Customer service – who is the customer?

September 7th, 2011

Whether or not everyone can agree on what is “good” or “great” service, we usually know what is poor service and who the customer is. But what about those services which involve some form of intermediary broker or agent – who is the customer? And, while I think of it, what’s the difference between a broker and an agent?

Brokers: Whilst many people complain about insurance, the cost, claims procedures and excesses, the role of insurance broker doesn’t attract particularly bad press. Similarly, the emerging band of energy brokers seem to be attracting more good press than bad. These brokers find the best deal for the customer and take their remuneration from the supplier.

Agents: Let’s start with estate agents who also find the solution for the customer and take their remuneration from the seller and yet, bad press for agents like this is all around us. Whether buying or selling a property, poor service from the agent seems common – add into the mix two sets of solicitors, mortgage provider and a surveyor and there are seven interested parties in the transaction and that’s without the chain which exists in many deals. And who gets the best service? Many people will tell you that when buying they didn’t feel well looked after, nor when selling.

And a different type of agency – recruitment. Here the model is slightly different – the supplier of services is the candidate and the buyer is the recruiting business and they pay the agency fees as well as the employee. Apart from the rare case of very highly paid employees with their own agents and lawyers, there are three interested parties. And who gets the best service? Candidates rarely feel it’s them.

But, in all these cases, irrespective of the payment model, the transaction doesn’t happen unless the buyer and seller both exist and are in agreement. I recently said that I’d like to write a book about estate agents and customer service – the response from those I was with was summed up by one of them – “that’s an oxymoron”. So, is it really that bad? Is it just the agency model which encourages lop-sided relationships? Or is it just the best ones aren’t shouting loud enough and providing better role models for their industry?

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