Elite AgentFeature Interviews

Dean Mackie: In the driver’s seat

AREAS 2020: Agency of the Year

An innovative database, artificial intelligence insights and a dedication to top-notch customer service are just some of the elements that have made DiJONES an industry leader. Kylie Dulhunty spoke to Chief Executive Officer Dean Mackie about the many secrets behind the boutique agency winning the 2020 AREA for Residential Agency of the Year.

If you ask Dean Mackie to describe the DiJONES brand, his reply comes as quick as a whip.

There’s no hesitation.

“We think the brand is curious, we think it’s innovative, we think the brand is candid, and it’s authentic,” he explains.

It seems industry peers agree with the summation, with the real estate agency awarded the 2020 Annual REA Excellence Award for Residential Agency of the Year.

HARD WORK RECOGNISED

Dean, DiJONES’S Chief Executive Officer of Strategy and Growth, says the team didn’t work with accolades in mind, but it was just reward for all the effort put in during one of the agency’s most successful, yet challenging, years.

“We’re just trying to make sure we’re the best real estate business we can be,” he says.

“Fortunately, we have some super people around us, and that makes things easier.

“It’s always wonderful to get recognition from the industry, especially when there are so many other fabulous businesses out there.

“It’s good reinforcement for us that we are heading in the right direction.”

DATA-DRIVEN

At the head of that direction is DiJONES’S creation of an innovative, centralised database that not only collects data, such as clients’ names and addresses, but enables analysis on customer needs, search experience and goals.

This allows agents to understand customer habits, generate more leads, deliver top customer service, drive growth and build revenue.

The database has been about five years in the making, with the first two years concentrating on developing “gold class contacts” that were highly qualified, before collaborating with the database to glean valuable insights on their customers.

“When I was in franchise, one of my biggest frustrations was that most of the time, the franchise would control the website and the email accounts,” Dean says.

“Then you have franchisees who are on social media and that control their own databases and offices.

“So you have this really dysfunctional structure where none of the data talks, and you can’t get a single view of your customer.

“It’s very fragmented and everyone runs in their own little silos, so you don’t really get any scale, any cut-through or any real value.”

Dean says the centralised database, combined with artificial intelligence, enabled the agency and its agents to “connect the dots”.

VALUABLE INSIGHTS

A key example of insights they’ve been able to glean includes men and women’s roles at different stages of the property journey and how DiJONES can then tailor its content to match those customers.

“Data is of no value unless you can find a way to make it talk,” he says.

“Talk to us and tell us what the consumer is doing right now, how we can be relevant, how we can be part of their journey and make it easy for them.

“We have the view that we are a tech and data-led company to give our agents more opportunities to have more meaningful conversations at exactly the time the customer wants to receive that information.”

DiJONES’S digital assistant prompts the agents when to make a call and provides vital information on things such as what the potential client has been searching for online.

Dean says AI can engage with potential clients for the first part of their property journey, learn a lot and then pass the conversation over to the agent.

“They (the client) come into our environment, and maybe they look at a few properties, but we notice that they spend X amount of time on a particular one,” he says.

“We also note that they’ve gone back to look at the floor plan three times, and we’re able to engage them with a series of questions and, based on how they respond, we can qualify them.

“Then our system will say, ‘Hey Piers, this person is interested in X, Y and Z, you need to call them’.”

It’s important to note that DiJONES’S digital assistant has been curated with a tone and personality that matches the company. 

It also responds to inquiries within four minutes.

Implementing the digital assistant has increased the team’s appraisal-to-listing conversion by about 30 per cent.

“I recently read a report that said 83 per cent of consumers expect an immediate response,” Dean says.

“If you don’t provide that immediacy, you’re already on the back foot.”

AN INNOVATIVE IDEA

That desire to meet customers’ need for immediacy also extended to introducing a bespoke appraisal campaign and instant property report.

Born out of the need to find a way to get their foot in more doors and do more appraisals during the height of COVID-19, Dean says about 7,000 reports were downloaded.

The reports contained information such as an estimated property price, investment potential, market trends, property history, similar properties on the market and a suburb snapshot.

“The agents were struggling to get into people’s properties because of COVID,” Dean says.

“We had people buying properties, but we were having issues with our agents getting in and doing appraisals.

“We had to find a solution.

“So we came up with the concept where people could pop onto our website, put their information in and get a number of different reports; from a very basic one to a detailed one.

“We believe we picked up an extra 20 per cent of appraisals that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

As well as putting agents in touch with pre-existing customers, the initiative also generated many new leads.

“There’s about $2 million of gross commission income across the business as a consequence of an initiative that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” Dean says.

ANNUAL MARKET REPORTS WITH A DIFFERENCE

DiJONES also introduced an industry first in the form of annual digital market reports broken down into the regions the brand serves.

The reports contained in-depth, yet easy to understand, analysis of suburb data and have been downloaded more than 10,000 times since September last year.

“The annual report came off the back of the fact that we wanted to provide something of value about what is happening in the market,” Dean says.

“The agents have driven it because it came from feedback from customers in terms of the information they were asking for at appraisals and during the course of campaigns.

“We are listening hard to what our customers say, and I think that being responsive to our customers is probably one of our greatest strengths.”

