McCarthy & Stone outsources pre-sales customer contact to support 5 star rating and significantly increase footfall to its developments
Established in 1977, McCarthy & Stone PLC is the largest developer of privately owned retirement property in the UK. Over the past 40 years the company has built more than 51,000 apartments nationwide and regularly win awards for its work including the 5-star rating for customer satisfaction by the Home Builders Federation which it has received for the past 11 years. The company has 9 regional sales offices across the country with three products including Retirement Living, Retirement Living Plus and Lifestyle Living. Sales and Customer Service is at the heart of its business enabling thousands of homeowners to select the perfect property and enjoy a better retirement.
Challenge – 80% of sales and customer enquiries not answered
National Sales Operations Director at McCarthy & Stone, Richard Jones, explains “As calls were directed to individual developments, we were essentially missing out on 80% of incoming enquiries, due to the fact that our sales staff at developments were busy with other face-to-face contact. It was obvious that we needed to find a solution where we could re-capture lost opportunities, maximise the return from our marketing investments such as door drops, mailshots and advertising and begin to build a relationship with potentially new customers.”
The Solution – A partnership with a dedicated, outsourced team that could service all types of enquiries, reflect McCarthy & Stone’s core brand values and be fully integrated with our sales teams
As part of a business wide review, the role of outsourcing was evaluated, after visiting customer contact specialist Ventrica and seeing the extent of services and benefits they were providing for other companies, especially in the real estate sector.
“We were impressed by what Ventrica was doing for its other clients and could see the scope for applying these customer care services to McCarthy & Stone.” Says Richard. In July 2015, Ventrica was asked to set up a dedicated team of advisors that would work solely on behalf of McCarthy & Stone. The team underwent an intensive two week training course that included visits to some of the different regional developments across the UK. The aim of the course was to familiarise themselves with McCarthy & Stone’s business and understand and relate to the potential homeowners’ journeys that could be often life-changing.
According to Ventrica Client Services Manager Priya Patel, “Visiting the developments proved highly beneficial; seeing the quality of the apartments, attention to detail paid to the demographic, and the community aspect, really opened our eyes to what we were selling for McCarthy & Stone, ultimately allowing the team to speak passionately about the lifestyle that homeowners would be buying in to. As a result, all the team feel extremely proud to be representing McCarthy & Stone.” In addition, the team were also heavily involved in role-plays based at Ventrica’s 25 seat training room, guided by McCarthy & Stone’s own Area Sales Managers.
Starting with calls and expanding to other channels such as email and web chat
– a single enquiry can be worth up to hundreds of thousands of pounds
Once the training was completed, Ventrica began managing just calls initially for 6 days a week (8 to 8 during the week and 8 to 5 on Saturdays). Richard says, “This was a big step for us, so we wanted to take things gradually and did not want to introduce too many changes at once.” By April 2016, Ventrica’s role had extended so it was managing:
- All calls
- Website enquiries
- Email enquiries
- Enquiries from advertising e.g. Zoopla
- Referrals from the EAC (Elderly Accommodation Council)
In early 2017, McCarthy & Stone recognised that they were receiving more and more enquiries on Sundays too. To ensure that they were always available to customers and to capture potentially lost opportunities, they decided to expand cover to 7 days a week. Richard explains, “When you consider that each individual enquiry could potentially be worth up to £1million, you can understand the massive return on investment that outsourcing customer contact can deliver.”
Results – 50,000 enquiries managed annually, 98% of calls answered, 17,000 site visits booked and 36% sales conversion rate
“Whatever type of enquiry we receive, whether a call or web enquiry, we will always follow up with the customer to find out more about their specific needs.” Says Richard.
“Rapport is vital…to sell the dream” – Calls are all about experience rather than being treated as transactional
“This is why it is so important to work with a partner that truly understands customer service as developing rapport is vital to help really understand our customers and tell them about the lifestyle so that our team can ultimately encourage as many callers as possible to visit our developments. Ventrica fully understands and cares about the key attributes of our retirement living that are standard across all our sites, so they are able to accurately reflect the face of McCarthy & Stone.” Whilst Ventrica can answer the majority of questions, any detailed, site-specific queries are passed onto the sales offices at developments.
“it’s all about the quality of conversation and spending time, rather than saving it”
Ventrica’s Priya Patel says, “The entire concept of target AHT and keeping call lengths to a minimum is completely turned on its head, it’s all about the quality of conversation and spending time, rather than saving it, as there is a greater chance that we can truly understand their specific needs and find a property that will suit them. Customers do not want to be rushed, so engaging in memorable conversations is absolutely key to building an on-going relationship.”
The Ventrica team are able to access as many as 5 different systems at the same time including the booking systems, calendars, sales execs diaries, website and other data capture and knowledge bases, where they can record all the necessary CRM data which in turn can be used by internal sales and marketing staff.
Empathy, sensitivity and understanding are key
“The circumstances behind why many people are calling are often quite sensitive” explains Richard, “sometimes due to bereavement it can be quite daunting and worrying at this stage in someone’s life with plenty of uncertainty. We’ve been impressed by the Ventrica team’s empathy, patience and understanding of every individual’s needs.
