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Boots Batters ASOS in Customer Service Stakes

April 11, 2011

First published at http://prsupdate.co.uk/

Customer service has been high on my hit list for as long as I can remember – and it’s been even more of a priority since we switched to rewarding our Young London letting agency’s property consultants based on their customer service feedback scores, not on commission.

It was a radical departure from the traditional agency model and is already reaping rewards – but plainly it’s only successful if you’re delivering great customer service.

The retail sector’s generally thought to be head and shoulders above most property companies in terms of customer service. In fact, we’ve actively recruited staff with retail backgrounds on the basis of their customer service skills over those with relevant property experience; but retail doesn’t always get it right.

Even ASOS, a company widely considered to be one of the most successful online retail success stories, can get the basics wrong sometimes – I suspect through over-reliance on automated systems, over-promising and miscommunication. For example, returning two suits a few weeks ago, the return was collected as promised, but it took almost 3 weeks to acknowledge that 3 of the 4 separate items had got back to the depot (and a refund for those 3 items followed relatively soon afterwards), swiftly followed by an email from me asking about the whereabouts of item no. 4′s refund.

An acknowledgement email of your query to customer services is great – even better when they promise to respond within 4 hours. But it all goes to waste when 4 hours approaches 24. It becomes a bit irritating and flies in the face of one of the most basic customer service tenets ‘don’t over-promise and then under deliver.’

Communication is another vital element of good customer service. When it falls down, it’s not only frustrating, but can also induce unbridled anger! In the case of my recent experience with ASOS, don’t begin by indicating that one of two identical items was marked as non-returnable on the emailed order confirmation if it wasn’t (especially if the email confirmation hasn’t been deleted yet!). And then don’t change the story and say that the (unworn, labelled and tagged) item was damaged upon return, when it clearly wasn’t… It’s frustrating and avoidable.

But in contrast, get it right and you can make grumpy people very happy indeed – like Boots have done. You might think I’m a serial correspondent to customer service departments, but these two examples span a whole year, honestly!

Last summer, I despondently returned to the office without the crisps that I’d grown quite fond of from Boots, after being told they didn’t stock them anymore (it seems I was just about the only person who bought them). A helpful colleague wittily suggested I write and let Boots know how disappointed I was – and with 2 minutes to spare, I called their bluff and did. I had a prompt, polite, understanding (if generic) email back from Boots and thought nothing more of it…

Until a few months later when another email arrived telling me that they’d reviewed their product range and were restocking my crisps at my nearest branch! It wasn’t the fact that I now had access to a ready supply of very hard to find crisps that made me so happy, it was the fact that Boots had remembered (or their database had) and they’d taken the time to let me know. In turn I became a one-man marketing campaign and told anyone that would listen! It made me feel appreciated and valued – and that’s what good customer service is all about.

Get the basics right and the goodwill you generate will travel far. Get them wrong and you might irritate someone enough to write a blog about it…

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UK Landlords are Regulation-Ready

April 15, 2010

Whilst regulation of the residential property sector remains hotly debated it appears that landlords are ready to embrace regulation.  Results from property portfolio manager, Young Group’s, latest Young Index poll show that eight out of ten landlords believe the residential property sector should be regulated in some way.

The appetite for regulation appears to be very strong and interestingly, 68% of landlords say they’re ready to be regulated themselves.

Almost all landlords polled (93%) believe that estate agents and letting agents should be regulated, with 86% believing that regulation should extend to individual agents themselves, not just the businesses that they work for.

Neil Young, CEO of Young Group and estate agency Young London, comments; “I find it criminal that a sector responsible for the largest purchase that most of us will make in our lifetime is unregulated.  Even more worryingly, lettings agencies are not subject to regulatory legislation either.  Unlike estate agencies, letting agencies routinely receive – and hold – clients’ money directly and are also involved in drafting legally binding contracts  Both of these elements are handled by solicitors during purchase transactions, not by estate agents.

“Robust regulation and methods of redress that have the teeth to make an impact are long overdue in the residential property sector; a sector which, despite the exemplary efforts of many professional and reputable agencies, is marred by the actions of a significant minority of rogue agents.”

But all of the main political parties have been loathed to commit to detailed manifesto pledges regarding housing and in particular, housing within the private rented sector.  The main differences are that Labour has adopted a strategy of pushing ahead with regulatory reforms, whereas the Conservative party is touting a markedly lighter touch which includes  and devolution of bureaucracy to a much more local level.  One notable difference is that the Labour party has pledged to introduce a national register of landlords, although as ever, the devil will be in the detail.

