Well, 2021 was quite the year for the property industry in Australia (make it two years, really), with COVID restrictions deployed across the country. Indeed, it was only in November last year that Melbourne came out of its sixth lockdown after almost 300 days under restrictions enforced during the pandemic.
It goes without saying that real estate decisions are among the most stressful activities that most people will get to experience in their lives – they’re huge financial decisions, often with a lot of risk attached – and this element of trust between a real estate agent and their customer really became only more essential when the market faced these new challenges.
For consumers, in particular, trust has never been so important, but why did it become such an essential part of the real estate industry in 2021? I’d like to take a quick look at that question, and I’ll offer five tips drawn from within our recent Consumer (R)evolution report on how agents can build trust and reap the benefits in 2022.
Trust is a premium value for the evolving consumer
Over 2020-21, the expectations and demands for both business and consumers (across almost every industry, not just real estate, went through a considerable period of change. Now, not every consumer changed, sure, but many of them did. This change was highlighted profoundly in a 2021 study by Accenture of more than 25,000 consumers across 22 countries into the motivations that matter for today’s consumers found that 50 per cent of consumers in the study had re-evaluated what they valued in life and their expectations when dealing with businesses.
This group was aptly named by Accenture as the “Reimagined”: consumers so firmly rooted in their expectations that they will leave brands that don’t recognise their new priorities – and they’re willing to pay more for those that do.
The key finding of this study was that consumers are increasingly more invested in the integrity of the company (or individuals) that they engage with – with trust and reputation, especially so when it comes to services. For high-value, high-risk decisions like buying or selling a property, that personal investment multiplies greatly, as emphasised by a survey from the public relations and marketing consultancy firm Edelman found that 81 per cent of consumers need to be able to trust a brand in order to buy from them, a high figure indeed, though it should certainly not be a surprising one!
Trust is certainly a critical accelerator in the customer journey, and for consumers today, there are so many fantastic agents to choose who to approach when they’re ready to enter the market, as such, agents who are open about what they offer and can showcase positive examples of their successful services will demonstrate considerable value for consumers in a highly competitive market. Consumers will certainly have a keen eye on an agent’s transparency about their services and the credibility that comes along with it.
This really has come to the fore in recent years, as increasingly digitally savvy generations have access to reviews and testimonials that showcase agent values and credibility at the click of a button – 90 per cent of consumers use online reviews before visiting a business, and 86 per cent of consumers will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative online reviews.
With consumers more than ever relying on online reviews and recommendations to help them determine which agent they might go with when they want to buy or sell a home, agents who are transparent and can showcase their credibility will set themselves up as the go-to trusted real estate companion for their customers in 2022.
Five tips for building and retaining trust
I mentioned at the start that I would offer five tips for building trust at the start of this piece, and here they are direct from our recent report on the Consumer (R)evolution. These tips are summarised from the full report but can help agents with their trust-building activities to attract, engage and retain customers:
Have a good website to showcase your values and credibility
Fifty-three per cent of all consumers do their own research before they approach you for a purchase, which makes a strong, dynamic website essential for real estate agents. A good website will help demonstrate your values and services and serve as a powerful influence for why a potential customer should go with you over another agent.
Showcase your credibility with reviews and testimonials
Your personal brand is key to building trust and attracting consumers in 2022. Buying and selling a home are big decisions, and potential customers will care very deeply that their agent will care for them.
According to a report from Sprout Social, 53 per cent of consumers are more likely to consider brands that are transparent, so featuring positive reviews and testimonials on your website will help customers to value your service and to build trust.
Customise each journey for a unique customer experience
Warren Buffett famously said that it takes “20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”; a negative experience can break trust extremely quickly and undermine your reputation. Such words couldn’t be truer, as a 2021 study from Zendesk discovered that 80 per cent of customers will switch to a competitor after just one bad experience.
That same study found that 50 per cent of Australian consumers feel a good customer experience is more important to them now compared to a year ago, which means that agents should use all the tools at their disposable, including available technology, to personalise each customer experience and build a close personal connection with the customer.
Maintain trust with good service and transparency
The economist Theodore Levitt wrote that “the purpose of any business is to create and keep a customer”. Well, according to HubSpot, 93 per cent of customers are more likely to be repeat customers at companies with excellent customer service.
We know that honesty and transparency are very important values; the more value agents can offer their customers, the more likely the customer will feel the agent can be trusted.
So, make sure the service you offer your customers is as good as you can make it, and be open about challenges that may arise during the journey.
Be human and empathetic above all
PwC research found that 81 per cent of Australian consumers want to interact with a real person more as technology improves, so agents shouldn’t rely solely on technology to build and maintain trust.
Ultimately, technology is just a tool, so go out and find the best technology on the market that will make the customer journey a success, but then the real focus should be on delivering a great customer experience that’s only possible with face-to-face human engagement: the old-fashioned way, that will never go out of fashion.
Trust has been around as long as humanity has, and in the age of digital exposure, it’s never been so important. Early last year, the highly regarded real estate coach Tom Panos said: “At the end of the day, TRUST is your superpower in 2021.” And I firmly believe that it’s still going to be the agent’s best superpower in 2022.
Eddie Cetin is the APAC chairman of Reapit.