Who is as seamless as Uber in Irish real estate?
1 Uber-like experience out of 59 businesses. 5 ways for the other real estate businesses to increase customer satisfaction
I bought a house for the first time last year and as you may have experienced yourself or heard from any friend of yours who recently bought one, a house purchase involves way too many steps and a lot of due diligence. I was on the look for interesting businesses or opportunities during that process and would like to share about one company that I felt was an Uber of the real estate industry out of 59 companies I surveyed.
I learnt a lot from analyzing businesses in this way and hope you find it insightful too. We’ll start by unraveling the steps in a customer’s journey and look at examples of this or a peer business doing it right. Lastly, we will combine the learnings to recommend 5 ways for real estate businesses to increase C-SAT (customer satisfaction), win more customers, and increase revenue.
There’s a TL;DR version below.
What’s the TL;DR?
This business, PHC, has the highest number of customer reviews which makes it rank high on web searches. It provides a self-service sign-up, automated pricing calculation, and a sample product before customers can pay online. The delivery is very quick. Lastly, they provide delivery of a product that feels exhaustive yet highlights the key actions for the customer.
Now onto a more descriptive explanation.
What do I mean by “Uber of X”?
Back in my business school’s venture accelerator, I heard many non-technical entrepreneurs desiring to build an app to do X and the app should be as seamless, smooth, and easy as Uber’s app. Similarly, when doing product casing for interviews, I followed the practice of not naming apps such as Uber as my favorite apps, as it would be hard to suggest 10x improvements on such an app.
When I say an “Uber” of the real estate industry, I mean a business that is 10x vs peers:
Easy and informational onboarding,
Valuable product offering
I’m referring to Property Health Check (I’ll shorten it to PHC), a surveyor in Dublin, Ireland. I used them and although I don’t even remember writing a review for them online, I found their business practices to be interesting enough to write an article on them. Most of my audience is outside Ireland, so I don’t expect this to change purchase decisions for my readers or for anyone to assume this is a sponsored article (indeed, it isn’t).
Breaking down the Customer Acquisition Funnel
Let’s look at each step of the Customer Acquisition Funnel for a business solving some need in real estate purchase and compare PHC vs 58 other businesses at each step.
I’ll assume most of the search happens through Google since StatCounter says Google’s market share in Ireland is 95%. Let’s look at these criteria:
Google Ads on Web Search
Google Web search
Word-of-mouth mentions in Reviews
Let’s break down each:
Google Trends shows that “surveyor” is the most common term people search for.
Searching for “surveyor” or “surveyor Dublin” shows 4 ads per refresh, but none of the ads are for PHC. This seems like an opportunity to grow.
Web Search seems to prioritize some surveyors closer to me although not as highly rated, which brings us to ratings/reviews…
The most number of reviews (900+) with just as high a rating is of PHC whereas 80% of the businesses had less than 100 reviews and only 10 others had more than 100 reviews.
I analyzed the number of reviews that mentioned phrases like “on the recommendation of a friend”, “friend”, or “recommendation” and saw almost no reviews for most businesses. Only 5 out of 900 reviews for PHC seem to be word-of-mouth whereas iSurv had 3 out of 400 reviews. The numbers are too small to be used for statistics. I called one surveyor, Snag List, who mentioned most of his business comes from word-of-mouth, not his website.
Consideration and Engage
Most of the top surveyors either have no call-to-action (CTA) on their homepage or their CTA is to contact the business via a phone call. One competitor and PHC’s landing pages have a CTA of getting a quote and an online form to automatically get a quote. A third competitor makes it easy to request their sample report by entering your email, but the page never loaded for me, so I couldn’t test it out. A fourth competitor had the best transparency in pricing I saw across any of these websites. The rest of the businesses out of the 59 I surveyed had no self-service capability or pricing availability.
PHC had a 4-step process once you arrive on their landing page:
Select the type of survey you want.
Fill in structural information about the property, some of which might require reaching out to the selling agents.
Receive automated pricing quotation in the email along with a sample report showcasing the work quality.
