Maintaining customer engagement during the coronavirus outbreak – with Josh Phegan
Webinar recorded live on
International real estate trainer Josh Phegan joined us on 19th March for a practical session on how your business can adapt and keep running during the coronavirus outbreak, with a particular focus on staying in touch with customers. Josh covered managing your existing chains, conducting viewings, marketing to prospects, internal communications and much more.
Many of you fed back that this was a much needed, positive and pragmatic session. You can watch the full video above now or catch up on a transcript of Josh’s key points in the summary sections below.
Please note that this webinar was recorded before the government’s advice given on 23rd March for everyone to stay indoors unless necessary. Therefore some of Josh’s advice on viewings is no longer currently applicable.
Managing chains through to completion
How to deal with existing chains
We do know that this won’t last forever. There is a way that we did estate agency transactions prior to coronavirus turning up and there will be a way that we do estate agency transactions whilst coronavirus is around.
Everyone’s in this together. What people really need right now is someone to listen to them, a pragmatic approach on what they can do and to keep them fully informed of where things are at.
Your buyers and sellers need a strategic, innovative response from you. Not a reactive emotional one. That might mean you need to push the completion date out 30 / 60 / 90 days.
Ultimately, if the transaction isn’t going to come together then let it go. If it’s no longer going to work financially because the buyer’s circumstances change, there’s nothing you can do to force it to come together. The banks will stop it further down the line anyway.
What to say to your vendors and buyers
If I was calling a seller, I’d be saying “I’m just quickly checking in to see how you’re doing” and asking 2 key questions to get a gauge of the situation:
“Where are you guys at and how are you feeling about what’s going on?”
“What can we do to assist?”
That’s as simple as it needs to be. “We’ve spoken to your buyer and it looks as though they’re still proceeding at this point, however if there are any changes to their employment etc we’ll let you know immediately. We’re going to keep you up to date and be very clear about the outcomes and I want you know we’re doing everything we can to stay in touch with all parties and keep giving you pragmatic advice about what we can do.”
To the buyer, I’d be saying something like:
“I’ve spoken to the sellers. They’re more than keen to be flexible to work with you throughout the course of the sales process. We’d love to see you living in your new home when it’s appropriate to do so. We know we’re living in unprecedented times but what I would say to you is, when these times are done and you’re living in your new house, you’re going to be so happy that you’ve been able to move.”
I think the best thing you can do at the moment is when you’re outside work to turn the media off, turn social media off and spend time resting and relaxing. Sleep is a great builder of immunity. Build the energy to have really good conversations with people. When you’re talking to clients, be the positive ray of sunshine in their day.
Delivering bad news
Delivering tough news is not as hard as people feel. I always feel that you feel 200x better after you’ve had a confronting situation instead of holding back. It’s important though to soften the blow and be on the front foot. Try opening a bad conversation with something like
“What I need you to know is the information I’m about to have a conversation about is not what I’d want to be having a conversation about. However, it is my duty as your agent to inform you about where we’re at and what our next steps might be.”
Managing conversations with landlords and tenants
“Some of our tenants are worried about ongoing affordability, or have already been made redundant. How can we manage these conversations with landlords and tenants?”
Managing the conversation with landlords
Get on the front foot and start setting expectations with your landlords now. Call your tenant and understand their situation.
It might be a quick call just to say you’ve spoken to the tenant and at this stage everything is OK and they don’t perceive any issues in terms of affordability. But be open and tell your landlord to start thinking about what a mutual plan could be if things were to change for the tenant. Think about whether you can afford to offer a rent free period, a rent reduction or rent repayment programme in place once conditions return to normality.
This is where the human empathy part is massive. People will remember what you do for them in this time. It’s when people are in need that sets your business up for an almighty level of success. If you do have tenants and landlords that are elderly, then be gracious. Offer some humanity – a quick phone call or an offer to nip down to Tesco for them will work wonders.
Managing the conversation with tenants
“Tenants are calling to work in travel industry are worried about their rent being difficult to pay. How can we cope with these issues?”