There appears to be a dichotomy between landlords being keen for regulation, but thinking that a Conservative government has the policies that would be most beneficial to them (when polled, 84% of landlords said favoured Conservative policies).

As ever, only time will tell…

Landlords Braced for Base Rate Rise

April 9, 2010

Yesterday, the Bank of England’s decision to hold the Base Rate at 0.5% for the 13th consecutive month came as no real surprise given the weak economic backdrop and a reduction in the headline inflation rate.  The rate is unlikely to change in the short term.

But looking over a slightly longer term view, the consensus among landlords is for a slow, steady rise in base rate over the next twelve months.

Young Group’s latest Young Index which polls 500 UK residential landlords each quarter, reveals that the average expectation for base rate in Q1 2011 now stands at 1.25%.

Unsurprisingly, almost all respondents (94%) expect the Bank of England base rate to be higher than the current all time low of 0.5% by the beginning of 2011.  But what is interesting is that although landlords are clearly expecting a rise to take place during the next 12 months, they don’t expect that rise to be a large one.

10% of respondents believe that base rate will have risen to more than 2.0% by Q1 2011 (up from 6% last quarter) but only 1% expect the base rate to have risen to in excess of 3% by this time next year – still well below the long term average of 5.0%.

The new Young Index data shows that the average base rate expectation for Q1 2011 stands at 1.25%, a slight rise from the 1.1% predicted for Q4 2010 in last quarter’s Index.

Base rate expectation

Base Rate Expectation

To view the entire Young Index Q1 2010 results, including price outlook, political preference and landlords’ views on regulation, visit:

http://www.younggroup.co.uk/downloads/PrivateRentedSectorMarketUpdate.pdf

The Politics of Property

April 7, 2010

Each quarter, Young Group, carries out its Young Index survey; we poll 500 UK landlords on their views of the property market.

This quarter, with the election looming, took the opportunity to ask which political party’s policies would bring most benefit to private residential landlords in the UK.  The results were even more emphatic than we expected…

Of the 500 landlords polled, all of whom own residential property in the UK, 84% of respondents believe that that a Conservative government have the policies to bring the greatest benefit to residential landlords.

This contrasts with 13% of landlords who expect a Labour government to create the right conditions for the private rented sector to flourish.

Of the three main political parties, the Liberal Democrats appear to be languishing far behind in third place in the eyes of property investors.  Only 3% believe that the Liberal Democrats would be good news for landlords.

Political Poll Result - Pie Chart

To view the entire Young Index Q1 2010 results, including price outlook, interest rate expectation and landlords’ views on regulation, visit:
http://www.younggroup.co.uk/downloads/PrivateRentedSectorMarketUpdate.pdf

The Ups and Downs of Houseprices

March 25, 2010

Richard Donnell, Director of Research for Hometrack delves into the latest houseprice data in Young Group’s latest London Update.

House price rise continues but 2010 gets off to a slow start…House prices rose by 0.3% over February, but Hometrack caution that price rises alone are not indicative of strong foundations as the 2010 housing market gets off to a slow start.

February is traditionally a month when the Hometrack survey registers significant growth in the number of sales agreed – over the last eight years the growth in sales agreed over February has averaged 30%. Yet this year the number of sales agreed has averaged just 10%.

While it is important to not read too much into one month’s set of figures, the survey also reveals below average increases in both the amount of new housing for sale and new buyer registrations.

The supply of homes for sale may have grown by 4.6% but the average increase over the same month in previous years has been 14%. Buyer registrations have increased by 8.3% this month compared to an average of 24% in the same month over the last 8 years.

Despite the broad evidence of sluggish market activity, price pressures are feeding through more strongly than was the case in the second half of 2009. Average prices are up 0.3% over February and by 0.4% in the last 12 months – the first year on year rise since March 2008. The survey also shows that prices have risen across 25% of postcodes – to a level not seen since 2007.

Greatest upward pressure on prices is in southern England…

January saw a decline both in the number of new sales agreed and in buyer registrations – the average time to sell posted its first monthly increase for 12 months, growing to an average of 8.6 weeks.

Southern England continues to see the greatest upward pressure on prices with average values in London up by 0.7% in the month – the highest monthly increase in the capital since June 2007.

Imbalance between supply and demand continues…

The strong end to 2009 saw growth in sales volumes running well ahead of new supply coming to the market for sale.

Over the last six months of 2009 the supply of homes for sale grew by just 1% while sales volumes increased by 20%. Many agents have started 2010 with a smaller order book than they would like.

