Writing | Business | Property | Social Change

Is the real estate industry ready to put the ‘U’ back into UX?

 

“Word of mouth is such an ancient, yet relevant, medium. Almost a century of broadcasting made it acceptable for experts and brands to speak ‘at’ us rather than ‘to’ us. Social media, far from being a new type of conversation, is more accurately a return to traditional, two-way conversation.”

 

As any proptech early-adapter knows, industry technology stops being about you and your team and your agency the day a decision is made to embrace it. Sure, the efficiencies are transformative but it is critical to remember that those efficiencies are great for you only because they are great for property consumers. Not all property consumers are your customers (in the past, this was an important distinction), but it would be foolish to think that means these consumers do not matter to your business. Until you understand and believe this for sure, please take my word for it — all property consumers matter, a lot. In fact, 2019 might just be the year that the property industry gets back to its roots of service, and translates that into a service-driven, digital offering.

 

So, what exactly is UX and why is it important for proptech?

 

At its simplest, user experience, or UX, is the process of designing and creating products and services that delight users. The acronym might be new but the concept certainly isn’t.

 

For estate agencies of the past, this might have involved a well-designed ‘For Sale’ board, with an easy to navigate window display, a friendly and informative receptionist, a keen (but never too keen) agent with perpetually-shined shoes and a freshly-vacuumed house to view that was easy to find and smelled like home baking.

 

Today’s property consumers are somewhat more demanding…

 

UX for the contemporary buyer, seller, landlord and tenant is more likely to involve compelling property images, descriptions and virtual tours, with cohesive agency branding and an intuitively designed, usable and functional online platform that facilitates scheduling of viewings, entry of bids, real-time information about competing bids and completion/uploading of all the necessary documentation.

 

Right now, traditional estate agents can claim a victory or competitive edge when delivering such a highly-digitised offering to the marketplace, but this is likely to be a short-lived victory. Within a [hopefully] short period of time, this offering will be the industry standard and agents must continue to find new ways to add value and to delight property consumers.

 

Last year, I likened online bidding platforms to the emergence of property portals almost two decades ago, in that agents simply do not have the choice to opt out. They must always go where the consumer is. Best practice would see them going there before their consumers expect and demand it, we are not quite there yet.

 

Isn’t it interesting to think that only a few decades ago, estate agents were the master sales and marketing professionals? Somewhere through the haze of a boom that got boomier and a bust that brought us to our knees, under-regulation then over-regulation killed the spark of creativity within the sector. I genuinely believe this happened long before technology became the threat de jour. And this is a shame. Given the suite of (mainly free) tools available for agents to perfect their property photos/videos, copywrite their descriptions and then share their offering with the buying public to maximum effect, there is absolutely no excuse for not doing this well. The same goes for communication tools and online bidding platforms.

 

There is no doubt that it can be difficult to stand out in a marketplace as highly competitive and multifaceted as real estate. PropTech has disrupted the norm for one very simple reason, that is, the sheer scale of inefficiencies that existed across the sector. It was, and remains, a rich environment for innovation and improvement, technology is merely a tool that can be used to achieve this. In practice, I can see clearly that this has been a more confusing time for agents than for their clients.

 

To cut through the confusion and proptech jargon, it might be helpful to look at what has not changed, that is, understanding that user experience is still key to attracting or perhaps, winning new customers. Word of mouth is still as strong as ever, however, this takes a slightly different shape now; it is more likely to be on a review website or comments on a social media platform rather than chat over the garden fence, but it is still word of mouth.

 

Opportunity for local thought leadership

 

Thought leaders are the ‘go to’ people who offer insights on specific topics, problems or trends. For local estate agents, this is about communicating their message with authenticity and credibility, which is essential to build trust. Whether it is by creating engaging content, speaking at local industry talks or an on-going social media presence, consistency is key in establishing a thought leadership voice within your industry and within your locality. Technology is the great enabler of this. Word of mouth is such an ancient, yet relevant, medium. Almost a century of broadcasting made it acceptable for experts and brands to speak ‘at’ us rather than ‘to’ us. Social media, far from being a new type of conversation, is more accurately a return to traditional, two-way conversation. This is how consumers today wish to be engaged; planning, construction and property professionals need to understand and accept this.

 

Finally, while keeping a focus on evolving UX, proptech and the virtual world, the big message for contemporary agents is not to neglect the people walking into the physical office after seeing the well-designed ‘For Sale’ board and easy to navigate window display, to chat to the friendly and informative receptionist to view that freshly-vacuumed house with the shine-shoed agent.

 

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