Customer Service A Major Part of Developer’s Success 

Posted 18 June 2018 by Keith Osborne

We speak exclusively to David Campbell of Telford Homes about growing sales and an enviable customer care service...

Aside from building homes in some of the most popular parts of the capital, director David Campbell explains that the company’s unique approach – and success – with customer service is crucial to its success across a wide range of property buyers.

Please tell us a little about yourself and Telford Homes

I joined Telford Homes six-and-a-half years ago as group sales and marketing director, a main board role responsible for sales, marketing and customer service.

Telford Homes was formed in 2000, and over the years we have focused our efforts in East and inner London and see ourselves as specialists in this area. As the business has grown over recent years, our operating area has further expanded to both the south and west of London. The company has a real family feel and has grown significantly over the last 18 years both in terms of size and turnover.

The Customer Service offering is a real focus for us and we have spent a great deal of time on this, especially over the last four to five years. We cater for a broad range of buyers including domestic and overseas investors, owner-occupiers and Build to Rent institutional buyers. We focus on great service and communication to help our buyers have a positive experience throughout the whole process.

We realised we needed a special process of communication, particularly on our larger scale developments, as many investors purchase three or four years before completion. Whether domestic investors or overseas, many don’t ever see the properties, but we are keen to still give that personal touch. We started by recruiting a Customer Relations team in 2013 so each buyer has a dedicated customer relations manager and feels valued and looked-after throughout the process. This was in addition to our already highly experienced Customer Service team, who take over management of the purchaser around three weeks before legal completion and then throughout the two year warranty period.

Did the volume of overseas buyers and investors change dramatically with the tax and stamp duty changes a couple of years ago?

The overseas marketplace continues to be strong in our experience, with the relative weakness of sterling over the past two years adding to the appeal of London, which already has a long history of being a preeminent location for foreign investment. It has certainly subdued UK investors, maybe not immediately, but that combined with Brexit has brought a degree of uncertainty. A lot of our investors are seasoned professionals. We’ve certainly seen, particularly over the last six to nine months, that people are beginning to get used to the uncertainty and this is helped by the benign financial landscape of low interest rates and inflation.

There have been fewer domestic investors, but effectively that gap has been filled by domestic owner-occupiers, especially now that they can see what they’re buying. Show apartments are back on the scene – people like to have experience first-hand what they are considering purchasing, especially if they are buying to live there full time.

The UK investors are starting to come back into the marketplace, they know it’s a long-term business, and it’s probably a good time to buy. Prices are sensible; developers are realistic about wanting to sell early on in the cycle and London property has a long history as a strong investment asset class.

Build to Rent is a big factor that has come in over the last couple of years, and we do a lot of this. It has helped our business to grow at a significant pace and from a wider perspective is  delivering large-scale developments into the rental marketplace, which London really needs to address the chronic shortage of homes in the capital. It is an exciting time, and it feels like we’re starting to come out the other side now that a lot of the post-Brexit vote fear factor has subsided.

What’s the scale of current Telford developments?

We have grown to a size now where economically it doesn’t make sense for us to build anything too small, so around 100+ units is probably our minimum, and at the other side of the scale is our Nine Elms project, which has c900 units proposed. In Bow, where we’ve previously built a number of developments, this is a good example of how the business has grown. We’re currently working on Bow Gardens Square which is 83 private apartments which we launched at the end of March. It’s selling well, and importantly everything barring the top dual floor ‘Sky Villas’ falls under Help to Buy London, which is great for an area that is more affordable with good commuter links.

We launched New Garden Quarter in Stratford at the end of January, that’s 183 apartments, a mix of one-, and three-bedrooms including sky villas which are two-storey apartments on the top floor, and we’ve sold over 100 since the launch. Alongside that we’ve got Manhattan Plaza in Poplar, just opposite Canary Wharf, which is 120 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and penthouses.

In Canary Wharf, we have a development called The Liberty Building, which is 104 apartments in total, and we’ve got the final collection launching at the end of June which comprises 36 apartments. They’re a mix of two- and three-bedrooms, very spacious and great value for money compared to other developments in that location. The three- bedroom apartments are particularly suitable for sharers, buyers looking to rent one or two of the rooms out, which is feasible as all bedrooms are doubles. The two-bedroom apartments are over 1,200 sq ft and have a large dining area, open-plan kitchen and a very large reception room, so great for entertaining. All apartments have outside space, with lovely views towards Canary Wharf, the City, the O2 and River Thames or Greenwich.

