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Strengthening accountability to improve service standards

Property agencies' service-oriented approach and service recovery frameworks restore clients' trust and confidence when lapses occur.

A smooth and hassle-free property transaction is what everyone hopes for – regardless whether we are consumers or property professionals.

In reality however, things do sometimes go wrong. Conflicts can arise between clients and property agents due to simple misunderstandings, poor communication, or more serious service lapses. Such negative experiences can unfortunately damage the standing and reputation of the real estate agency industry and its professionals.

It is thus important for property agencies and Key Executive Officers (KEOs) to instil a service-oriented mind set amongst agents, and take firm and fair action to address service lapses promptly.

We are heartened to know of property agencies who have put in place frameworks to strengthen accountability for their agents’ actions and set things right when glitches occur. Through their service-oriented approach and practices, these agencies have proactively taken steps to restore their clients’ trust and confidence.

We highlight two agencies in this issue of CEAnergy.

Serving with passion and integrity

REA Realty Network Pte Ltd, KEO Winston Woon says that serving with passion and integrity enables its agents to exceed customers' expectations.

Over at REA Realty Network Pte Ltd, KEO Winston Woon shared that its agents “must have the passion to serve and deliver service with a high level of competency and professional integrity.” Only through this can its agents exceed customers’ expectations.

“The passion to serve is one of our basic traits, and to deliver our services with complete honesty and sincerity is a prerequisite for every agent,” added Mr Woon.

Every piece of feedback and complaint is taken seriously and viewed as an opportunity for the company to learn and improve its service performance standards.

Mr Woon said that the agency responds to any feedback or complaint within 24 hours. The company identifies the cause of the issue together with the client and agent involved. It offers immediate assistance and takes actions to rectify any shortcomings according to industry standards. It also seeks to fulfil contractual terms.

Listening to the views of parties involved allows the agency to seek common ground for an outcome that both parties are comfortable with.

Mr Woon recently handled a complaint from a landlord client who engaged an agent from his company to handle the re-contracting of her HDB residential unit. The client was unhappy that the agent had failed to do the necessary due diligence checks. In addition, the agent did not complete the necessary paperwork satisfactorily.

The agency’s investigations uncovered that there were indeed several lapses on the agent’s part. She did not comply with several practice requirements and had demonstrated a poor service attitude. The company reached out to the client, successfully mediated, and completed all outstanding documentation required to close the transaction.

The KEO issued the agent with a stern written warning that outlined the specific areas in which she had failed to carry out her duties. She had to attend specific Continuing Professional Development courses to improve on her knowledge of service guidelines and standards. She was also required to seek guidance from her supervisors before entering into any transactions prior to completing the courses.

Here are some of the many initiatives REA Realty Network Pte Ltd has put in place to encourage greater accountability and instil positive service values among its agents and staff:

  • Submission of and checks on transaction records: Every agent must submit all relevant information and documentation pertaining to each property transaction to the firm. The agency’s administrator ensures that submissions are in accordance with Standard Operating Procedures. If any information or document is lacking, the company will reject the transaction and the agent must make the necessary rectifications.
  • Quarterly KEO briefing sessions: Besides providing agents with the latest market updates, the KEO shares relevant case studies and measures to prevent disputes with clients and co-broking agents.
  • Shared accountability: Group leaders guide agents in their teams in their daily work and are accountable for their team members’ actions.
  • Recognising good service, and not just productivity: “Top producers may have their awards withdrawn if they are found to have lapses in any area of service,” said Mr Woon.
  • Monthly “Coffee with the Boss”: An initiative undertaken by Mr Woon personally to gather informal feedback from his agents.

“Dealing with service-related complaints need not be a complicated process”

This is OrangeTee KEO Michael Tan’s philosophy when it comes to dealing with service-related complaints concerning agents from the company.

Mr Tan told CEAnergy that his agency adopts a three-step approach to achieve “efficient, fair, and transparent outcomes” for such complaints.

“We would first send an acknowledgement to the client and invite all parties to submit their written statements together with supporting documents. We would then provide preliminary advice to all parties and encourage them to resolve the matter amicably. Finally, we set up a face-to-face meeting to establish a win-win outcome.”

Mr Tan believes that communication is key when it comes to understanding the issues. This is why the company strongly advocates having a platform for all parties to meet in person.

Earlier this year, OrangeTee applied their three-step approach to resolve a tenant-landlord dispute over the tenancy terms.

A client had engaged one of OrangeTee’s agents to help rent a space for his business. The agent had presented the client with a Letter of Intent stating the monthly rental and security deposit required. The client signed the document and put down a deposit.

OrangeTee's KEO Michael Tan believes that happy customers will yield more customers for the company.

However, the client realised during the subsequent signing of the tenancy agreement that the monthly rental and total security rental amounts were higher. There were also clauses in the agreement that the client felt were not to his advantage. In view of this, the client did not want to proceed with the deal and requested for the landlord to return his deposit. The landlord, however, did not agree to his request.

While tenant-landlord disputes do not come under the agency’s purview, OrangeTee stepped in to facilitate discussions between the parties.

Mr Tan said that the agency first sought to understood the facts from the parties involved in order to identify the root cause of the dispute. The company then provided “proper…fair and reasonable” advice to all parties by convincing them on the acceptable market practices. The case was subsequently resolved and the landlord returned the security deposit to the client.

“Being able to assist all parties in any dispute even if it does not fall under our agency’s purview has been part of our key service excellence philosophy. We believe happy customers will yield more customers for OrangeTee through their testimonials,” said Mr Tan.

OrangeTee has put in place a four-phase system to support and monitor agents who have fallen short of the agency’s service standards, or who have breached regulations:

  • Advisory: The agency advises the agent on the aspects of the practice guidelines that he failed to comply with. This will be followed with an advisory letter to the agent to ensure that the advice is properly communicated and understood.
  • Training: To ensure that the agent is fully conversant with the regulations, OrangeTee requires the individual to attend relevant knowledge and competency training.
  • Monitoring: The agent’s manager mentors and monitors him for three to six months and assesses his competency in carrying out estate agency work.
  • Reporting: The agent’s manager submits a report to OrangeTee management on the agent’s performance for evaluation.