Typical enquiries relate to questions around developments, pricing, events, visits and so on and are either from the buyer themselves or from a relative or friend of the family calling on their behalf. Even though Ventrica may be many miles away from the specific development that an enquiry is about they are able to answer the majority of questions.”
Relationship between in-house and outsourced – “a true partnership”
According to Richard the relationship between Ventrica and McCarthy & Stone is a true partnership. This year, Ventrica was invited to attend the Group’s annual sales and marketing conference attended by around 300 employees including the CEO. Ventrica was given their own session to present what they are doing for McCarthy & Stone and demonstrate the results so far. During this session, Ventrica played a range of call recordings that showed the depth and level of expertise displayed when speaking to customers. “Both myself and our staff across the country have been astounded by the knowledge of the team and how they are able to build solid relationships and rapport with our customers at an early stage, that translate into more visits to our developments. It is clear that all of the Ventrica team are truly proud to work on our behalf.”
In addition, McCarthy & Stone senior staff as well as staff from the different regional sites visit Ventrica to see for themselves what they are doing and also to host focus groups, where advisors can ask questions that help them build their on-going knowledge. Weekly calls between the team and McCarthy & Stone’s Marketing Manager also enable the regular exchange for information between the two parties keeping them up to date with latest events, launches and new sites. The two organisations also regularly socialise together outside of office hours and team retention rate is exceptionally high, reflecting the staff’s commitment to McCarthy & Stone. In turn team members have become highly knowledgeable.
Outbound campaign increases attendance at site events and other visits
Part of Ventrica’s remit has also been to help take advantage of existing database that each of the 9 regions hold on prospective customers. As well as managing incoming enquiries, a series of proactive outbound calling projects to databases are carried out by the Ventrica team. Richard says, “By mining our existing data, we can re-ignite any prospects that did not go ahead with buying a property and also increase the number of people that attend our regular sales launches and special events such as our Vintage tea parties that are often hosted by special guest celebrities such as Dame Mary Peters, Arlene Phillips and Nick Nairn. With their strategic outbound campaigns Ventrica’s actively encourage more visits and perfectly complement our internal sales teams, and are an integral part of our organisation.”
Increasing footfall to events
Since starting the outbound contact, McCarthy & Stone have seen event turn out rates increase significantly. “The beauty of our events” says Richard, “is that they are also attended by existing home owners who are our best advocates who meet and greet everyone in the homeowner’s lounge and are really happy to share their experiences.”
“Part of the feedback that we received was that some customers preferred to attend an event rather than a one-to-one visit, as it felt less pressured and more relaxed.”
‘Non take up’ calls leads lead to invaluable feedback
As well as calling prospective buyers, Ventrica has also contacted those who did not go on to reserve a property and the feedback has provided invaluable information for McCarthy & Stone including aspects such as what they liked, didn’t like and also other reasons why they may not have progressed further such as location, price or other factors. In turn this knowledge is used to better understand and respond better to exact customer requirements.
“allow customers to see the quality..”
“What is distinctive about our sales model,” says Richard, “is that we may have over 100 developments but at any one time not all are ready with show complexes to view, so we need the ability to show prospective customers the quality, experience the lifestyle and get a feel for what we are about. This is achieved through offering ‘proxy’ or ‘home’ visits to customers, so they can visit a similar site to the one that is being built, close to where they live or we can show them virtually within their own home. At the same time, we rely heavily on Ventrica to maintain that on-going communication, so opportunities do not fall through the net.”
Richard says, “Our main objective is to increase the number of people that visit our different developments and Ventrica have been integral to making this happen. They really care about and understand both our business and our customers and play an integral part in developing our sales pipeline working alongside our own sales executives. This represents the perfect partnership where the results speak for themselves.”
Key benefits that Ventrica has delivered so far for McCarthy & Stone are:
· A truly integrated partnership with regional engagement and support
· 7 day a week cover
· Support for exceptional customer relationship building
· Dedicated team is essential to building sales pipeline
· Capture of analytics helps with future company strategies
· Outsourcing enables sales offices to focus on core tasks (e.g. dealing with face-to-face enquiries)
· Facility and skills to handle enquiries over any media including calls, emails, webchat etc.
· Ventrica acts as ‘face of McCarthy & Stone’ providing positive first impression and introduction to the company
· 98% of all calls answered
· 78% of previously lost sales opportunities now captured
· Convert 36% of sales calls into site visits
· 50,000 enquiries managed annually and growing
A selection of customer quotes on Ventrica’s service,
“I just want to say thank you to the advisor- he was very very helpful, put me at ease, was very informative- I couldn't fault him in any way and he deserves to be recognised for this.”
“Good afternoon, my name is Mrs Price and I've just spoken to one of your representatives. The lady was very understanding and most helpful. I have been worried for some time about where we're going to live and this lady has put my mind at rest, that there is somewhere out there for us, and thank you very very much indeed.”
“The lady I spoke to today answered all my questions very carefully and gave me a lot of information and I feel very happy with going ahead with this apartment and hope that I get it. Thank you.”
Share this article