I had the dreaded task of having to phone my bank last week to make a simple amendment to my account. My call was answered immediately, by a robot. I was then required to circumnavigate their automated telephone system whilst having to recite personal information into a system which never seems to understand what I am saying and which my daughters always find hilarious. To top it all, when I did eventually get through to a human being (Robert), I was then required to explain why I was calling and faced another interrogation to prove that I was actually who I said I was and that I wasn’t some mastermind criminal that has assumed my identity so as to call my bank to cancel a £16 standing order.
Standing order cancelled, I then received the obligatory text questionnaire asking me to rate the service received moments before. I’d been told to expect this by Robert at the end of the call who had also added that my response would be passed to his Manager and that he would be judged upon my assessment of him during our 5-minute call. Now, I’m a moderate person, as are the vast majority of others in this country, and whilst I wasn’t overly impressed with Robert’s employer I wasn’t about cause some poor guy that I have never met before to be hauled in for a whipping from his superiors. I scored the experience 3 out of 5 – low enough to hint at my dissatisfaction but high enough to save my new acquaintance Robert.
And therein lies the issue with technology within professional services, it can take the heart out of customer service to the extent where it just becomes another set of process flows and statistics. If we look at the above scenario, my bank could be forgiven for believing they are looking after me. Their analysts may well be able to objectively demonstrate that my call was answered 25% faster as a result of their automated telephone system and the 3 out of 5 that I scored Robert will be taken by their Marketing Department as confirmation of me being a ‘satisfied’ customer, but they couldn’t be more wrong. I am still hacked off with their service, I still don’t like dealing with them and I certainly wouldn’t dream of recommending them to any of my friends and family.
Technology not only changes how a business performs but it also changes how a business feels. If you are not careful this can cause you to completely lose touch with your clients and this is especially true in today’s property industry. The problems start when we stop listening to our clients and we introduce new strategies and technologies either for our own benefit or simply because our competitors have.
An example of this can be seen within the conveyancing market with ‘online tracking systems’. The concept was dreamt up many years ago by one of the larger providers in response to their disgruntled client base demanding better communication from their lawyers. The underlying issue was that the lawyers had too many clients to be able to properly look after them and so the provision of an online case tracking system actually did very little to solve the problem. They had taken the issue of communication too literally and what they didn’t appreciate is that the fundamental reason clients call their lawyers throughout the conveyancing process is because they are anxious, they want reassurances that their sale / purchase is on track and that their interests are being looking after.
Anyone that has ever moved home will know that this chapter of your life is all-consuming. It is a hugely emotive process and no amount of technology will ever be a suitable substitute for being able to chat with your lawyer, the very person you have employed to make things happen and in who’s hands your life sits for three months.
Despite this misdirection, most conveyancing providers continue to talk about their online tracking system as being one of their USPs. I have heard numerous sales pitches proudly brag that you can log on to a system at 3am in order to get an update should you so decide. The irony is that if a client is worrying about their conveyancing enough to log onto a website at 3am then their lawyer has already failed to look after them properly.
Technology is not always the best solution in a people-focused industry such as property. I was recently talking to an Estate Agent friend of mine and he was telling me that, in view of the recent onslaught from the online contingent, they had undertaken a survey with all of their clients to ask what additional support they would like from an Estate Agent.
High on the list from vendors is that they would really like to be given some advice as to how best to present their home for sale, whether to redecorate first, etc. This is fantastic I thought and for a moment I shared his excitement for their future strategy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t then hide my disappointment when he went on to tell me that his solution to this revelation is that they have produced a 3-page PDF that will be automatically emailed to every vendor upon instruction containing endless tips as to how best to prepare the home.
Why, having gone to the trouble of understanding your clients, would you look to satisfy their needs as cheaply as possible by producing and sending an automated PDF? Surely, it would be far more beneficial if the valuer could spare an extra 30 minutes to walk around the property with the vendor to talk through how best to present each room? Or better still if a ‘Staging Expert’ from the agency could visit after the valuation to offer a more personable service and tailored approach. This human interaction is what will set the agency apart in today’s industry and the rapport / goodwill generated would be far greater than any PDF could achieve.
Buying and selling property has always been a touchy-feely process and it always will be. Overwhelming, human emotions sit at the heart of every transaction and so neglect them at your peril. The decision to implement new technologies must therefore be scrutinized from both sides. To that end, whenever we sit down to look at new technologies we now abide by the maxim ‘Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.’