While the supply of housing for sale has grown by 6% over February there is a real need for agents to win more instructions to satisfy the expected increase in demand over spring.

The proportion of the asking price being achieved has risen from 88% 12 months ago to 93.8% today and agents seem willing to push asking prices further to test the market.

The proportion of the asking price has bounced back over the course of 2009 from a low of 88% in February 2009. This measure has now reached 93%, and is starting to plateau in the face of firmer pricing and reduced sales volumes.

A shortage of properties for sale has supported prices over the last 12 months but there is a danger that the pressure to gain instructions may result in the gap between asking and achieved prices starting to widen again.

Prices have risen across 25% of postcodes in February – a level not seen since 2007.

The time on the market has also been falling since early 2009. The measure stands at an average of 8.4 weeks – well down from the high of 12 weeks seen in February 2009.

Richard Donnell
Director of Research
Hometrack

To see Young Group’s latest London Update in full, download a printable PDF copy.

Steer Clear of the Cowboys…

March 2, 2010

Avoid Cowboy Estate AgentsGiven the current debate about regulation in the residential property sector – and the length of time it’s taking to reach consensus – vendors and landlords looking to appoint an estate agent must remain vigilant if they’re to avoid rogue agents.

These tips are definitely worth bearing in mind if you want to make sure you don’t get your fingers burnt…

At a Glance:

  • Play web detective
  • Standing out from the crowd
  • What are they marketing?
  • Test the agent
  • Don’t be afraid to ask
  • First impressions really do count
  • Avoid hidden charges at all cost
  • Lettings retention and renewals
  • How do they manage?

Play web detective

Take the time to play web detective and fully research the agent’s website. It is a good start to see if they are members of any professional associations, if they have won any awards and whether their information is easily navigable, up to date and accurate.

Standing out from the crowd

With more than 80% of house hunters turning to the web for their property search, online marketing has never been more important, but it takes more than just signing up to property portals to keep ahead of the competition.  Does the agent use twitter or facebook to share property with a wider audience and do they advertise directly online or is your property left languishing, lost on the portals?

What are they marketing?

Agents listing properties similar to yours should have a clear idea about rental and sale values, a greater understanding of the local area, and potentially a long line of registered applicants already seeking property in comparable areas and price brackets!

Test the agent

A quick way of testing if an agent is worth their salt is simply asking them about Home Information Packs, Energy Performance Certificates, Gas Safety Certificates and Tenants Deposit Protection.  A good agent should be able to talk about these confidently and explain your legal obligations when selling or letting.

Don’t be afraid to ask!

Prepare a checklist of questions; make sure the agent is knowledgeable about the market, questioning them specifically about any local amenities the area has to offer, the demographics of the target market and how well your property would fit

into this. You’ll also want to check what the demand is likely to be and how quickly they think they can sell or rent your property.

First impressions really do count

Is the agent responsive and do they follow up your enquiry with an informed answer? Their initial contact could well be indicative of their professionalism and how the business is run so first impressions really do count!

Avoid hidden charges at all cost

Avoid getting stung by hidden costs; any reputable agent should be transparent and upfront about their fees from the beginning. Don’t be tempted to go for the cheapest agent you come across; make sure you are clear on their charges and investigate the full range of services and the quality of service they offer.

Lettings retention and renewals

If looking for a lettings agent, do the tenants generally stay for the duration and how many tend to renew their tenancy? In terms of renewals, remember, the agent should be negotiating on your behalf to achieve the best possible rental and aim to avoid renewals coming at a point in the year when demand is low (e.g. close to Christmas).

How do they manage?

Any letting agent with a strong property management team should have reliable contractors to relieve any potential headaches. Are their maintenance firms members of any professional bodies. Ask them to advice on the cost of typical maintenance jobs and how soon they would expect to have someone on site after a reported problem.

Thanks to Young London for the tips.

Vision of a Lasting Olympic Legacy

February 19, 2010

Baroness Ford, Chairman of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), sets out the OPLC’s vision for transforming the Olympic site into a vibrant new metropolitan community after the Games in Young Group’s latest London Update.

Baroness Ford, Chairman of the Olympic Park Legacy Company

Up to 180,000 spectators a day are expected to visit the Olympic Park to enjoy the spectacle of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

Afterwards, the landmark site is set to be transformed into a new vibrant part of east London, creating new communities where people will want to live, work and visit for generations to come, all set within one of Europe’s largest urban parks.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company is charged with the responsibility for making this happen. The company was formed in May last year by the Government and the Mayor of London and we moved into our new offices in the heart of Stratford in October.