Pay the quotation for customer service to reach out to schedule a visit.
How did this compare with other surveyors or other types of businesses working in real estate? Most of the other businesses had these 4 issues:
Had no self-service flow for showing interest.
Need to be called and usually redirect customers to voicemail and yet they do not respond to emails either.
Have a long latency in availability from when the service is booked
Need card details over the phone with no transparent pricing
Three aspects of the delivery stand out:
Minimal delays between booking the service and delivery of the service. 2 days vs 2 weeks. This is probably achieved by having some buffer in their agents’ capacity. Many other businesses are one-person shops so their service is not available until weeks after booking the service until the one person can make time.
A 60+ page detailed report which makes it feel more comprehensive and exhaustive work. Looking at the properties of the PDF report, I can see the software used in Home Inspector Pro. In comparison, another surveyor’s report is an unformatted 4-page document.
Usage of the report is simple, despite the technical nature of the work. This is achieved by color-coding actions that are must-have or nice-to-do.
What would a customer want after the delivery of such a service during a real estate purchase? I observed that I might have
Clarifying or follow-up questions given most buyers have not done this more than a few times (or ever before).
Follow-up work such as special survey, construction work, and maintenance via a tradesman
The two things done well here by PHC are:
Responsive customer service; the service representative also reconnected me with the surveyor agent to answer my questions, which wow-ed me because often customer service teams shield the other expert teams.
Access to a new portal MyDen which provides reminders for household maintenance like roof cleaning and tradesmen contacts. This also provides a cross-sell opportunity later, which increases the average customer lifetime value (CLV).
How can we improve PHC’s business?
Discovery: PHC has reviews but not sufficient SEO or AdWords. Their SEO could benefit from local offices that get highlighted in Google maps, alternatively, they can focus on AdWords in high-value areas such as Dublin. Although their reviews provide a free channel of discovery for customers, if they have more bandwidth then testing AdWords could reduce business going to competitors, as the AdWords seems like a zero-sum game. Improve word of mouth discovery by partnering with sell-side real estate agents and mortgage brokers, as well as offering a referral discount to customers for future service.
Consideration: I tested the onboarding with dummy data and dropped-off but got no follow-up. So, they should make tweaks to their self-service flow to email customers who drop-off in the funnel. Provide prices online transparently, but if not possible, provide a range of prices that the customer might incur for a service.
Engage: Review SMS usage. SMS has higher clickthrough rates than email. If emails are not opened in some time, send the customer the next follow-up on SMS. Apart from email and SMS, the rates, sample report, and payment link could be shown on the website itself so that there is less friction for the customer to go from consideration to checkout.
Delivery: I could not think of any improvement here.
Service: If not already, build an IVR using a solution like Twilio IVR, to be able to categorize inbound calls, route calls, and encourage voicemails instead of dropping-off due to the wait time. Scheduling callbacks will make the service volumes smoother hence requiring fewer service agents.
5 ways for real estate businesses to increase customer satisfaction
I’ll combine the best practices and deficiencies we identified in the earlier sections. Small real estate businesses can improve in 5 ways:
Improve Discovery by engaging Word of mouth sharing via sell-side real-estate agents and mortgage brokers.
Quicken Consideration by providing transparent rates where possible. Where not possible, explain the factors that determine the rates and expected time for the customer to receive a quote.
Accelerate Engagement by providing a self-service web form for customers to provide their contact and house information so that an automated outreach can start.
Boost Delivery by a) using a tool such as Calendly to make scheduling self-service, where possible. b) using a template software such as Home Inspector Pro to create a report with more details in less time. Also, improve the availability of the agents for home visits by delegating tasks to virtual assistants. For sole trader businesses, hiring multiple virtual assistants to handle 1) accounting, 2) scheduling, and 3) finalizing reports.
Improve post-sales Service by buying an off-the-shelf IVRS or, at the very least, configuring voicemail along with a daily schedule to respond to voicemails. Provide an email ID and schedule a regular time to respond to inbound queries. This will reduce the uncertainty faced by customers when reaching back to the business.