I watch the staff response times through the glass with detached interest, wondering just what has happened to occasion this flurry of activity? I’m thinking perhaps the government has scrapped that onerous tax on moving, Stamp Duty. Or maybe some sort of taxpayer-funded help for homebuyers has been announced. But I realise the country is virtually bankrupt, by my own household funding measures.
The last time the phones buzzed this animatedly was when a well-known local agent was arrested for cottaging – and it had nothing to do with offering quaint, roses-round-the-door, former farm-workers homes either…
‘Hot off the press.’ Announces assistant manager T as my curiosity gets the better of me and I enter the main office, while my second cup of tea cools untouched.
‘Yep, me too.’ Echoes negotiator S with a wry smile and a heave in the blouse department.
‘I’ve had a tip too.’ Announces loose lettings lush B to a fleeting grimace of distaste, until I realise she’s not talking about her love live again.
I turn to look at trainee F, as he holsters the phone, features as creased as fat mortgage man M’s chair.
I wait. The cogs grind almost audibly. The others watch, as the tension stretches to piano string levels. Just ask, I think, anger hotter than my brew will be now. Just ask, I won’t bite – not physically anyway.
‘Er.’ Begins F to a barely suppressed communal groan. ‘What’s a mystery shopper?’
The responses are endless. I toy with a masked old lady with a linen bag-for-life sneaking through the door, then an Egyptian mummy character, swathed in bandages, asking to see period homes with a cellar and a sandpit. I can’t keep it up.
‘We need to be on our guard.’ I tell the team, after enlightening F about the outside contractors our bosses have employed to try and catch us out. They will be visiting offices with false names and addresses, or ringing in and taping the phone call to try and test our responses. It’s hypocritical of me to dislike the ploy, because I do a version of this every day, listening to staff, coaching, encouraging and suggesting how we can improve. But at least they know who I am. No mask involved and only an anonymous blog they clearly don’t read.
‘So what exactly happens afterwards?’ Asks F hesitantly.
‘They try to hang you out to dry.’ Replies T sourly.
‘Not exactly.’ I counter, donning my management cap - one that doesn’t fit too well according to my last one-to-one appraisal. A head size issue apparently.
‘Not what you said last time we had a pissy feedback form.’ Bats back T unhelpfully.
‘They didn’t realise we had two staff members out on appointments, three other lines ringing and a time-waster sitting at the front desk.’ I say, defensively. It’s a hollow, non-scripted, response.
I know the questions to ask in the perfect classroom scenario, where the only interruption is a Latvian hotel worker with more stewed coffee and stale pastries. I realise we need to qualify the caller, take their contact details, try for a valuation if they have a home to sell, offer financial services, tame lawyers, arrange viewings and pet insurance. It’s just not always possible and the cold light of day criticism from some supercilious trainer who has a spurious degree from one of the minor universities - which used to be polytechnic colleges in my day - only serves to stoke my irritation at the slightly underhand process.
It might be something to do with my own truncated education and the fact that I only briefly imagined I could get near to the dreaming spires, other than at a christening or another funeral. But being told how to do your job by some, not long ago ejaculate, in an open-necked shirt and £150 jeans, with a 2.2 in psychology, brings out the worst in me.