Online agents or high street agents, it’s the customer experience that counts

Steve TraskBy Steve Trask in Insights

There has been plenty of talk about online agents taking over the market but that expected growth has been much slower in reality. Despite this it has made some traditional high street agents feel uneasy.

The predictions of online agents dominance has changed the general consensus within the industry is that there’s space for both types of agency with the different offerings appealing to different types of customer. It’s becoming increasingly important therefore to think about your customer personas when planning your marketing and make sure you’re appealing as effectively as possible to those people who are most likely to become your customers, giving rise to the so called ‘hybrid agents’. This looks to be strategically apparent in mergers and partnerships that are happening in the property sector. So who are the different customer types? We wanted to look at the customers using the these services and understand them more and what that could tell us about the future landscape of the market.

Disclaimer, we used a small amount of people for research in this article and also applied marketing demographic information as a data source

Who uses an online estate agent

The main selling point for using an online agent is to save money, this is shown in the majority of their marketing and who can blame them it’s a great point to sell on. Typically when they launched it was early adopters who got on board, this has grown somewhat by successful experiences and word of mouth spreading. The homeowner might be slightly younger than average so they understand the technological benefit and those who are willing to put more effort in researching and doing any additional work required. Another section are customers who rightly or wrongly believe their house is going to be easy to sell. While homeowners with properties they believe would take a while or have a some difficulty to sell they did not necessarily think of using online estate agent as a primary choice.

What’s in the future for online agents

We have already seen online agents adopt local expert representatives and also offer additional services such as managed viewings and post sales support. They need to take advantage of the perception of the digital world, it never sleeps so you can book a viewing at 3am to view the property on a Sunday when buyers have spare time, then speak to a support agent at 9pm after the kids have gone to bed. Some are already adopting this method to differentiate from their high street counterparts.

Where are online agents not working

Online agents are trying to show themselves as having a human touch but people still see them as a faceless service. This is not an issue for certain demographics, similar to the customers of First Direct – the online banking arm of HSBC. First Direct tackles this by having very fast response to phone calls and which are answered by a person rather than going through an automated system. For people who want a personal service it is key to have the ability to call a specific person or pop into see them easily, the high street still commands this market.

The other area that online agents need to tackle is communicating how people search for properties, how many people just look at rightmove or include it in their search? For example if they communicated that X% of people only search for and/or find their property on Rightmove, their advertising might have a higher impact.

Who uses a high street estate agent

The homeowners who use a high street agents varies more than an online agent. They can include people who have used the same agent for years, similar to a solicitor’s customer base. It can also include homeowners who think by using them they are targeting a type of buyer. For example selling a country house people may choose an agent who has a London office thinking they can get the best price rather than one who only targets locally based buyers.

Mainly people suggest they use an agent which are familiar and is suited to their property value. If an agent has several boards up in the same street stating they sold the property it goes down very well if they are looking to sell in the same street. Having said that people seem to be doing more research these days when considering an estate agent rather than choosing out of convenience as validating costs are becoming a bigger deciding factor.

What is in the future for high street agents

As we have seen high street agents are bringing in technology and offering a hybrid services that certain demographics are looking for. This will continue and some may offer services that require little human interaction for a certain section of their customer base. They will still be positioning themselves as the familiar face in the area as this works really well and is the ace up their sleeve as they have offices you can visit rather than just using a website or calling a call centre. They also should be using some of the online agents tactics by capturing every single email they can and using digital marketing to keep the target market informed and aware of their services and brand.

Where are high street estate agents not working

There is still a high priority for the here and now instructions, the people selling in the next 3-6 months and not really paying attention to anyone else. From the people we spoke to who had bought/sold their properties in a range from 1-20 years only a few had received any communication from the estate agent they used. This is where estate agents need to improve, as soon as they leave a customer to drift it opens the opportunity for another online or high street agent. They will want to look more attractive when the property owner wants to start researching for an estate agent to sell their property. The previously used estate agent needs to be front of mind but if there has not been any communication they might even not be considered and potentially discounted for not communicating as expected service standards increase.

The customer is king so make them feel loved

No matter which business you are involved with, online or high street estate agent, the customer is the key to your success. Gone are the days of having a guaranteed instructions as the range of choice has increased and the demographics of homeowners is changing. Just think of how millennials will use estate agents (early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years, disclaimer: I am a millennial!).

The customer wants to know you are still thinking about them, it may be something simple like a happy birthday email or even a happy house purchase anniversary email. Or how about you keep them updated about the local property market? None of the people we spoke to had any updates on the local property market from estate agents who bought/sold their house. This is surely a missed opportunity for any type of agent, as which agent will they look to when the time comes to sell their property?

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