DEDICATION TO CUSTOMER SERVICE

DiJONES’S commitment to creating a first-class customer experience was never higher than during the pandemic’s peak last year.

This was especially the case in the investment management department, which released video content to help investors and tenants, and to position the team as trusted advisors in a difficult time.

The videos touched on new legislation, insurance audits, financial health checks and third-party supplier deals.

The agency also has dedicated customer experience managers who have built a checklist of more than 100 tasks that must be completed between listing a property and selling it. 

It means nothing is left to chance or memory.

Once a property sells, DiJONES implements its six-week settlement program, which is a personalised, yet automated, communication plan that includes a weekly touchpoint such as a message from the CEO and bespoke offers from removalists or connection services.

Last year the settlement program also extended into creating a loyalty program where the agency introduces its clients, be they vendors, buyers, or landlords, to varying community businesses, services and facilities.

As a result, clients have booked appointments with local landscaping businesses and booked accommodation at hotels.

AUCTIONEER INVOLVEMENT

Back on the direct sales front, Dean says another initiative DiJONES is proud of is how it runs its auction campaigns, with the auctioneer involved every step of the way.

While some agencies may only bring their auctioneer in at the end of the campaign, Dean says this is doing clients a great disservice.

“Our auctioneer doesn’t come in just at the end; he comes in at different stages of the program,” he explains.

“Josh Larsen and his team do everything from weekly vendor meetings to producing a written report with all the recommendations that they have.

“Josh doesn’t turn up on the Saturday to call the auction with no idea about what’s happened during the campaign.

“He knows what the price feedback is, he knows who the buyers are, and he knows where the vendor’s headspace is at.

“He comes in and provides that third party guidance to help everybody get what they want.”

A BRAND REFRESH

In February last year, DiJONES also launched a brand refresh, which Dean says was just the start of a journey that will continue throughout 2021.

As well as paying homage to industry pioneer and founder Di Jones, Dean says the refresh was about ensuring the company’s values of family, passion and authenticity, shone through.

“We wanted it to have a fresh, not overly masculine, vibe, and we want people to say that the brand is curious, fresh, pioneering and genuine,” he says.

Central to the brand refresh was driving traffic from all of their marketing platforms back to the DiJONES website, which has been updated and will continue to be improved this year.

Visually speaking, the refreshed branding uses a white background, limited text and clean imagery.

Dean says this extended to property marketing, where they increased the size of photos between 10 per cent and 30 per cent.

They also used less text and put a greater emphasis on the property as opposed to the agent.

On every piece of property marketing, details such as the auction date, the inspection times and the copy was removed and replaced with a link where the customer could find out more.

“We wanted clean imagery and we went with very little copy,” Dean explains.

“We wanted to create some curiosity and stimulate imagination so the customer goes, ‘I want to find out more’.”

Dean says the brand refresh is a “constant evolution”, and while last year focused on rejuvenating signboards and brochures, this year would focus on the brand online.

“It’s a matter of bringing DiJONES into the modern era,” he says.

While the focus on imagery last year saw larger pictures used, Dean says he wasn’t entirely happy with the feel of the photos and that issue will be tackled this year.

“We want it to be more lifestyle, more editorial, more raw and more real,” he says.

The brand refresh also included three key campaigns; ‘all you need is DiJONES’, ‘you care, we do too’ and ‘DiJONES drive’.

‘All you need is DiJONES’ was a brand awareness campaign, while ‘you care, we do too’, focused on recruiting agents, staff and offices.

WHERE TO NOW?

DiJONES also has a clear vision of where it is heading this year and beyond.

The plan is to remain a premium and boutique brand while fostering its growth plan, which saw three new offices join the fold at the end of last month.

“We want to work with people who have the same sense of direction,” Dean says.

“We listen to what the data is telling us. When we went to Bowral, the data was telling us we needed to go to Bowral.

“The data told us we needed to get into the Northern Beaches, and the data is now telling us that we need to be in other locations.

“So we will move as and when the customer and the data tell us to.”

Dean says new offices will join the DiJONES brand under a centralised services model, where operational elements, such as finance and marketing, will be handled centrally.

“We give people access to scale and efficiency, and that way, it improves their business in a massive way,” he says.

Another clear goal is to hone their focus on customer experience and their digital platforms.

“We want to tech-enable our agents as much as possible so they can be doing a better job for the customer,” Dean says.

“We want to look for ways we can make refreshing, lasting improvement.”

Dean says they also want to grow their key numbers, including increasing their number of sales from about 1,000 last year to 1,500 this year, and boosting the team’s total value of sales from close to $1.7 billion to more than $2 billion this year.

The agency has more than 4,000 properties under management this year but hopes to grow that to about 6,500 this year.

“We’re going to double down on what we’re doing,” Dean says.

“Our big focus is on how we make sure we are number one in every market we operate in and that we listen to the customer as to which market we will be in next.”

This feature article first appeared in the Autumn 2021 edition of Elite Agent Magazine. Elite Agent Pro subscribers receive a copy of our award-winning quarterly magazine delivered to their door, as well as a weekly members’-only email and detailed monthly action guides to accompany our podcasts. Subscribers also get exclusive access to free short courses and access to Elite Agent’s subscriber-only resources. Click here for more details.

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