[photopress:austinpowers.jpg,thumb,alignright]“Allow myself to introduce….myself” – Austin Powers
I’m in my first few months as a full time working agent. I retired from my career with a successful Internet marketing company after 8 1/2 years of helping grow it from a six person start up to a public company with offices on three continents. I left because I had lost my passion for the industry; I didn’t go to work each day looking forward to the challenges that awaited me. I needed something new. It took me two years to discover it, but after spending the last year with my wife investing in real estate part-time, I realized that I had found my passion. I had found my bliss. Real Estate. I got my license initially as a way to list our own investment properties for resale, but realized that real estate sales and investing got me excited. Here I am, starting fresh in the sales industry, juggling a number of balls related to real estate – client acquisition, client management, project management (on my investment properties) and property acquisition. It’s been extremely stressful (waking up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, fearing that I’d calculated time incorrectly and missed an inspection deadline), but also extremely rewarding (I sure don’t miss rush hour traffic!). This is my first post of any substance, and the goal of my commentaries is to reflect the sum of my experiences (which are currently few in real estate sales) Right now, I have little sales experience, a modicum of investment experience, and lots of client service experience taken from my previous careers in tourism (during my 20s), and online advertising (the bulk of my 30s). I’m thrilled that Dustin invited me to post.
“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong” – Donald Porter
One reason that I have succeeding in client service roles throughout my careers is that I tend to remain eerily calm when surprising and unfortunate situations arise (whenever one of my kids start choking, my wife completely panics and starts screaming; I set aside the adrenaline and calmly unlodge the blockage with a textbook execution of the Heimlich Maneuver). In business, I refer to the actions required to resolve these problems as firefighting. Most of the time, firefighting is required due to errors made by others outside of my control. However, no matter who is at fault, the client only has an opportunity how I deal with problems.
Rule Number One – Listen…Then Solve Problems
I get into trouble a lot with my wife whenever she starts telling me about her problems. I listen just long enough to identify the course of action needed to solve the problem, then interrupt her and explain how I’ll fix her problem. Big mistake. Most times, she isn’t looking for my to solve a problem, she just wants to unload her problems on to me…it makes her feel better having talked through it. After I validate her feelings, I can then ask if she wants me to help her with anything.
The same principle applies with clients. They come under stress from parts of their lives to which I have no exposure or access. For example, they may start complaining that they haven’t seen enough houses, and imply that I should pick up the pace and increase the number of showings. Before I try to problem solve and start scheduling more showings, I’ll listen carefully and try to determine why they are asking this question – especially when there has been no hint of this kind of issue before. In most cases, compartmentalized stress from situations spill over into my world. Instead of taking it personally, and before getting defensive or simply agreeing to the request (especially when I know I have been working hard on the buyer’s behalf), I’ll listen to what they are saying, acknowledge that I appreciate what they are feeling, then ask a series of questions designed to determine if there really is a problem they may have with me. If there is, I’ll offer solutions.
When I worked for Princess Cruises, I learned of an interesting statistic about customer service. Clients who wrote to the company complaining of a negative experience on their vacation demonstrated a greater loyalty to the company – they more likely returned on a second cruise – versus a random sample of cruisers. Why? These clients’ feelings were validated with a reply from the company. Was this loyalty bought with credits or discounts on subsequent trips? No, in most cases, it was a personally written letter or return phone call, where the clients felt that the company listened to them.That amazed me at the time, and you know what? It has born out in practice many times for me personally.
Rule Number two – Admit Your Mistakes, and then Proactively Solve Them
Here’s a situation I just saw in my first deal. My client had asked for a bunch of repairs on the 35R, including a certification showing a resolution to a possible Carpenter Ant issue. We eventually arrived at a deal, but instead of a fresh blank amendment stating the new price, I included the original 35R showing the repair list. All of you seasoned agents can see where this is going. It’s the day of closing. Both buyer and seller have signed around. I’m ready to pop the bubbly celebrating my first deal. Then I get a call from the Mortgage broker. The lender is requiring that an inspector clear both the carpenter ant issue and a dry rot issue (also in the report). Yikes. This made it past both the mortgage broker, and the loan processor prior to closing. I could have started yelling at these folks for not catching the problem when I submitted it (they have enough experience to know that submitting such a list is a red flag). Nope. I went into firefighting mode. I called the listing agent, told him of the problem; I called my client, admitting my mistake and letting him know that I’d cover any costs or penalties associated with this mistake. I then scrambled to get a pest control company out to the house to treat it and clear it, and I called the contractor who has worked on a couple of my investment properties to check the dry rot issue (which truly wasn’t an issue), and he cleared it.
The listing agent was impressed with my dedication and focus on solving the problem. Not only for my client, but his clients would have been impacted by a scheduled, near simultaneous closing for their next home. The listing agent told me that upon sharing my efforts with his broker, she said she’d love to have me be one of her agents. The deal closed a day late, and cost me $250 for the pest control, but beyond that, there was no negative impact to either side. My client was thrilled, and appreciated my honesty and my hard work and scramble to fix the problem. In my opinion, this is the type of client service that wins clients for the long term (especially if the client is an investor, as this one is), and wins referrals from satisfied clients.
In closing, no one is perfect. When I first started my client service career as a tour guide, I tried to please everyone, all the time – trying for perfection. This is impossible to achieve. However, by communicating honestly, and by performing my absolute best under less than ideal situations, any negative perspectives my client had were turned into positives. Anyone can do well when nothing goes wrong, and the client may very well come to the same conclusion, and deciding to use someone else next time. However, when the client saw how hard I fought for him during this adverse situation, he experienced my character, and will remember that in future situations, I’ll have fought for him. This helps create loyalty.
“To Achieve Perfection is not Nirvana, It’s a Self-Imposed Life Sentence” – Seattle Eric