Customers, Not Categories

Brand is the experience, through service, that you create for your customer. Mark McLeod discusses why you should forget the labels and provide excellent service to all.

One of the interesting industry skill sets that have been developed amongst real estate agents is what I refer to as ‘to categorise a person’. We are taught to call someone a buyer, a vendor, a landlord, a tenant and so forth.

What has been interesting is that, along with this categorising, agents have developed actions regarding how we treat each of those groups.

For two years in a row, we as an organisation performed mystery shopping across the industry. We sent groups of people to open for inspections right across the country to get an understanding of the customer experience and the way that agents interacted with open for inspection enquiries.

What we found was fascinating. For both years, the callback rate was at 52 per cent – that is, just over half the people who had attended received a call back.

What makes this more interesting is what happened when we re-sent a number of those mystery shoppers back through the open for inspections. This time they identified themselves as homeowners who were considering putting their home on the market in the next couple of weeks. The callback rate on that particular group was 100 per cent.

The original open for inspection attendees were viewed as buyers; when that category was attached to a person the service response was at 52 per cent, while the second group was re-categorised as vendors and the callback success rate climbed to 100 per cent. There was a 48 per cent difference in the service offering, based on how the agent categorised the attendee.

Alternatively, when we look at the property management world, the service provided to a landlord differs vastly to that provided to a tenant. However, in some Australian states – based on the work we have done with Ray White Concierge – we were able to ascertain that as high as 28 per cent of tenants actually own homes in the area they rent in.

Once again, the customer service directed to these people was purely in line with the way they were categorised.

There is an enormous amount of discussion across the world about how industries are responding to new threats. For me, a major breakthrough would be to treat all the people we touch as customers and provide a holistic approach to the way in which we deliver our services to these people. In my view, one of the factors that have created this problem is the way that we traditionally view marketing or the brand. Brand is not a bus stop; brand is not a billboard; brand is not a fancy brochure. Brand is the experience, through service, that you create for your customer.

With my work, I take a large number of flights in the year. I don’t judge Qantas by the way the kangaroo is painted on the tail of the plane or the way the flight attendants dress or look. I judge Qantas purely on the experience I have in their lounges or on their flights. Their brand or image plays a role, but nothing is as effective or memorable as the experience I receive.

Last year I attended between eight and 10 open homes, reviewing whether my partner and I would sell and considering what our next move would be. Interestingly enough, all the agents’ homes that we attended were agents with prominent branding in our suburb. Yet five months after attending their open homes there is no ongoing residual service. Another way to look at it is that there was no experience that I received as a customer for the effort of attending the open homes.

The way to move forward as an industry is to ask ourselves: How do we create a memorable experience for every customer with whom we come in contact? Regardless of how we have been taught to categorise them.

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Mark McLeod

Mark McLeod is the Ray White Group's Chief Strategy Officer for Real Estate. He works alongside agents and businesses across Australia, helping them reach their ultimate potential to achieve success.