Connells Group

Transforming phone calls into interactive sessions: How the UK´s leading estate agency and property services group succeeded when in-person meetings became impossible

Transforming phone calls into interactive sessions: How the UK´s leading estate agency and property services group succeeded when in-person meetings became impossible

Lockdown made face-to-face meetings with customers impossible. For Connells Group’s Mortgage Services businesses, including leading specialist mortgage brand The New Homes Group (TNHG), that meant rethinking their whole approach to giving advice to thousands of customers around the UK. They had to turn to their phones but wanted to retain the interactive nature of in-person meetings to keep their customers engaged. Their strategy was to complement their phone appointments with a screen share. Connells Group needed a screen-sharing solution that the customer could access without installation or registration and would work in any browser and any device. The only solution that ticked all the boxes was CrankWheel. With minimal training needed, they were able to keep up the pace despite challenging times, and outperform their competitors that did not use screen sharing.

About Connells Group

Connells Group is one of the leading estate agency and property services groups in the United Kingdom. The company offers services via 84 local estate agency brands as well as through a number of other subsidiaries. The business offers products and services connected to the house buying, selling, renting and letting, where customers need to rely on experts who deal with related services on a daily basis and can explain to them different options in the process.

Experts in engaging but time-consuming person to person meetings

The mortgage process can be complicated for buyers, especially since it is something that people don’t go through often in their lifetime, and normally, a consultant would sit down with a customer, ask questions about their financial situation and fill in the information in front of the customer. The Mortgage Consultant would then show customers the different options available on their screens. For TNHG, their primary customers are housebuilders who refer their customers to the business to get the best funding for the homes they are looking to buy. One of the requirements by the housebuilders and one of TNHG’s unique selling points has been that the Mortgage Consultant meets with customers in person for their mortgage advice appointments.

“Our mortgage consultants are primarily based in our estate agency offices, offering mortgage and protection solutions for our customers, along with some general insurance as well. We're not a website, they're coming for our professional advice on what's best for them, based on their circumstances.”

Paul Hobson, Connells Group Mortgage Services Sales Development Manager.

Finding a friction-free screen sharing solution to keep customers engaged

When the pandemic came along, Connells Group was faced with a big challenge. They had to find ways to keep up the customer experience of engaging in-person meetings when the whole country went into lockdown. Their salesforce of experienced professionals was trained for conducting business with customers in person. Special training and experience is required to be able to present complicated material through the telephone without any visual aids. They needed to find a solution quickly to make sure that the pandemic would not make a dent in the business. To be able to switch to telephone appointments without losing the engagement of in-person appointments, it was decided to go ‘hybrid’ by having Mortgage Consultants meet with customers remotely, but keeping the engagement level up by sharing the Mortgage Consultant’s screen.

The idea behind CrankWheel is to offer an easy web-based screen-sharing experience. The Mortgage Consultant launches CrankWheel inside their browser and sends a link either via email or SMS and the person on the other end can see the presentation in any browser, on any device, without setting anything up.

Nigel Trevor, Connells Group IT Solutions & Development Director, was given the task to find a screen-sharing service that could support the Group’s mortgage services and residential businesses during Covid.

“We wanted a fully app-less experience, a solution that didn’t require any technical skill from our customers to join our meetings - a simple link that customers click and join straight away. No need for an app store, creating an account or providing any personal information. That’s what we needed and CrankWheel was the solution that offered that.”

Nigel Trevor, Connells Group IT Solutions & Development Director.

CrankWheel was the solution that checked all the boxes and went from consideration to the proof of concept stage. There were many of the more traditional web conferencing products available in the market, but none of them offered the possibility of seamlessly sharing the screen during a live call.

“We were looking at ways in which we could effectively share content with customers in a live scenario. Almost all of the other solutions require the customer to download or install something and consumers just don’t want that.”

Paul Arnold, Group Operations Director of The New Homes Group

“Screen sharing became a differentiator between us and our competition during lockdown. Our major competitors were only operating over the phone. CrankWheel allowed us to be different because we could actually present and explain business materials on screen. It’s an important part of our remote offering.” adds Paul Hobson

CrankWheel became a Key Performance Indicator

For a new software solution to be successful, it depends mostly on people starting to use it, and using it correctly. As Paul Hobson puts it, people don’t all have the same eagerness to try out new technology: “Some people are early adopters, some take a bit of time, some people you need to drag kicking and screaming, almost.” Paul Hobson further explains, “There are people at the bottom of the change curve that we need to help.” But, they were able to get most people to start using CrankWheel very early during lockdown, after identifying that it would be “a big differentiator between ourselves and the competition” according to Paul Hobson. In order to encourage people to use CrankWheel, they published CrankWheel usage as one of their Key Performance Indicators but the key aspect was that “we got a lot of adoption, not through management persuasion, but through the results of the people who were using CrankWheel and the feedback from their customers.” Nigel Trevor says that their Mortgage Consultants are encouraged to make use of CrankWheel in every appointment that is not in-person.

