“I believe that businesses that can adapt and provide a higher level of customer service will come out with this in a better place than when we went into it,” says Richard Poole, Partner at Michael Poole Estate Agents, on the topic of the pandemic.
Michael Poole Estate Agents has always aimed to put customer service first, to stand out in the Teesside marketplace. “It's very difficult for the general public to differentiate from one agent to the next. And the only differentiator that we could see was our service levels,” says Poole. “So we really drilled down to provide an exceptional service level across the board and go above and beyond people's expectations.”
This is a common sense strategy - but Poole feels that agents sometimes assume that they know best, when in reality their landlords’ expectations may not match up. “We see things sometimes as agents and we think that's the best thing since sliced bread. We'll see a new solution and think, ‘Oh, that’s amazing. Landlords are going to love this’,” says Poole. “We're embedded in the property industry and you become a little blinkered. And then, when you see what really matters to a client, it could be completely different.”
To test the theory, the agency took a simple approach and asked its landlords what they wanted. “We spent a couple of weeks drafting a survey, asking what is it our clients actually want now as opposed to what agents have always thought our clients want and need. What is it that they want us to provide them? What service levels do they see as beneficial to them?”
The survey results were surprising. “The survey showed that for virtual tours, investing in tools like Matterport, which we think are amazing, landlords don't really see the importance. Yes, it’s a good add-on, but it's not super important. It may be that many of the things that are really important are just basic things, like speaking to people and contacts, which sometimes get forgotten about.”
Poole believes that the ability to adapt, as demonstrated during the pandemic, will be beneficial to meeting these customer needs in the future. “I think one thing it's highlighted is that we need to be a bit more flexible. When we return to the office, we may look at adapting the actual business hours to suit what our clients need.”
Alongside the survey results, the agency has called each of their landlords since the start of the pandemic, to make them feel heard and to build a clear and global view on how to best help them. “What they're interested in is what matters to them and giving them exactly what they want. I think that's one of the big things that may come out of this for us - it's giving our clients exactly what they want, not what we want.”