How has the property market changed over the last few years in the areas where you build?

Docklands is constantly changing and developing, and East London as a whole has changed significantly post the Olympics in 2012, particularly Stratford. With so much on the doorstep – the Olympic Park and legacy venues, Westfield of course among many other leisure and retail offerings and fantastic transport links. There are still local people who have been there for generations, who may not want to shop at Westfield, but unlike many other parts of London, Stratford still has a number of high street shops and local supermarkets. I would say Stratford has that really lovely harmony, with the blend of old and new, offering plenty of choice for all residents. It is a location we have believed in long before the Olympics and to date have delivered over 1,700 new homes over the last ten years or so.

Is the number of local buyers significant?

People are quite mobile these days, definitely with Help to Buy, that’s one factor that has become apparent. If a development is available through Help to Buy, you’ll often find interest from people who live nowhere near that location are still happy to consider it.

Owner-occupiers are often very tuned in not only with the area they’re looking at today, but also how it will evolve in the future if they are considering buying. If we consider Stratford for example, as part of our own research and sales process, we are selling the benefits of the location today, but also giving buyers an insight and timeline of what is to come.

Are you still finding that first-time buyers are purchasing as much?

Yes we are and interestingly whilst we’ve seen that while Help to Buy is a major draw for first-time buyers, equally there are plenty of other financial options in the marketplace that they can use that gives buyers a bit more flexibility. Along with our investors, the first-time buyers we see tend to be knowledgeable and well-prepared – they aren’t rushing into things but continue to be drawn to us for our reputation for offering a product that is great value for money.

What are the crucial elements of Telford Homes’ customer service?

One of the things we are extremely good at is delivering a high-quality product on time, which isn’t something you always associate with developers. But for us it’s a big part of what we do, because historically we’ve had such a high proportion of investors, and investors want reliability, as they’ll be tied up in other investments. If you’re six months late, that’s a problem: if you’re six months early, while this would be great as an example for a first-time buyer, for an investor it may still be a problem. We build everything ourselves so we have far more control over both quality and delivery.

Many of our staff have been with us for over five years and even ten years plus is not uncommon. The reliability is there, the teamwork is there and we as a business are very proud of our reputation for outstanding customer service. Our recommendation rate in 2015 and 2016 was 99% which is very impressive, especially to achieve that two years running. In 2017 we achieved 100% which is phenomenally rewarding, particularly as we are compared against all of our peers. To put our achievements into context, the industry average is 86%. It’s great seeing the direction of travel of our service offering, particularly as the business has grown to where we are today.

The customer satisfaction survey happens usually five or six weeks after completion, which is carried out by an independent market research company. To continue to drive best practice, we’ve also introduced a survey of our own carried out a week after exchange of contracts, which focuses on our purchasers buying experience at the point of reserving their apartment.

To assist the holistic focus on customer service throughout the business, we have a strong Learning and Development team who are in the process of introducing our own academy, which will not only be a valuable resource for graduates, trainees and apprentices, but will equally offer training and support for all levels of seniority throughout Telford Homes. Along with a number of other large developers, we are constantly looking for opportunities to bring new talent into the industry. We all know there are challenges there that we have to get past and it is crucial we continue to find new ways to get home-grown talent into this fantastic industry.

As an example of our culture, it is often said by throughout the business that someone does things the ‘Telford Way’. We did a real exercise with longest-serving and senior people in the company, asking ‘What do you think constitutes the Telford Way?’ and having established the key elements that define that approach, we now train all of new employees in what this means and how it defines our business. When you break it down and objectively measure it, the positive effect on new recruits is very noticeable and it’s amazing how well it works.

Finally, what are your upcoming developments?

Later this year, we’ll have Gallions Point, part of the Royal Albert Wharf regeneration scheme right next to Gallions Reach DLR, where we will be launching the first phase of 127 apartments in late September.

We also a have a new development coming up in Hackney Wick as part of the amazing Hackney Wick regeneration area, featuring one, two- and three-bedroom apartments, directly over the bridge from Here East. It’s a very cool area and a ten-minute walk from Stratford that also includes some affordable work space, designed for smaller, entrepreneurial businesses along with conventional commercial space.

Further launches of developments in South Kilburn, the Isle of Dogs and Stratford are planned to follow into the new year, so very exciting times at Telford Homes and we have much to look forward to.

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