We need to show compassion, whilst being very clear about what the law says and communicate clearly. Communication is the panacea here. Call the landlord and chat through your options. Ask the landlord what they want to do and make sure that’s legal. Can you work something in with them? If they’re good tenants, they will likely be willing to offer some compassion, accept what it is and try and work towards a solution.
“What should we do if we have international tenants who have already moved back home with months left on the contract and no intention to pay?”
Have a clear, honest conversation. My suggestion would be something like this. Phone them rather than email. “Hi it’s Josh your estate agent. I just thought I’d quickly check in. I noticed we’ve got some arrears on the property, is there anything I can do to help? Is there any conversations you want us to have on behalf of the landlord? What are your intentions going forward?”
Be very clear about what that looks like and then communicate that back to your landlord. With the new evictions legislation, there might not be a great deal you can do about it. Just be pragmatic and be human.
In times like this, getting on the phone can be key to avoid any potential misinterpretation in meaning or context that sometimes happen if you’re using email.
Viewings and valuations
“People are becoming more reluctant to do viewings or let us visit their property for a valuation. What advice do you have on managing the aspects of estate agents that require face to face contact?”
In Australia we’re being quite proactive about it. We’re booking viewings and asking the home owner or tenant how they feel about having people in the property and explaining our process for doing them safely. Before doing a viewings, we’re asking applicants and vendors:
Do you have cold and flu like symptoms?
Have you travelled internationally in the last 14 days?
Have you been diagnosed with coronavirus, or come into contact with someone who has?
If that’s all ok, we’re still taking people out. Once they’re at the property, we’re using hand sanitiser before they walk in and after they leave, and asking people to keep their hands in their pockets at all times.
On valuations, we’re narrowing down the amount of time we physically spend in the space and making it clear to sellers we’ll only be there a few minutes. We’re going for a 2-3 minute wander around and then going back out and doing a FaceTime from the car or back at home to talk more and effectively give the pitch.
We’ve found that consumers are in a positon right now where they are asking what to do. All they want is a plan. If there is the possibility, get photos taken, get it launched and get people qualified. There are still people that NEED to buy, for whatever reason. Your job is to facilitate what is there. Do not panic. At the end the day, the result (i.e. a sale) doesn’t change – but the mechanism for delivery might have to.
With the elderly, don’t forget them if they can’t do viewings in person or need to cancel a valuation meeting. Be a friend in times like this. Keep in contact until things tide over. If they don’t use video chat technology, just give them regular calls to check in and then you’ll be best placed to help them out again when this situation is over.
Use of video
“Are Skype viewings and video walk throughs just a gimmick? Do they actually sell any houses?”
Used at the right stage in the process, I don’t think they are a gimmick.
What you’ll see is that you’ll probably amplify the number of digital viewings that you’ll see on Rightmove – where your photos and videos of a property can shine. If someone is in a position where they’ve viewed a property previously and are now ready to proceed, Skype or FaceTime might be a good application for that. If someone is really keen to see a property, they’ll still do their best to try and come – and you could find that the viewings you do have will be of higher quality and buyers very keen to proceed. Your videos almost act as a filter to push people further down the funnel.
If you’re creating videos, what I would say is to try and make sure your walk-throughs are to the brand standard of how you’d want to present properties.
These video apps can also be used really well internally to keep your team engage and collectively solve problems.
The 'right' volume of communication
You can’t over-communicate at times like these.
Here’s a suggestion to use: “How would you like me to keep you informed? We’re sending a weekly update about changes happening inside the property industry, but did you want me to keep you more informed than that or is that ok? I need you to feel confident that if you need us to give us a quick call and we’ll come back to you as soon as is practical to talk about what we can do to alleviate your concerns.”
Now is the time to enhance your business model, optimise performance and focus on having deeper human connections. It’s the opportunity to pick up the phone and ring more people, or offer a FaceTime chat.
The way we sell and manage property will change forever after this and that is going to start with more people getting face to face via technology, realising the benefits of that, and continuing those practices afterwards.
Being productive when working from home
“As an Estate Agent, what can we actually do from home to make sure that we still function? What should negotiators do if they can’t do viewings?”
