in the final stages who would just like you to go back and remind them of the kitchen layout of that first property they viewed.

Improve Customer Experience through a Unified Communications platform

So far we have covered the importance of inbound social communications, but the efficiency of our internal communications is equally as important in delivering a great customer experience. Many agencies will have multiple offices across a county or perhaps nationally which may still be hosted through a PBX system that is unable to integrate with mobile devices, messaging applications, video conferencing or facilitate easy remote working. With the switch off of PSTN services by BT looming closer and many PBX systems reaching end of life, now is the right time for agencies to look at moving to a modern cloud hosted Unified Communications platform.

What other ways can technology improve the Customer Experience of property sales and lettings?

Property transactions are often laden with confidential and time critical documents that require identity verified signatures from both parties. The implementation of electronic signature technology can allow clients to instantly complete sign and exchange written agreements online in minutes from any internet enabled device. The latest eSignature applications can streamline your property document workflow and incorporate state-of-the-art ID verification that is compliant with eIDAS regulations (electronic signature laws within the UK and EU). This ensures that electronically signed documents are admissible and can be used as evidence in a court of law. This is an important business process enhancement that all agencies can implement to greatly enhance the Customer Experience they deliver.

How can I learn more?

The team here at Plexus constantly review the market for digital solutions that can help you greatly improve your Customer Experience. We can help to identify the optimum platforms for your estate or letting agency. Please contact us for an informal chat or to arrange a demo of a selection of industry leading unified communications and contact centre solutions.