In an ever-changing lettings industry, customer expectations are growing rapidly - and agents may have to ask themselves how to strike the right balance in what they can offer. Ricky Purdy, Director of Lettings at Dawsons Estate Agents, shares four areas where the right balance could give the best customer experience.
Corporate or personable
Ricky says that “tapping into the success of economies of scale, while not having the public perceive us as a corporate company” has been a challenge for Dawsons – with a successful outcome.
“The balancing act is keeping us personable. We promote being local, that we’re very knowledgeable and experienced,” says Ricky. “We make sure prospective clients know we have the attributes of the larger companies in terms of efficiency and cost savings, which we pass onto the client, but we don't inherit the perceived negative sides of large national companies - long waiting times, being seen as a number not a name, and dealing with multiple people and departments.”
For agencies facing this dilemma, maintaining a local presence is key. “Our marketing is driven by social media, word of mouth, and continued interaction with our local communities on a very regular and structured basis,” says Ricky. “We interact at a local level so that, when people need to let or rent, we’ll hopefully be considered - or their first choice.”
Stability for all
Since lockdown, Ricky has seen habits slowly changing. “Our clients are more mindful of stability. We've had more requests for longer tenancies. Our tenants and landlords ask for fixed-terms rather a periodic contract, or a new fixed term of 12 months over six months.”
This is good for landlords, knowing that they’ll have an income for a longer period - assuming they have assurance their tenants can honour their commitments. “Landlords are increasingly happy to extend, especially if they have an insurance policy, so that, if a tenant’s unable to pay rent due to the current climate, the issue can be fully resolved in a short time frame,” says Ricky.
This should be taken into account when negotiating the best contract length for both customer bases, and done so with a considered and personable approach. “We don’t want to put a negative spin on conversations around the clear benefits of longer tenancies - and, in fact, we’ve found that informing of the recent change here in Wales on temporarily extended notice periods takes us back to the informed, personable and local approach,” says Ricky.
Overlaying old with new
After promoting such a personable approach, Dawsons had to find new ways to manage with less face-to-face contact during the pandemic. “We had to strike that balance again, through a different approach. We believe that our customers haven't experienced a difference in our service levels - we’ve been just as efficient. It’s taken a great deal of effort and engagement, but the feedback and appreciation of ‘normality’ in such unfamiliar times has made it worthwhile.”
This has meant an acceleration in optimising Dawson’s digital processes. “We plan to continue our agenda of moving forward with technology by choice rather than necessity, having simply sped things up with virtual viewings and efficiencies in online applications. Our goal is a concise, automated process for landlords and tenants, and to balance this while not returning to those comfortable old habits. We've been so successful on behalf of our clients in letting properties through virtual viewings and online engagement. Building on this is the obvious next step.”
Potential tenants may also have to adapt their mindset. During the pandemic, they had to take virtual tours by necessity. Now, they have the choice to view a property physically as well as virtually, which could speed up the process for all parties involved. “Prospective tenants were more of a captive audience through lockdown than they may be in the months ahead because they didn't have a choice, which they now do. Both client and agent can benefit from these strides forward, so why as an industry would we revert to past statistics of multiple physical viewings to secure a let, when a single virtual viewing can achieve the same outcome?”
A virtual presence - and a physical footprint
Having worked remotely for a number of months, Ricky considers how the future high street presence will look in lettings. “I don't think it's the case of needing a high street presence. I think it's simply a case of having a presence to create an enjoyable experience - and the chance for tenants to engage with a familiar face at the key points in their customer journey.”
Ricky expands on the reasons they originally opened high street branches. “We found that being on the high street was as much the landlord's preference as it was the tenants,” he says. “Landlords wanted agents to have a space where prospective tenants could pop in to discuss their tenancy. They understandably felt that we would let their property quicker, provide a better service, be more efficient and have less voids.
“Moving forward, is a presence on the high street less relevant? You could argue the case, as you could its efficiency, and that lockdown has pointed our industry in the direction of change. A key attribute to this success will be how and where change will come. Strike that balance, and the benefits will follow.”
This may mean less physical interaction but an enhanced customer journey. “We want our customer experience as a tenant and a landlord to be efficient and seamless,” says Ricky. “In the not too distant future, we want this to mean that our future tenants sit down one evening in the comfort and convenience of their home, to search for, to choose, and secure their next home as a result of the quality of our virtual offering. It could just be a little less activity, for more productivity.”