The BIG Lessons Estate Agents Can Learn From a Banker

My friend was sweating when he got the call to go and see The Big Boss.

A couple of years ago, Ben, a former journalist colleague of mine, told me a story of when he was summoned by the mysterious big cheese of the Dutch bank he worked at.

Ben’s role at the bank, which was based in those temples to finance in Canary Wharf, was its head of communications. A very well-paid role that I was always slightly envious of (the money, not the corporate cr@p that comes with it).

Anyway, Ben gets an email one morning.

It’s the boss’s PA telling him he needs to come up to the office at 11am to see the main man from Amsterdam.

Benny boy immediately thinks the worst. Will this meeting mean he’s told his skills are no longer needed and ‘here’s your P45, thank you and good luck.’?

He explained to me in vivid detail how he felt sick as he took the lift up to see the boss man.

He was shown into a plush room with floor-to-ceiling windows and an amazing view of London’s fair city.

The boss was sitting at a grand desk that matched his king of the world aspirations.

With barely a glance towards Ben, he said: “There’s no point sitting down as this will be quick.”

Ben’s heart sank. “I’m fu47ed,” he thought.

The boss then simply said eight words: “We need to stop sounding like a bank.” He continued with: “You are the head of our communications team, so see to it that everyone knows this and that we begin work on this immediately.”

And that was that. The boss thanked Ben for his time and made it clear the meeting was over by beginning to make a call.

What the boss had cleverly identified was that his bank was too formal and borderline patronising in its tone of voice across all communication platforms. That’s social media, web content, written communications – you name it, if it involved using words Ben’s task was to change which ones the bank used and the way they sounded.

The direct Dutchman was probably inspired by First Direct’s approach which, for as long as I can remember (I’ve been a customer since 2012), has always been to communicate in a friendly, informal tone. It is easy to understand and speaks volumes about their approach to client care.

The main man from Amsterdam raised a point estate agents could do well to take on board.

How you ‘sound’ in your written communications matters. It can be the difference between winning new business or being overlooked. Solicitors are often terrible at it – even when no legalese is involved, they still sound stuffy, ancient, and dull.

The good news for you is it doesn’t have to be this way.

Below are five simple tips on how you can nail your agency’s tone of voice.

1.           If outsourcing your content or copywriting, audition your prospective writer. Ask them to have a chat with you and write a piece about your agency. During the call, a clever copywriter will know the questions to ask and gauge what tone of voice is needed.

2.           When you receive this piece, read it and think ‘does this sound like us and the way we would say it?’. Share it with your team to get their thoughts. If it doesn’t sound like your agency, move on to someone else.

3.           Think about your ideal client. Create a detailed profile of them. Consider how you can build rapport with them by communicating in a tone they can relate to. The way you’d write to someone over 60 years old who is downsizing is different to how you’d write to first-time sellers/buyers. But the overall tone should be consistent.

4.           Here’s something to mull over. If your agency’s voice was a celebrity’s, who would it be? Past answers I’ve had to that question are: Keanu Reeves – because he’s solid, likeable, and down to earth. Holly Willoughby – because she seems like the capable friend you’d call on when you needed advice. Ant and Dec – friendly, unpretentious but very good at what they do.

5.           Of all these tips, the next is the one that’s most important. Take your agency’s tone of voice seriously. Don’t leave written communications to the Saturday kid or Maureen in accounts who also likes a bit of writing. Spend time working out how you want your agency to sound. Review all the contact points you have with clients and prospective clients. And don’t hand your agency’s tone of voice over to someone who doesn’t have a background in communications.

Ben left the bank 18 months later… to become a content creator and very happy stay-at-home dad.

Thanks for reading.