A unique but simple solution for the customer

When conducting an in-person meeting, consultants can easily input values from the customer on their PC or laptop, turn the screen and show them different options for the financing for their new home. Doing this over the phone would be difficult without being able to share the screen. One possibility would be emailing documents back and forth but that can often lead to a frustrating experience for the customer. Another pain point for the customer is when the consultant is filling out a form. Without screen sharing, the information has to be corroborated by the customer but during a screen sharing session, the customer gets a real-time view of the information being entered.

Nigel Trevor explains that it was a giant leap in terms of engagement and interactivity, going from taking consultations simply over the phone to sharing the screen in addition: “When the consultant is typing in information, customers are more engaged, they’re able to watch the screen, they are able to see what questions are coming up and the Mortgage Consultant is able to talk them through the process.” In his opinion, better customer experience and more engagement deliver better service.

Delighting the customer with CrankWheel

Asking customers about their experience with screen sharing is not prompted or scripted, nonetheless, some of them have mentioned it during sessions or have mentioned screen sharing when leaving online reviews for Connells Group and its subsidiaries.

I am very happy with the service.

Very clear explanation.
I feel comfortable with the telephone appointments by using a shared screen on my phone.

AMAZING

Absolutely amazing service. All from the comfort of our living room via screen share. Everything was simplified and clear to understand.

The CrankWheel use case for mortgage and estate agents

One of the features of CrankWheel is the preview window. It gives the user the ability to monitor if and how the person on the other end is engaging with what’s being shared with them. There is always a possibility during long phone conversations that the person on the other side zones out or is not listening. The consultants within the Connells Group business are trained to ask the right questions to keep the customer engaged and monitor the results in the preview window.

Anyone who has used a screen-sharing application for an important presentation knows the frustration when notifications about a dentist appointment or an email notification pops up on the screen, always at a critical moment. Paul Hobson says that with CrankWheel, that frustration is simply not there: “They don’t see our emails pinging in at the side or anything else we’ve got on-screen - just see the areas that are relevant.”

According to Paul Arnold, telephone appointments were the exception before but CrankWheel was a tool that helped them to adapt. CrankWheel enabled them to “be able to interact with the customer in real-time. It’s very, very simple and it works on any device.”

Another feature used by Connells Group consultants is the Remote Control function which gives Mortgage Consultants the ability to hand over control of their screen to the person they are talking to. Some forms that customers have to fill out require a sign-in with their own username and password and the consultant isn’t allowed to log in. The customer can take control of the browser to log in and once that is completed, the Mortgage Consultant can help them to fill in the forms correctly to make sure that there is no snag in the process of buying a new home. Paul Hobson says that it was important for them to be able to offer “something really quite different yet quite simple for our customers. The remote control has been fantastic for application forms.”

“The remote control has been fantastic for application forms.”

Paul Hobson

At Connells Group, CrankWheel hasn’t only been used to increase engagement for remote sales appointments in phone calls, it has been adopted for their training environment as well and uses the application for coaching their Mortgage Consultants. Managers can dial into calls to listen live to appointments, but with CrankWheel they can also see what the Mortgage Consultants are sharing with their customers. This gives management the opportunity to give Mortgage Consultants feedback and coaching on how their calls are going. At the management level, they have one of the larger communication platforms but often use CrankWheel to quickly share something during a phone call.

Better results with screen sharing

At Connells Group, they were able to maintain business levels during the pandemic, despite having to change their approach to their unique selling proposition; meeting with customers in person. Paul Hobson says that they saw an improvement in sales that they might not have seen by only using the phone. CrankWheel helped them hit the ground running by bringing familiarity to the process with some face-to-face elements on their telephone calls. “There is a group of people who don’t use it and another group of people who do. The second group were generally better, with around 15-20% more sales.”

“The [CrankWheel] group were generally better, with around 15-20% more sales.”

Paul Hobson

Nigel explains that they found a lot more engagement from customers with the screen-sharing sessions - some people may “turn off” during long sessions when they have to answer a lot of questions. Screen sharing helps to engage the customer with more meaningful appointments that deliver more power. A phone call can become an engaging online experience by supplementing it with visual content. By giving customers something to look at alongside the calls, consultants can create a better customer experience and a more engaged customer. “I'd say it's all about customer experience, engaging the customer, with a better remote appointment.”

