"Local lockdowns and people needing to self-isolate after holidays have resulted in many more localised challenges."
We spoke to Matthew Cumber, managing director of Countrywide Surveying Services, about how the firm is handling record monthly volume levels and how he sees the shape of surveying in 2021.
FR: After lockdown was eased, what were the biggest challenges faced by the business and how did you face them?
This was a multi-faceted challenge. We had to find ways to operate in a Covid-secure way to protect our people, whilst also delivering an effective service for our lender clients and their borrowers who had been left in the lurch during the lockdown.
Times like this can either make or break a business and I have to say that our people reacted brilliantly while, at the same time, being understandably concerned over ongoing safety issues. The key to overcoming adversity stemmed from involving our people in the decision-making and risk assessment process every step of the way to ensure they were comfortable with returning to work. Our clients were incredibly supportive and - as they were also facing similar challenges - working as a partnership was paramount in overcoming obstacles in a safe, timely and effective manner.
FR: How are you supporting lenders, brokers and their customers currently, as volumes are at record monthly levels, but Covid hasn't gone away?
We are supporting all links in the mortgage chain how we have always done, which is being as honest and transparent as we can.
As you rightly said, volumes are high and to say we have had to navigate the business through a demanding period is something of an understatement. We have worked hard to clear backlogs and we are returning to a more ‘normal’ level of service. However, it remains far from plain sailing. Local lockdowns and people needing to self-isolate after holidays have resulted in many more localised challenges. Again, our approach has been to meet these challenges with honest, open conversations with clients and customers and ensuring that the safety of our surveyors is maintained at all times.
FR: You launched Homefact, an interactive report for buyers, a year ago. How has the first year gone and what plans do you have going forward?
Homefact was initially launched with Santander as a free home condition report for first-time buyers and we received highly positive feedback from the bank and their customers.
After 6 months we launched this into our B2C channels offering the report to a wider group of customers and we are continuing to build on our early success. Feedback from our customers has been positive with the average Net Promoter Score (NPS) for the overall service currently sitting at 82 and the NPS for the report itself is 91. These represent the highest scores across all our product range which is hugely encouraging and we have also been fortunate to pick up some product innovation awards along the way.
Building on this success, we have already developed a more in-depth HomeFact report. HomeFact Plus will provide even more information to homebuyers whilst retaining the simplicity and interactive features that have been so well received amongst HomeFact customers. We will continue to explore new product ideas. Our goal is to educate homebuyers, homeowners and our lender clients on the importance of the condition and maintenance of properties and ensure that all customer wants and needs are being catered for.
FR: It has been quite a year to become MD of Countrywide Surveying Services, how has your previous experience shaped your approach to the role and deal with the challenges you and the business has faced?
I have worked for Countrywide Surveying for five years so the experience I have gained across the business, how our clients operate and the industry as a whole has helped enormously.
I have been involved in the wider mortgage market for all my working life. However, nothing prepares you for a worldwide pandemic or a lockdown situation, even though I was working on the intermediary side of operations for a lender during the 2007-2008 financial crash.
During any tough time, it’s vital to keep communicating with your team and your customers. Operating as a team is crucial during such periods as we need to ensure that we are all working towards the same objectives, in terms of finding ways to overcome problems and driving the business forward. I am very privileged to work with an exceptional team, one which I firmly believe is second to none in the surveying sector.
FR: What plans do you have for the future and how do you see the shape of surveying in 2021?
I want to grow the business and make Countrywide Surveying Services the stand-out surveying firm in the industry.
The launch of our Homefact report demonstrates our desire to be an innovator and to constantly improve our proposition. The lingering effects of the pandemic won’t stop us from looking forward and we are still focused on developing products and services which will prove hugely beneficial for our clients in the present and the future.
As a business we can’t afford to stand still and whatever twists and turns we might face in Q4 and into 2021, we will continue improving how we support clients and their customers in achieving their property-related goals.