Watching the site being built on our doorstep is truly inspiring. After the Games, London will inherit a set of assets which include five sporting venues, a media centre, some 2800 homes and a 250 acre park. The site itself will offer some of the very best residential and commercial development opportunities in London, adjacent to the superb national and international rail hub of Stratford International Station and the Westfield Shopping Centre – one of the largest retail centres in Europe.

Having so much land in public ownership, within 20 minutes of central London represents an excellent opportunity. One of the great benefits of London hosting the Games is the assembly of land to create the Olympic site. It should not be under estimated how powerful this is to effect urban change on this scale.

The challenge for the OPLC is to build a lasting legacy from the 2012 Games by developing the Park to become, in time, a new prosperous metropolitan area of the city.

We want to create a place for unique cultural and leisure events and attractions, centred around impressive urban parklands and waterways.

It will have a diverse and dynamic community which is connected to its neighbours and which acts as a catalyst for the economic regeneration of the Lower Lee Valley and East London.

And for visitors, the site will be a “must see, must return” destination which celebrates its Olympic memory in its world class sporting venues which are shared by elite athletes, local people and visitors alike.

This, of course, cannot all be in place immediately after the Games. Developing this new part of London will take time and our plans reach out on a 25 years horizon.

The pace of activity is already intense and we are working closely with partners in the Olympic Delivery Authority on plans to transform the Park after the Games.  We have also agreed our delivery programme for subsequent years in four distinct phases.

Firstly, between now and 2011 we will focus on planning and preparation work, including detailed plans for the venues, the site infrastructure and the management and maintenance of the park after the Games.  We will start to market the site to investors and developers and  prepare our events programme for the Park for both prior to and immediately after the Games in 2012.

Between 2011 and 2012, we will procure and appoint our main partners, service providers and operators.

Our third phase covers the reinstatement period between the Games finishing and summer 2013. This phase will involve working with the Olympic Delivery Authority on the transformation of venues and infrastructure and scheduling the opening of the Park for some early events and community use.

Then, between 2013 and 2018, the fourth phase represents the first five years in the delivery of our plan. During this time we will see the development of neighbourhoods within the former Olympic Village and work started on other new housing developments and commercial businesses. This period will also include an active and exciting events programme which will bring to life the venues and parklands with a variety of community and elite sporting and cultural activities.

Our plans will evolve as we shape the Park’s landscape working alongside the five host boroughs – Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Greenwich and Hackney.

The OPLC will be responsible for the main Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and the Arena 3 – a 6,000 seat multi-use venue – after the Games. The other two permanent venues, the Velopark and BMX Track and Eton Manor to the north of the Olympic Park will be the responsibility of our partners Lee Valley Regional Park Authority which owns those sites.

The sporting legacy of the Park will be at the core of both of our plans to fulfil the legacy obligations for community and elite sports participation.

Both organisations will work together to create what will become one of London’s great new urban parks.

The International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre buildings which will be home for some 20,000 journalists during the Games, will provide some of the most exciting commercial opportunities on the Park.

Making the Park site an attractive place for people to live, is key to our plans and in our plans we are making sure that there are significant numbers of good quality family housing – many of which will be affordable for rent or ownership. The Olympic Village, where athletes and officials will stay during the Games, will also be converted into homes, many available for key workers such as teachers and nurses.

They will sit within all the elements which make up good communities: schools, libraries, shops, cafes, restaurants, green space and a wide range of community facilities to be developed alongside major cultural and visitor attractions.

Already many of the transport improvements serving the Park are underway, including an extension to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), increased capacity on the Jubilee Line and the upgrade of Stratford Regional Station.

Thirty new permanent bridges will allow people living around the site to travel through it for the first time, making connections from Hackney to Stratford that had previously involved avoiding the site altogether.

Surrounding the park, people will enjoy wider access to the parkland and open spaces via a network of canal towpaths, footpaths and cycleways.

There are moments in time when great change and transformation are possible. Everything is right for a new centre in London, the political will, the capital and the courage to shape the city for generations.

London is the first host city to have a dedicated legacy company such as ourselves and we are getting all the pieces in place to give us the best possible foundation for this unique opportunity.

Our senior management team is being appointed to work alongside our Chief Executive Andrew Altman, and our board began work in November with combined skills ranging from property development and regeneration to international businesses and marketing.

There are a great many opportunities for us all to work together – not just to get it done, but to get it done right.

Baroness Ford, Chairman
Olympic Park Legacy Company

To see Young Group’s latest London Update in full, download a printable PDF copy.