Franchise boss identifies massive gap in the market

The CEO of one of Australia’s largest real estate networks has explained why technology is not his main priority in 2016.

LJ Hooker CEO Grant Harrod told REB the group conducted a significant amount of research throughout 2015, based on feedback from nearly 16,000 customers, to identify what people look for in a real estate agent.

“There are a lot of ad hoc comments made about the real estate industry, often not always positive,” Mr Harrod said.

“Some of it is justified, but what came back to us with that study is that the role of an agent is highly valued and there is plenty of room for improvement.

“Really, no one is seen as being the great customer experience brand, office or network to the extent that you would probably credit Virgin as being the customer experience leader in the air travel world. There is no equivalent in the real estate world.”

LJ Hooker has now firmly positioned itself to become the leader of the pack in terms of customer experience.

One of the first initiatives the group launched is a “customer voice” platform, allowing customers to provide feedback on all aspects of the business.

“We hadn’t been giving our customers the opportunity to appraise our performance at every transaction,” Mr Harrod said. “They now can – whether it’s a sale, purchase or a rental.”

While property management is often overlooked in the real estate business, particularly in favour of big sales volumes, Mr Harrod said the views of tenants are critical when measuring customer experience.

“I don’t think the industry looks at satisfaction levels from a tenant’s perspective. Interestingly, almost 70 per cent of tenants begin their property journey in a rental and that is when they start forming their views about brands,” he said.

“Those views will often live with them for a lifetime.”

LJ Hooker is now inviting tenants to rate the group's performance and whether or not it has delivered.

Meanwhile, the franchise is actively reviewing listings lost to its competitors and identifying what went wrong.

“We are being very transparent and putting those mechanisms in place to receive feedback form customers at every level,” Mr Harrod said.

“Generally, the feedback has been good, but there is plenty of room for improvement. We are rolling out a range of platforms to extend the brand experience."

The LJ Hooker chief said recognition for customer experience is now the group’s most prestigious honour at its awards event, trumping highest volume and sales-based awards, which had previously been held in higher esteem by the group and its agents.

Asked whether technology plays an important role in the group’s new customer experience focus, Mr Harrod told REB there is a real risk that agents can hide behind platforms rather than build relationships with their clients.

“I cut my teeth in sales in a world where all you had was a telephone and a telex machine,” he said. “You look at all the channels available today and it makes it that much harder for salespeople. There is also the risk that they can abdicate some ownership."

Mr Harrod said one of the criticisms that came through in the group’s research was that agents don't spend enough time building rapport.

“Customers actually want a relationship,” he said. "We talk about the disruption to our industry and obviously technology is playing a bigger part, but it is an enabler, it is not a business model in itself.

“The business model is one human being supporting, serving, interacting and building relationships with another human being.”

Last month the franchise launched the LJ Hooker Assist concierge service to strengthen the ongoing relationship between the brand and its customers, providing access to an extensive range of utility disconnection and reconnection providers, telcos, pay TV and data services at competitive market rates.

The service also includes organising customers’ home and contents insurance, storage, removalists and home loan finance.

[Related: LJ Hooker reveals new business model]

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