CEO discussion: Can more diversity in real estate deliver a better service for clients?

12 Jul 2019
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The real estate industry is at a turning point. We are entering a period where ‘sell your own’ services are becoming simpler, more effective and more accessible, and in order to remain relevant, agents must move from being primarily sales-focused to seriously service-focused.

This month’s CEO discussion piece looks at how a more diverse workforce might help you prepare for a more service-orientated future.

If you’re looking to build your agency over the next two-to-five years, this is a must read!

There’s no denying real estate has some challenges with diversity. We have been working hard over recent years, as an industry, to improve how we welcome women into the profession and provide them with equal opportunity to build their careers.

But this article isn’t about gender diversity in real estate.

In May, when asking ‘why do some real estate agents break the law?’, we identified real estate recruitment processes can often lean towards hiring people with a similar set of character traits.

This month, we dive further into the personalities we employee in real estate, the perception of our industry and the people in it, and what drives us all to succeed.

We ask the question: can we future-proof our industry and more rapidly affect the required shift from a sales-focus to a service-focus by embracing more character diversity in our teams?

Aren’t we already service-focused?

Real estate has always had a foundation in service — but largely, we provide service (hopefully as best we can) so we can achieve a sale.

When we say we are moving away from being a sales-focused industry and we are becoming a serviced-focused industry, it means our main priority needs to change.

At a really basic level, in a sales-focused business, a sale is considered effective because it was completed and the commission was made.

There isn’t any priority placed on client after-care, empathy-based interaction or truly understanding the needs of the client (not just assuming you know what they need or that they are simply here to get a great price).

In contrast, in a service-focused business, service is considered effective if it results in such an incredible experience for the client that they will happily trust you with future business.

Being service-focused is all about breaking the mould. It’s based in not just repeating a sales process over-and-over, but really customising what you do so it meets the very specific needs of each seller.

While most agents have always strived to provide excellence in service, for some, it has simply been a means to an end — a way to win a listing and make a sale.

Being truly service-focused means ultimately, what you do is as much about the experience you deliver, if not more, than it is about the result you achieve.

Do clients perceive real estate as service-based?

Real estate, especially sales, is not known for being particularly diverse. It is full of type A personalities — people who are persuasive and strong-willed, energetic, outgoing and social, ambitious and outcome-orientated. All great traits!

The reason for this is historically, these traits work really well in a sales-focused industry.

But as our industry — whether by force or choice — becomes more service-focused and prioritises customer experience, consumer expectations are also changing, and some agents are struggling to keep up.

According to data from Roy Morgan, and several other sources, real estate agents are often seen as non-communicative and non-responsive.

While vendors who have used agents might recommend them, research suggests they also largely feel agents don’t communicate and provide enough feedback, they don’t provide enough data and information, and the agent won’t communicate with them again after the sale is complete — the relationship will end.

Perhaps most telling of our industry’s bar for service is the many prominent industry-leading sites that managed to put a positive spin on the results of this research. One notable site reported that a ‘whopping’ third each of respondents rated their experience with an agent as great or good.

That might be fine if real estate is solely sales-focused. But if 35% of respondents rated their experience as average or below for any other industry or business, that industry certainly wouldn’t be viewing the result with such excitement. Instead, it would closely examine people and processes, and invest in extensive training to improve results.

That same article goes on to happily report 36% of respondents expected to stay in touch with their agent after the sale, failing to see the 64% who won’t, again, is cause for significant reflection.

The fact data like this is presented as a win is indication that, while we do deliver a service and many agents are good at it, we are not yet a truly service-focused industry with service-based KPIs.

What are we missing and why is it a problem?

In looking at research and sources from the last few decades, it’s clear what is required in today’s salespeople — and in an environment where service is prioritised above all else — is different to what was required and expected in the past.

Previously, guides for high-performing sales people talked about social skills, persuasion, persistence and resilience as some of the most important traits.

These days, research into high-performing sales people, from the Harvard Business Review, Sales Force and various other sources, say traits most prized are modesty, empathy, transparency, adaptability, communication and a sense of responsibility and curiosity.

Customer experience should be the top consideration of high-performing sales people.

Interestingly, these newer traits mirror the characteristics traditionally associated with high-performing customer service teams: empathy, communication, adaptability, positivity, responsibility and listening, according to data from Sales Force.

The question is, are the two character trait sets mutually exclusive?

If you have filled your ranks with agents who fit traditional requirements for high-performing sales people — who are assertive, persistent, resilient and persuasive — is it impossible to also have people who genuinely and generously display empathy, communicate frequently and transparently and put service over sale?

I don’t think so!

What can we do to adapt?

What this research shows is not that real estate is doomed, but that we need to shift. We need to move away from the old way of thinking and mix it up!

We need to build diversity with new personalities and characters

We need to add to our sales force, people who exhibit strong emotional intelligence, who are empathetic and driven by delivering solid service purely because they thrive on exceeding client expectations.

Traditional sales and customer service traits are not mutually exclusive, so we need to recruit more people who display both sets of traits.

We need to retrain existing people

Emotional intelligence training is only just starting to make an impact in real estate, but is enthusiastically advocated for by those who have completed it and seen the business results.

Latent traits in existing sales people can be fostered and developed, so they can combine them with the experience they have already gained and the skills they have been using for years, to enhance the service they provide.

We need to set the bar higher for service

Instead of reporting that a third of real estate vendors expect to stay in touch with their agent, and viewing it as a victory, we need to set the bar higher — we need standards that reflect a service industry. A third is not good enough — all clients should know their agent will stay in touch with them!

When setting KPIs, so many offices gravitate immediately towards sales figures, but these can no longer be the only measure of success.

Yes, we need to keep sales targets and motivate our people to achieve them, but we need to drive the process by which they achieve them with KPIs relating to service.

Feedback surveys at the end of sales — and 6 months and 12 months later — should not be a rarity in this industry, nor should the results be dismissed. They should be common place, analysed carefully and the insights incorporated into strategies for ongoing improvement.

Where do we start?

Like any change, evolving real estate from a sales-focused industry that provides a service, to a service-focused industry that facilitates sales, starts with acknowledging where we are right now.

In quickly surveying agents on this front, and not pushing for any level of deep analysis, most agents immediately identified themselves as already service-focused… and while this is certainly true of some agents — they are moving towards a genuine service-focus already and showing strength in the industry — unfortunately the statistics that illustrate our industry’s reputation do not back up this belief for all agents.

The number of enquiries unanswered, data not provided, feedback not given and empathy not displayed does not back up this belief for all agents.

Let’s start by asking ourselves — and being truly honest — at the start of every sales process… what is my biggest aim here? Is it to get a sale through, or is it to provide a service that is so incredibly and undeniably great that this client would never consider any other agent, ever again?

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