Humble Pie: how to lose a customer(s), forever.

Tuesday morning this week I spoke with an agent customer who called to speak with an employee who happened to be taking well deserved vacation time. The agent discussed sending over a transaction but only wished to work with this staff member. They had a great working relationship on prior transactions. After I indicated that our employee was away on vacation and that all e-mail sent to our employee would be forwarded to the appropriate staff, I offered to give an additional e-mail contact for Lynlee (owner) thinking this would put the agent at ease. The agent agreed and we waited for the transaction to come through. It did come through later in the afternoon and all staff members received the transaction virtually simultaneously with no problem. The agent’s e-mail remarks were generally, ‘here is the transaction with the attachment.’ No e-mail flags or return acknowledgement asked.

The following day around noon I received an e-mail from the agent. The agent stated abruptly that because there was no response to their e-mail they elected to move the transaction to the title company escrow department that was named on the purchase & sale agreement. To say that jaws dropped was an understatement and this situation was a first for Lynlee in all the years in escrow and for our office. Lynlee and I discuss how to diffuse difficult customers and clients all the time– something you have to have in your DNA if you wish to survive in escrow. She is a master of this just by her demeanor.

Immediately after receiving notice via e-mail that this customer was not pleased, I contacted the individual by phone. With my mind spinning I mentioned that we were confused, particularly after doing work for this agent before. The customer indicated that they moved the transaction because we had not immediately responded. Flustered, I focused on the act of the agent. The transaction was closing at the end of April and we had the transaction in our office for a matter of hours.

In the end, I asked Lynlee how she would have handled it any differently. She said, “first, apologize, and lastly, apologize. Then, get back to work on the important transactions at hand.” While I realize that it is impossible to please everyone, striving to please everyone is paramount. I lost my composure, essentially driving home the point by asking if this agent would like us to drop every other transaction we are working on to assist them with a transaction that never even started—a very poor decision on my part. In hindsight, I should have asked, “in the future, how would you like me to handle your communication and correspondence?

29 thoughts on “Humble Pie: how to lose a customer(s), forever.

  1. I don’t strive to please everyone. I strive to please a select few clients who respect my time and efforts as much as I respect theirs. In your situation, I would have tried to be more diplomatic, but I would also take your employer’s advice about moving on.

  2. I would never be able to survive working in escrow. How the heck do you do it, Tim?

    Real estate agents come in all flavors. Sounds like this one had a HIGH expectation of narcissistic-level service.

    Some people operate at a very high rate of anxiety when their security blanket person is not available. Like Leonard Bloom from the Broadway show The Producers. “My blue blankey, my blue blankey!”

    They wait and watch for an opportunity to prove their self-fullfilling assumptions to be true, such as “When Suzie Q is on vacation all my deals fall apart.” So they create their own reality in order to take control back into their own hands. When Suzie Q comes back from vacation, the Realtor will return with horror stories about how she was treated over at the title company.

  3. Trying to please 100% of the customers is a recipe for failure, IMHO. Focusing on the 95% (or 25%) who are going to be rewarding financially and personally is more productive, and less infuriating.

  4. “they elected to move the transaction to the title company escrow department that was named on the purchase & sale agreement.”

    Tim, why wasn’t the agent following the purchase and sale agreement? Or were you the escrow company and the agent transfered the escrow to the company designated for title? I’m confused.

  5. Hi Rhonda, sorry I was not clear. We were named on the purchase and sale agreement as the closing agent. Agent indicated they moved the transaction to title company named on P & S, so they would be handling both title and escrow.

    The point here is not the actions of the agent. The point is that when I preach to the office about how to handle difficult situations, no matter how trivial or serious and then do the opposite and lose my composure, it makes the problem worse and makes me look very foolish not only to the customer, but to staff.

  6. Tim, that bites! I’m sorry. This business is so amazing with all the different characters involved in a transaction. Two agents, Lender, Escrow…hey and what about the Buyer and Seller. With all these egos and the stress that can be involved, it’s sometimes amazing when it comes together… was this agent the listing and selling agent?

    I guess all you can do is set up an automated response from your email to acknowledge you’ve received an email?

    You’ll always have “personalities” to deal with in escrow. It’s a tough job…no doubt.

  7. So give us the name of that Closing Officer who took a well deserved vacation! At least give her some good press as “The Closing Agent no one can seem to live without for a few days!”

    Sounds like a name we all want to know, especially for when the time comes when you and Lynlee get to take a well deserved vacation.

  8. I think that besides the good advice of your boss the other lesson to be learned potentially is that the team within the office needs to all pick up their level of service so that YOUR OFFICE is deemed the one that no agent can live without using. When only one person in the office seems to have the lion’s share of the business contacts then if, heaven forbid, that person moves to another company you’ll lose that book of business that they help bring in to generate revenues to your firm. I’ve seen this happen in a lot of businesses outside of even the real estate industry.

  9. Reba, way way back when I was managing an escrow branch for a title company, agents develop relationships with certain escrow individuals and some can feel highly loyal. I’ve seen (and I am sure you have to) p&s agreements where battles have taken place over who the individual closer will be…names scratched out…you can tell it went back and forth until finally they do a split escrow (yuck).

