Barry Plant Manningham’s recipe for success is straightforward: Keep things simple, go back to basics and put the customer first.
You might expect real estate agencies to do this naturally, but it seems in recent years the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) hasn’t always been that easy. It’s something Barry Plant Manningham’s Managing Director Spiro Drossos was keen to change when he set out to shake up the way the agency did business two years ago.
“It’s our job to sell to buyers, tenants and landlords, and to appeal to vendors. We had to start thinking like customers and not like real estate agents.”
It’s a move that has paid dividends. The agency has doubled its number of appraisals, recording 100 more sales than the previous year and boosting its gross commission income by over 50 per cent. The team has also taken out the Gold AREA of the Year Award for Residential Agency of the Year.
“Our industry is obsessed with competition and what the competition is doing, and what we needed to do was obsess about the customer”
“That was a great surprise,” Spiro says. “The other agencies that were finalists in the category were very good.
So what exactly did Barry Plant Manningham do that was so simple but so special?
Spiro says the changes started with a new management and leadership team, followed by extensive training and development.
Customer-oriented changes included establishing an international division to support overseas clients, a new automated response system to handle initial inquiries and community partnerships with organisations such as Make-A-Wish Australia.
“Two years ago we created a new management team and that was one of the biggest parts of the change,” Spiro explains. “I had to get the team right, develop the clarity around our direction and then provide the training and resources for their development.
“We also renovated the whole building to make it modern. If my team is happy and well resourced they will take that to the customer.”
It may sound like a cliché, but Spiro says that defining the agency’s values and setting new standards to be met paved the path to success, with clear direction on what every stage of the buying and selling process would look like.
He says that creating a new work environment where staff knew each other better and had areas to work in ‘pods’, or even between departments, fostered a united approach and a vibrant team culture that spurred further growth.
“We looked at our standards across the operation as a team, particularly the most important tasks of prospecting, appraisals, open homes and auctions,” Spiro says. “We made commitments to increase prospecting every week with a goal to increase [by] 20 per cent, and we ended up going from 150 appraisals a month to more than 300.
But we knew how hard we had worked to take our business to the next level.”
“We examined our appraisal process and how we presented information to clients and did the same thing for our buyers, asking ourselves, ‘What steps do we need to put in place to really take care of our buyers?’ People were having a lot of fun, but boy were we focused.”
The lynchpin in the agency’s fresh customer-focused narrative was the creation of an international division.
Spiro explains that, at the time the division was formalised two years ago, up to 70 per cent of potential buyers in the agency’s market were from Asia. “We looked at what was happening in the marketplace and paid attention at our auctions, and even at competitors’ auctions, to see how the Chinese market was interacted with,” he explains.
“What we realised was we had a market that wanted to buy from us, but they were not being serviced and there was confusion.”
Spiro says processes, such as the highest bidder having the first opportunity to negotiate with the vendor when a property is passed in at auction, were not easily understood, largely due to language barriers.
As the son of Greek parents who purchased their first Australian home in the 1960s from a Greek agent, Spiro found the answer to the dilemma was right in front of him. “We hired people who could speak Mandarin and who came from a retail or hospitality background,” he says. “They provided weekend customer service and came to the auction just to help the buyers.”
The agency also introduced information sessions for Asian buyers, where the international division would help explain auction rules and buying processes.
Spiro says the agency’s auctioneers also had to learn to slow down. “You couldn’t rush the auctions,” he explains. “As an auctioneer, everyone has to have a fair opportunity to buy. That education process saw auction clearance rates increase, selling well into the 90 per cent bracket.”
Barry Plant Manningham also introduced an automated response system to reply immediately to buyer inquiries. “In today’s buyer world people expect things to happen quickly,” Spiro points out. “Buyers excited to see a property that has just been listed email us, not knowing whether we are at an appraisal or in negotiations, and they just want a response.
“With our database we can automate the information sent to clients to tell them more about the house and the location, such as local schools. We then follow up by close of business with a phone call.”
Spiro says other innovations that have helped improve customer satisfaction include the renaming of the reception desk as ‘Customer Service’ and introducing a concierge to meet and greet clients three days a week.
“We’ve also really worked on taking ‘agent dialogue’ out of our business,” he says. “There can be too much reliance on scripts and dialogues in our industry, and we want to have real conversations.
“When you walk through a house it’s not just four walls; it’s 30 years’ of memories, heartbreak and joy.”
Investing in the story behind the properties has also seen the agency give back to the community by supporting local schools and sports clubs, as well as taking part in Wishtober.
In October every Barry Plant office donates a portion of commission on every property sold that month to Make-A-Wish Australia, an organisation that grants the wishes of children battling life-threatening medical conditions.
Despite the agency’s stunning success, Spiro says there’s no time to rest on their laurels and there are plans afoot to make 2018 the best yet.
“We’re looking at how we’re running open homes, as well as how we can use technological advancements,” he says. “This year we’re also focusing our energy on coaching, mentoring and providing value to the team to foster everyone’s growth.
“It’s all about continuing to refine and perfect the basics. Small things can add up to great change.”