Setting yourself apart from the competition can be difficult unless you truly know what you are up against. In an excerpt from her book People Power: Did You Have Them @ Hello? CEO of Harcourts Victoria, Sadhana Smiles, has some advice on how to gain the ‘Intel’ you need to get ahead in the game.
One of the most common things we do in business is copy each other. Yes, we may change a few pictures or words; however, on the whole, most of us produce and provide the same things as others in our industry or line of business. I know most of you will relate to the goldfish image where one of the fish is blue and the others are orange – they are all still goldfish! It has been used by so many different companies in so many different ways that it has become quite meaningless.
Strategic intelligence – setting yourself apart
A few years ago, while I was working at McGrath Real Estate in Sydney, as part of the company Launchpad program we invited an army officer who had served in Afghanistan to speak to us. He shared with us the planning he did prior to going into battle and how that related to what we did in business. It was a different perspective, I know; however, surprisingly it was very relevant to our business.
One of the key messages was that, firstly, in the army they never made a move without full research and understanding of the target area. Secondly, they had full intelligence on the target itself and thirdly, they practised what they intended to do in the field so that it became second nature to them when they were faced with battle.
Let’s take this concept back into real estate – one of the ways we can get intelligence on what our competitors are doing is by conducting a ‘mystery shop’. If you want to stand apart and ensure that your brand provides an experience that is unique, memorable and different to everyone else in your marketplace you first have to understand what you are up against. Intel is what you need and conducting a regular mystery-shop program is the best way to get this data.
In a previous business I worked in, we set up a couple in a house and called the key agents we were competing with to conduct an appraisal of the property and give a listing presentation. We had briefed our couple on exactly what to ask, what objections to raise, and how to test how far the agents were prepared to lower their fees. They were also briefed on finding out what marketing was offered, what they said about us as their competitors and, most importantly, what their follow-up was like.
Cheeky? – Very much so. Unethical? – Definitely not. Did it provide us insight into how to beat our competitors and win listings? Absolutely yes. Was it strategic intelligence that helped us define our business? – Unequivocally! Try something similar in your business and see how much intel you can uncover and how it can be applied to develop your business strategy.
How mystery-shopping works
Should you choose to use this method of intelligence gathering, you first need to be very clear on what the key touch points are that provide opportunities for memorable experiences. These are those ‘one- percenters’ that set your business apart.
It may be that you need intel on only some parts – not all areas – of business where you have contact with clients. If this is the case, just select some key areas that you know will help your people to deliver outstanding service and that your customers will appreciate.
There are a number of companies out there that can run these programs for you. Some suggestions of areas that real estate agents may consider to mystery-shop are:
- Reception – answering phones, passing on messages, being proactive in resolving issues
- Open homes – how it was conducted
- Presentation of the home
- Selling skills at the open for inspection
- Follow-up calls
- Listing presentation
- Agent presentation.
There will be a similar list you can compile relevant to your business. No matter what your business is, customer service is customer service and it will be beneficial to find out what your competitors are doing well and what you might be able to improve on. It is important to ascertain the following:
Find out what your competitors’ s ervice levels are like at each client interaction point.
- What do they do that is the same as you?
- What do they do better than you?
- What are they not doing at all?
- What was the overall experience, how did it make you (the mystery-shopping customer) feel?
- What do they say about you as their competitor?
Once you have this data, I suggest you sit down with your team and ensure that they fully understand the key areas you have mystery-shopped and why you focused on these areas.
Next, review the results and ensure that everyone has clarity and understanding on what the data is telling you.
Then, develop a set of non-negotiable service standards that you and your team are prepared to provide every time, without fail or exception, that sets you aside from your competitors.
Remember you are a people business – internally and externally. You have a number of competitors in every marketplace. To the consumer you all look the same.
To take this further in your business, every six months mystery-shop your own people. Make sure they are delivering the service levels you expect of them.
Again, in a previous employment this is exactly what we did. We drilled down from the overall franchise group, to the office and lastly the agent, to find out ow they were delivering service.
It became a tool that could be used to keep existing employees on track. It was also part of the induction process to make new employees aware of ourservice expectations and it provided valuable feedback at one-on-ones on what they perhaps needed to work on to get a different result.
Here’s the thing – is what I am suggesting too hard? No, it’s not. What you need to decide to do, as a business owner, leader or manager in business, is to make the investment in your business and people so your consumer benefits and the return on investment is increased business.
Get it wrong and…
Whenever Richard Branson travels on his planes he talks to his passengers about their service experience. Did it meet their expectations? How can it be improved?
When was the last time you were a client of your business? When did you last ask your key stakeholders – your clients – how they felt about doing business with your people? But here is the catch: there isn’t any point in asking if you and your people are not clear on what it is you are supposed to deliver or how you want clients to feel.
Look at all the top brands in any country or community; they have all put significant effort in getting the brand experience right for their business, then getting the right people to deliver it. The alternative is haphazard delivery of service and hit-and-miss client experiences. Then long term you will blend into the ‘same as everyone else’ category in the provide then the focus goes away from the cost and towards the benefit of working with you.
If you do not have the right people on your team delivering the promised experiences, then you have two options: train them or move them on. Remember, the team is only as strong as its weakest member.