I have been reading a number of articles lately about customer service. Topics have covered the entire evolution of the concept. Remember when passenger aviation first became available to the masses? Every seat was first class. Every passenger got a meal. Now, it’s the equivalent of traveling by clown car with the added indignity of paying for the right to bring luggage with you. Have you been out to eat lately? Of the last 10 times I’ve been out to eat, nine of them resulted in poor service or incorrect food being provided. Yet, the tipping expectation has risen from 15% to almost 20%. In both examples, the cost has continued to increase while level of service has continued to decline.
Let’s turn our focus to the Real Estate industry. The average price of a home in America is approaching $300,000, meaning the average commission paid on a transaction is approaching it’s highest level ever at approximately $18,000 (assuming a standard 6% structure). For that price tag, you’d expect white glove service. But with 47% of agents having had their license less than 5 years and 22% of agents working part time, it’s hard to find an agent who can live up to those standards. A quick look online at recent reviews validates this with some of the most frequent complaints being lies regarding multiple offers, failure to answer/return phone calls or just overall poor communication, and a general feeling that their agent talked down to them or wasn’t operating in their best interests. It’s no wonder 44% of homebuyers regret their purchase or the process they went through in selecting their new home and why many new startups are implementing models that displace the agent entirely.
The average person will go through the real estate transaction only once or twice in their lifetime and for most, it’s the single largest financial transaction they will take on in their lifetime. So why aren’t more agents working to make the experience as positive and enjoyable as possible?
A good and experienced agent can be invaluable to the process of buying and selling a home and creates a value or return that justifies the commissions that you are paying, so it helps to start by defining who the customer is. You might be thinking, isn’t the Buyer/Seller the customer? The answer is simply, No. Not with some brokerages. If you listen to the officers and executives of these companies, it is obvious that when they reference “customer” they are speaking of the agents who work for that company. Any decisions made on technology or procedure are based on an analysis of how does this make the job easier or less time-consuming for our agents. Thereby, either making the transaction more profitable for the company or creating an additional revenue stream for the company/agent. The buyer or seller is simply seen as an ATM that provides the funds needed to disperse around the company.
So Step 1 in improving customer service is for brokerages, regardless of size, to embed into their core values that the customer to be focused on is always the Buyer/Seller that is represented by your firm and agent. Any policy, procedure, or action that a brokerage makes must always start with “How does this benefit my Buyer/Seller?” You then work backwards until you answer the next question of “How does the agent/firm create or meet this expectation for the Buyer/Seller?” and “What are the signs from a Buyer/Seller that I have met this expectation?”
Step 2 is taking the time to know your Buyer/Seller. Every client has different reasons for moving forward with a buying or selling decision at this particular time and each one has different circumstances driving those reasons whether they be personal, financial, or professional. The combinations of which can be endless. This means a brokerage/agent cannot stand on a single approach and expect it to be effective for every client nor is one agent/brokerage a good fit for every client. A customized strategy must be adapted to fit the specific needs of each individual client. Understanding your strengths as an agent and the target demographic of your brokerage is important here. If either of those are in conflict with the needs of the Buyer/Seller, then you must do the right thing by them and recommend another agent/brokerage who better aligns with their needs. There’s no shame in this. The Buyer/Seller gets the experience and service they deserve and the agent/brokerage still earns revenue in the form of a referral fee. Everyone wins!!
Step 3. It is important for an agent or brokerage to understand how complicated and convoluted the real estate process and its lingo can be. Your average home buyer and seller aren’t familiar with most of these terms and processes. So it baffles me when an agent gets annoyed or is curt with their client when asked to explain certain aspects or doesn’t respond to them at all. Being an agent or brokerage who deals with these intricacies daily, it is easy to understand how they become common to you. But it is imperative that you always take a step back and remind yourself that your clients aren’t real estate professionals and common knowledge cannot be assumed. By not responding or being short with them in response, you are only adding to the anxiety most already have about the transaction.
It is the agent who takes the time to explain verbiage, educate on laws and regulations, as well as inform about the market who is acting in the best interests of their client.
While these three steps are certainly not an all-encompassing list of customer service etiquette in the real estate industry, it definitely provides a foundation. The agent or brokerage that is truly dedicated to building upon these initial blocks is not only properly acting as the fiduciary that they are legally contracted to be, but will also virtually guarantee the possibility of a positive experience for their buyer/seller.
Todd Wilkinson is the Founder and Owner of FonHome Realty. FonHome is a customer-centric brokerage where our clients are in control and our experienced agents are respected for providing the positive and exciting experience the real estate transaction should be. Todd is an accomplished real estate investor with an undergraduate degree in Financial Economics and a Masters’ degree in Business Administration. Todd has held senior management and executive level positions with the world’s two largest retailers and a successful startup venture. Todd has served terms on the University of Arkansas Advisory Board and is actively involved with the St. Theresa School in Kenilworth. Todd opened his own brokerage after feeling underserved in his personal experiences with real estate transactions and wanted a firm whose mission was on serving the fiduciary responsibilities guaranteed to the Buyer and Seller. Contact Todd today for a free Comparable Market Analysis for your home or for advice on beginning your search for a new home at www.fonhomerealty.com.
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