OPINION - Building credibility through innovation

The days of simply expecting your clients’ trust are long gone, says Ray White director Ben White

There has always been a great deal of discussion and effort directed at making real estate agents more effective and more productive. Innovations in ideas and tools have made agents more responsive, more productive and more attuned to the needs of their clients.

What has often been missing, in my view, is a discussion about how a good agent can get credit for actually being better. Credibility has been the forgotten half of change in our industry.

I argue that our industry is a ‘market for lemons’, a term given to a small group of industries in which the basic laws of business are apparently turned upside down. In short, the bad spoil our collective reputation, it is hard for members of the public to tell good agents from bad, our customers decide they can trust no-one and so assume the worst, and agents then interpret their clients as being price sensitive and seeking ‘cheap’ deals.

If we are in a lemons’ market, then we need to recognise we don’t just have to worry about being good, we have to prove credibly that we are good.

A good example of this is the routine inspection of a rental property. There is a well understood process for efficiently and effectively performing an inspection, and plenty of training options to support agents.

One thing I know is that even if a property manager follows all those tips and processes, the landlord will not give the agent any credit for doing the work. The landlord can’t tell whether you’ve done the work well, or at all, and so will discount your effort.

Absent credible proof, you might as well not do the inspection at all and claim the productivity gain that you are after!

This is how 80 per cent of our clients think. I know because we have conducted a significant qualitative and quantitative consumer research study into precisely this issue.

The research shows that we, as an industry, do not have the right to ask our clients to ‘trust’ us. I call this ‘trust through loyalty’.

This loss of trust through loyalty is nothing to panic about; it simply reflects broader consumer trends that the whole community is experiencing. The truth is that few industries can ask for this kind of trust, simply because few of us would give it to anyone else. We want to be able to check up on things, do our own research, and get another opinion on things that just don’t seem right.

Everyone is dealing with this dynamic: agents, travel agents, airlines, banks, journalists and governments. The industries that are best navigating these changes are the ones that are using technology to get closer to their customers, not to hide things from them.

I call this ‘trust through transparency’.

How would this look in our industry? Take the routine inspection example described above. We developed Field Agent, our mobile inspection app, not just to save the property manager time but also to give them the ability to prove to their landlord that the work was done – and more importantly, done well.

Last month, Field Agent performed over 10,000 inspections and the feedback from landlords has been encouraging: “Thank you. Great job,” is the most common response.

What a difference.

Technology and innovation must be judged not just by whether they save you time or help you be a good agent, but also on whether you get credit for being good. Giving your clients transparency will give you credibility. It is the pathway to where we, as an industry, need to go.

By Ben White, Director, Ray White Group

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