  10. Hi Tim,

    I feel for you…I worked escrow in a former life, and in my opinion, escrow easily has the most thankless job in the enitre real estate sale industry. Being “tail-end Charlie”, and having to cover for the erros and mistakes of everyone who came before you is never an easy job. For whatever it’s worth, I used to worry and fuss a lot about other’s perception of what I was doing. Eventually, I learned not to focus on that, and simply do the best job I could…even if some others weren’t satisfied. Ironically, once I quit trying to please everyone, my business improved…both in quality and quantity. “Little Hitlers”, like this agent you describe will totally drain you to the detriment of your other clients, co-workers, and simple happiness…they aren’t woth the time and energy…let these people go, and don’t worry about it. I don’t think you should try to please everyone (you really can’t any way)…develop and implement a pleasant, efficient work manner you uniformly offer to everyone, and if everyone doesn’t like it…too bad…let them darken someone else’s doorstep.

  11. Does you company have a protocol for reps to use to notify customers that when they are on vacation, or ill, their work will be fully covered by a named individual at the company? Frankly, my experience in a variety of businesses has been that if you are not assigned to a specific individual rep, whether it’s the regular rep or his/her replacement, your order will be lost or screwed up.

    In the image licensing industry, this is dealt with by having reps, as they leave on vacation, send email to their clients stating the dates of their vacation and providing the name and contact information of an alternate rep.

  12. Karen, yes. If transactions are scheduled to close during the employee vaction time or sick leave, notice does go out to clients, but our company is small and unique in that each transaction is worked on in a collaborative manner. So clients are never in a position where they would not be taken care of. One of the benefits of this collaboration is that the staff customers speak with during the transaction are more than likely the staff that will sign the clients and close the transaction.

    Our company and for that matter, many escrow firms take in consideration existing and projected work load when vacation time is scheduled. Therefore, our company schedules vacations very carefully. Many Realtors and Loan Officers have a tough time breaking away to rejuvenate. In escrow, it is even more difficult. We almost always have to to time it with long 3 day weekends or federal holidays when banks are closed.

  13. Rhonda, the battles over escrow agents or title companies is real (with the consumers left on the fringes) and Lynlee and I have always been of the philosophy of our existing Realtor clients to not press it, even if we miss out on assisting on a transaction. Turf wars are not worth the small escrow fee we earn. The focus should be on the consumer. That is what principle-centered and consumer-driven means to us.

  14. Reba-

    I actually had to chuckle when I just read your comment. You brightened my day. The boss you refer to is my wife. Very good points you make. Fortunately, we take very good care of our small staff and our hope is that happy staff translates and conveys through the phone to our Realtor/LO customers and our clients (buyers/sellers/refi folks). Unfortunately, my loss of composure clearly will lead to lost work and worse, the 10 or more individuals that will learn of my error within the glorious real estate network.

  15. I completely agree with Diane. She will be back.

    Tim, if you’re concerned about the effects your outburst had on your staff, use it as content to move the whole team forward. When a leader admits his or her mistakes, you are showing your employees that you’re human too. Nobody’s perfect, but what can everyone learn from what happened? Talk about it at a staff meeting. I will bet that your staff will have at least 5 ideas on what to do

  16. Jillayne, I didn’t really have an outburst in the literal sense, like yelling or anything. Just chose the wrong words in a reactive manner.

  17. Back with my old dusty escrow hat on…I once had to “fire” real estate agent in my 14 years of that biz. He was so demanding and disrespectful, he made one of my outstanding LPOs a nervous wreck…she was hating any transaction involving this person. It was uncalled for. I met with him serveral times to explain how we work, try to understand his business and to see if we could meet somewhere in the middle.

    He was shocked when I told him we just weren’t a “good a fit”. My LPO was so relieved and happy…the loss of business was worth her piece of mind. I’m sure he fought like “he-double toothpicks” whenever someone tried to designate our branch for escrow. I certainly did not make any brownie points with him. (I think he’s no longer “in the biz”.)

  18. Tim, didn’t you know that some of us Realtors are just as finicky as the buyers we complaint about? :0 Actually, I am glad you brought this up cuz it has always been a pet peeve of mine; assumptions by title & escrow on how I do business. Most have taken the approach that I work just like the other agents for communication and status update. Just as I should know how my buyer/seller wants me to work with them (I filll out a questionaire in writing) and then I over deliver. Example: say they say once a week for e-mail. I send 2-3 with updates and thanking them again for their business. I know it’s tough when you have a lot going on but with a new Realtor, EO, a quick note, phone call, e-mail seems to assure them that all will be OK.
    That said, I know you can’t please all people and the time.

  19. Hi Tim and Rhonda, yes, there can be a lot of loyalty and I will sometimes ask a listing agent about letting my clients and I choose escrow – but mostly because the buyer does the majority of the “work” in a transaction and we want someone we know and trust that will respond to us when we need them. But, overall, I’ve had good experiences in most escrow offices albeit a few. And those few bad experiences have resulted in me definitely fighting to not use the same source again if they are asked for in a listing.

  20. I know what you mean, Reba. I feel especially picky about escrow because of my past experience. It’s been hard for me to let go since with a purchase, I typically do not have a choice in the matter of who is doing the closing. Some EOs must have been so burned (or they’re just have terrible customer service) that they don’t trust any LOs they don’t know and so they assume you’re the enemy and treat you as such. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often.

  21. You have to wait longer than THAT. I guess I could have said “she will eventually be back.” Give her time miss you and your staff. She must long for you, remember you fondly, reminisce in her mind about what could have been. Like a lover who keeps kicking herself for ditching the nice guy for the bad boy, she will be back. And then, of course, she’ll leave again.

    Let’s set a hypothetical date and if she really has found another escrow company to satisfy her every whim, then I’ll meet you in Mukilteo at Arnies.

    [I’m pre-supposing a female Realtor instead of continually inserting “he or she.”]

  22. Seriously Jillayne. The agent is back doing business with us. Refuses to talk with anyone exept the staff member they worked with before. Oh well, what can you do?

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