Spending your time at home productively
Call out as much as possible to build out an incredible pipeline. The Estate Agency industry is at the core and fabric of most communities. Call everyone for a check in. Clean up your data. Chat to people and have really good conversations. They’re locked away and needing some social interaction.
Have deeper conversations with people and offer your help to guide them through the process when they are ready. Once this is over and you open the gates, people are going to rush to move like there’s no tomorrow.
Stop being in your head. When you’re at your best, you’re out helping others. Ring every applicant you’ve had over the course of the year. Ring everyone who’s clicked on a property in your last email alert. Get out on the front foot to touch base. “Is there anything I can do to help or support?”
“Do you have any advice for working from home, in particular managing people at home without coming across as micromanaging?”
How to make the most of home working
Make sure you communicate with others in the household about the fact you’re working from home and what that’s going to look like.
Set up a private space to be able to work effectively (could be a desk or ideally a room).
Get dressed as if you’re going to work. It really helps you mentally.
Establish a powerful routine. A consistent start time is ideal. Lots of teams are hosting quick video conference calls first thing in the morning just to get everyone motivated.
Work in 45 minute sessions. Set a timer on your phone and see what you can get done.
Diary a quick check in with people at lunch time and again in the afternoon.
Ask people how they’d like to be managed during this period and set clear outcomes and what your expectations are of them in a given day. You might target them on number of meaningful conversations per day or numbers of details updated on your database.
Don’t go silent. Talk to others in your team and business more. Isolation and loneliness are one of the greatest killers of the heart. People need strong, consistent, level headed leadership in times like this and this is where you’ve got to deliver that. An agent I’m working has just filmed some videos with me, short motivational clips, to send out to their team every day for a few weeks. You can do something similar yourself for your teams to keep a routine going.
Marketing to prospects in this climate
An appropriate message and approach
“If new business dries up, how can we continue to market to prospects to keep building the pipeline for when the market picks up? What’s an appropriate message to use?”
Make sure your marketing is not cringe-worthy and too sales focussed. You need to be very clear that you’re here to help get things together. For example, some agents are printing and posting cards to people in the community for people to request help from them.
When speaking to people, we are not mentioning coronavirus. We’re saying “given what’s happening in the world, there’s a brand new way we’re doing Estate Agency. This is what we’re doing to make it easier as a tenant, buyer, landlord, seller” – then listing the specific initiatives we’re putting in place to be able to help people in those transactions.
New instructions may dry up but with the changing circumstances new people will be needing to move too that perhaps didn’t previously need to. Some people who’ve lost their jobs unfortunately will need to sell. Staying visible and active in the market will mean you’re on their radar.
Avoid touting other agents’ stock
“Is it a good time to tout for other agents stock?”
I’ve never been comfortable with going after someone else’s instruction. Do it more from a human connection point of view rather than trying to win business. Be a human first and an estate agent second. If it doesn’t feel right, you probably shouldn’t do it. If you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it to others. That’s truer now than ever. Be kind to fellow agents.
Don’t forget your landlords
In terms of getting new business, don’t forget to call your landlords. They may be in a position where they want to buy another property for their portfolio or need to offload one of their existing properties.
Seeing the positives
“Do you think there are any positives that can come out of the situation?”
Absolutely. We’re learning a bunch of useful new skills that will set us up well for the future:
How to work on the road and learn these digital tools
How to cope and how to build a high level of resilience
Learning daily how to adapt and be really good quality estate agents in this new world
Understanding the real value of spending quality time speaking to consumers
Above all we’re getting to spend time with our loved ones and family. We’re also learning the importance of social health of an organisation. People are very quickly missing those day to day little things involved in going to work. Imagine how much people are going to love getting back into the normal routines of life and appreciating what they were previously taking for granted.
Focus on building deeper relationships
When you stop doing actions you stop getting results. This is a time for action. Your clients expect it. Even if that’s about building deeper relationships, deepen the relationship if you can’t do the transaction. You’ll generate incredible referrals and win more business in the long term.