Why “focusing on being better” is killing the independent industry’s reputation
Opinion piece by Charles Wright, Founder of CIELA.
[A comment on my LinkedIn article about forcing PurpleBricks to publish their actual completion rates has prodded me into writing this article.]
Ladies and gentlemen. In the name of the livelihoods of the more than 100,000 employees of independent agents, please, please stop saying “let’s just prove we’re better by focusing on customer service”. Forgive my bluntness and passion, but this naive, short-sighted attitude is absolutely the primary reason for the industry’s poor reputation.
Who are the people who think that agents aren’t already doing this? What do they think agents do all day, apart from focus on servicing their customers?
Up and down the country there are outstanding agents who provide first-class customer service all day every day, some with armfuls of awards to prove it. As a marketing strategy for winning business locally, this is great. But how much difference has it made to the industry’s reputation as a whole? None. Zero. Niente.
Thousands of agents are absolutely brilliant at what they do, yet this does nothing to improve the industry reputation as a whole.
In other words, it doesn’t work. Focusing on customer service as a strategy for improving the public’s perception of the industry does not work, and it never has. The fact that this appears to be an unknown fact in the industry is precisely why the reputation is so poor. Please, please, stop. Wake up.
There is a gaping void; a total, complete lack of any concerted effort among independents to change public perception, and that is why corporate and call-centre agency marketing is so effective. To the public, their competition doesn’t even exist.
It is a marketing fact as old as the hills themselves that no matter how good your product or service is, if you don’t promote it, people won’t know about it.
I know many examples of quite brilliant independent agents whose service is absolutely second to none in their patch, evidenced by sale completion rates above 90%. Yet despite this indisputable proof of performance, they often still lose instructions to corporate brands.
How many independent agents have heard the following rejection speech? “Look, I really love your pitch and your business, and I can sense your passion for what you do, but I’m sorry I’m going to instruct [insert corporate brand name here] and I don’t even know why, but I think it’s the safer choice.”
This story usually ends with the client calling up later and saying “I feel so stupid for not having instructed you in the first place. [corporate brand] has let me down and I really need to sell/let. Please can you help?”
There is only one reason this happens: Corporate marketing. The long term drip-drip effect of corporate marketing on the home selling/letting public is probably the only reason that corporates win any business at all. Yes, there are some perfectly good corporate agencies out there with some of the best individuals of all working in them. However, when the governing motivator is hitting monthly targets set by head office, this necessarily precludes the ability to go the extra mile for the client in the way that independent agents do all day, every day, whilst getting no public credit for it whatsoever.
So why, WHY, when the industry is made up of over 80% independents who do work harder and longer than any corporate, and really look after their clients in a way usually reserved only for family members, is the public at large completely unaware of the fact?
For mathematically obvious reasons, the single largest group of clients to the sales industry is first-time home sellers. That means that the largest group of potential clients is also the most naive and least-informed as to the pitfalls of the process. They haven’t learnt the hard way yet, and guess what, they are sitting ducks for the marketing departments of corporate and call-centre agents, especially those who charge money up front.
The poor industry reputation is absolutely in the interests of corporate and call-centre agents. It is precisely how they market themselves against the ‘hordes of rogue independents who deserve the terrible reputation they have’.
The NAEA/ARLA has resolutely refused to stand up for independent agents, because of course their articles prevent them from favouring any one member, or group of members, over any other. They are a first class training organisation and I commend their courses and qualifications to every individual who wishes to further their professional expertise.
But as a public branding exercise, the NAEA/ARLA is unable to help independents in the battle against corporates and call-centre agents.
Their hands are tied and it’s not their fault. Their silence over the marketing conduct of PurpleBricks who openly insult the majority of their member base is staggering and I can only hope they are having urgent discussions as to how they can change their rules and expel any member who behaves in such a way.
Be very clear: the greatest damage being done to the reputation of the independent industry is being done by corporate marketing, and their PRs who promote the rogue agent scare stories.
Independents do not have a national voice. They need one more than ever. That is why I have set up CIELA, whose sole purpose is to represent and fight for the collective national interests of independent agents. Independent agents go the extra mile for their customers in a way that cannot be measured, all day every day. The public does not know this. If they did, wouldn’t it be a different world for our industry?