The customer might not be right – but you’d
better not be wrong.

Miles Shipside of Rightmove gave an excellent presentation at the My Home Move conference last week highlighting some research that lots of agents might find uncomfortable reading.

In particular it suggests that the things many agents believe give them a clear point of difference are not valued or considerably undervalued by homeowners. It reminded me of the video tape wars in the 1980’s when Betamax fought VHS on the basis their system was of higher quality but actually what lost them the fight was VHS becoming ubiquitous. Similarly in the 1990’s, when the superior quality of BSB lost out to the better distributed SKY. In each case the customer made their decision based on factors other than quality and I fear that a similar battle might be underway in agency.

Rightmove asked customers to break down an agents fee by the value they attached to different components. Property marketing was valued at 49% whereas property valuation scored just 6% and sales progression only 8%. Could this be because the homeowner, mistakenly or not, (having access to a wealth of house price data from the portals, EAs and the land registry), believes they can work out their property value for themselves? And might their ignorance of home moving issues, (in particular that almost half of the properties listed for sale don’t complete within 12 months with 25-30% of sales falling through), result in their believing when hearing of the potential pitfalls “it won’t happen to me”? As many homeowners think their property is “special” and therefore worth more, could this explain why they attach a disproportionate value to the way it’s presented when marketed for sale/to let?

Customers are only interested in themselves, their pleasures and avoidance of pain. Take health, lets face it, an even more important issue than home moving. Why bother going to the doctor when you can save time and maybe money too, by googling the issue and getting the answers immediately, (and the meds too in many cases)? Similarly insurance, travel and nearly everything retailed. Businesses must understand that customers drive change and aren’t always what they might appear to be or even, some might argue, should be.

There are many examples of business failure when companies don’t understand their customers’ drivers properly. For example, every single “Business class only” airline has failed despite aviation executives believing this is what customers want, (in this case they underestimated the value customers felt of being “superior” compared with their fellow economy passengers). More recently take Jaeger, the latest of many retailers that haven’t adapted to deliver an online service quickly or smartly enough, whose high street shops have lost money for five consecutive years and despite this length of time to turn things around have clearly been in denial and almost paralysed from taking the appropriate action.

For EAs with a “traditional model” the Rightmove research suggests two courses of action:

1. Property marketing is important to the customer and whether you believe things such as professionally taken photographs and floor plans are necessary to attract a buyer/renter or not, the customer clearly does. You need to make all your properties stand out and present them as if they were your own.

2. Far too many home sellers and landlords will experience pain but don’t believe it will happen to them. So it’s your job to make sure they are truly aware of the probability that things could go wrong and therefore what they’re paying you extra for is an insurance policy – to have the expert advisor on hand for every situation. Instead of promising a “hassle free move”, which you can’t deliver anyway, instead highlight the many pitfalls and how they need a trusted advisor rather than a transactional agent to be by their side.

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