Screen sharing will complement the sales process when things get back to normal

Once we can leave the ‘new normal’ behind and get back to ‘normal’, Connells Group will come out with new strength in their service offering. The pandemic gave many businesses the push they needed to adapt their businesses towards more digital solutions. The swift adjustment needed made the Connells Group’s consultants better at telephone appointments and gave their sales people new skills. Their strategic reaction to the pandemic has helped them push towards digital transformation, including adding digital remote solutions to their service offerings. In Nigel Trevor’s opinion, the pandemic gave them the opportunity to thoroughly pilot and test digital remote solutions and he thinks that they are here to stay but in a hybrid model: “We will be much more comfortable offering both in-person and remote appointments. Before we would have been very hesitant to ask customers to have remote appointments. With CrankWheel - we will be less hesitant to offer it as an option.”

Screen sharing has become a part of the sales process

At Connells Group, they recognize the importance of human interaction when people need advice in a big, complex process such as finding the best way to finance a house. People need to be assured that there is someone at their side, supporting them in the process and giving them sound advice. When things get back to normal, screen sharing will form a part of the sales process. They aim to meet customers at least once during the process. By using CrankWheel, they will be able to optimize the process by moving more parts of it over to the telephone for clients that wish to use this method of communication.

“You can conduct a detailed conversation about a client’s mortgage needs over the telephone with screen share. It’s going to be easier to get that arranged in some circumstances than it is to get them into the office in person,” says Paul Hobson. Screen sharing gives them an alternative for customers who are not able to get to meetings. Office workers can simply put on earphones and receive a call from their Mortgage Consultant instead of feeling the stress of bustling through traffic in a big city, finding a parking space and hurrying through the meeting to get back to the office in time. People working in factories can schedule their meetings during their breaks. Nigel Trevor explains how screen sharing can address certain pain points for customers: “If you haven’t got the time or you don’t drive, there’s no parking, you haven’t got a car, no public transport… we can now offer a good alternative.”

Looking ahead, screen sharing is not simply for the convenience factor, it also gives them an alternative for people who don’t want to meet in person or for their customers who are digital natives. Younger customers are more comfortable with interacting with their Mortgage Consultants through the phone, using a nearby screen to view their material. Paul Arnold concludes that as a result of COVID, “the real positive is that we are now in a better place to deal with people in different ways.”

5 Key success factors for screen sharing sales calls

Have a two-monitor setup. The desktop you share should be empty until you drag relevant windows over. This limits the risk of sharing something by accident.


Add screen-sharing sessions to your KPIs. Calls with screen sharing sessions are an indicator of a successful, engaging call. Making them part of your KPIs will increase success and secure adoption across the organisation.


Set up the right presentation process. Have the relevant presentations ready.


Monitor engagement and prepare questions to make sure the customer is engaged in the conversation.


Make screen-sharing a part of your organization’s coaching program. It gives team leaders an opportunity to sit in on sessions and give advice afterward.

Hassle-free implementation for over 6,000 users

For any organization, data security is one of the major concerns when implementing new software. The security concerns for Connells Group were not whether CrankWheel is safe, but rather screen sharing in general and human error during sessions. Paul Arnold says one of the concerns was “if you accidentally share your screen and I open up an email from a different customer.” As Nigel explains, “That’s the main risk, we mitigated that with training.” Part of the training was to teach Mortgage Consultants to use two screens - one for open applications and another one that would be shared with the customer. The Mortgage Consultant would then drag the relevant documents over to the shared screen as the conversation would evolve. Another approach you can take using CrankWheel is to limit screen sharing to a particular window or browser tab.

CrankWheel was deployed centrally to over 6,000 employees through an API integration. Nigel says that “we didn’t have to upload spreadsheets of users, names, email addresses and job titles. That was a big selling point for me.” Paul Arnold explains how easy it is for new users to start using CrankWheel: “There's no logging in, no passwords and no configuration for the end-user.”

“There's no logging in, no passwords and no configuration for the end-user.”

Paul Hobson

The setup process was seamless and hassle-free and the support Nigel received from CrankWheel was outstanding. “That was another reason to give us the confidence to go with CrankWheel - we knew we would be well supported and we have been, it's been a very, very good level of support and a personal touch.” Nigel says that they don’t have to put much effort or resources into supporting CrankWheel because “it’s such a very straightforward solution.”