Providing Customer Service or Creating an Experience?
Customer Service is viewed today as responding to a customer need or inquiry when it’s initiated by the customer and often times can be routine in the way they are handled. Today, successful real estate professionals recognize in a highly competitive market they must go above and beyond and create a unique Customer Experience!
It’s easy to have an intention and more challenging to have a mindset and focus on Customer Experiences. Let’s take a look at the dimensions of this opportunity in your business!
For seasoned agents and new agents, this can be viewed somewhat differently. Seasoned agents may have been providing “Customer Service” for many years and now must re-examine what experiences they create for their customers. For newer agents with far fewer customers, this may be easier to implement but require more effort to understand and prepare to meet the challenge.
I want to recognize in the beginning that it’s easy to feel that you somehow fall short and that the benchmarks are high. If you can understand that it’s easier to commit to make incremental small changes than to totally revamp everything you’ve been doing, you’ll be on the right path. Don’t fall prey to the tendency to give up before starting!
Look for examples – Success Leaves Clues!
Volumes of information have been written about the Customer Experience and we could easily begin with what it is not. If you’re like many in our society, you’ve either read or written negative reviews. We could easily come up with a list of things not-to-do to avoid negative reviews. You can see them easily online. However, in the next few minutes, let’s turn our attention to the positive side and focus on what we can do!
First, before you begin to come up with a list of things to do, determine what resources you have available and what you can reasonably accomplish. Break it down into small tasks so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment.
Find the Right Mindset
Looking at the experience from the Customer’s viewpoint and less initially from your own perspective.
Ask yourself if you are trying to make yourself feel good first about what you’re delivering? While it all may be good, what is your motivation? Or, are you looking closely at various touchpoints and opportunities along the way to make a few extra touches that will “Wow!” your customer?
Let’s admit we’re not going to be perfect and that over time we’re going to improve. What we did last year, while perhaps sufficient, will become the floor of what we will provide in the future. And if you make a mistake, admit it, learn from it and move on. Those who don’t adjust to the expectations of customers are unlikely to succeed and remain in the market.
For some this will be relatively easy; for others, even with the best of intentions, it will be more of a challenge. Regardless of where you come from, the first step is to step back and assess what you’ve done in the past and what can be learned from it in a better way? Don’t beat yourself up from what you now see was less than what it could have been. The good thing is you now have a chance going forward to be better!!
Dale Carnegie’s classic best selling book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People,” is an essential read for anyone interested in the Customer Experience. People long for significance in the aspects of their lives in an ever-increasing impersonal world. With automation so prevalent in our daily lives, a personal gesture stands out more than ever!
Taking a extra couple of minutes can have long-term rewards and lead to future opportunities not only in business but also in your personal life.
As with any real estate practice, be sure you take into consideration all Fair Housing Regulations as well as the Realtor® Code of Ethics and treat each customer in ways that meet the applicable regulations.
You know you are judged by the expectations of others. Your competitors are constantly “raising the bar” in creating customer experiences that their clients are sharing with their peers and friends. The question is: what are you going to do about it?
Many of you are already providing unique customer experiences – something, I for one, would love to hear more about. We can all learn from each other, and I hope you will be willing to share them with us.
Some may openly wish there was a “silver bullet” or a plug-in or app which would assess each customer’s needs and desires and come up with the perfect solution with easy and simple instructions on how to meet them. We’re not there yet, although artificial intelligence (AI) may be part of a future solution.
If you come from a background where exceeding in meeting the needs of others was easily recognized, this will feel much more comfortable to you. If your experiences didn’t include much of this, you’ll have some catching up to do!
Start Learning Today
Either way, the key to success is to start from where you are today. And to recognize that you could also lose customers to competitors if you don’t adapt to the market. If you haven’t read Spencer Johnson’s best selling book “Who Moved My Cheese?,” here’s a link to a short YouTube video.
One of the easiest ways is to read about creating Customer Experiences or watching videos.
You might feel inclined to skip over this; however, I’m going to suggest that the extent of the information out there is growing and you’ll be wise to begin a step toward Mastery by regularly seeking out new information available online and in bookstores. Try searching for “Customer Experience” on Google and YouTube. Not every one of the results will be perfect, but it’s an easy way to find free resources. Better yet, see if your company or association offers online or in-person seminars and training for an even better understanding. Remember, the only way to build a “muscle” is through repetitive exercise!
Another way is to join an online forum or build a network of people who share an interest in creating Customer Experiences. Consider seeking out local professionals in other professions, business and industries which have connections to your customers. Your local Chamber of Commerce, civic clubs and professional organizations such as BNI are good places to seek out others.
Don’t overlook those who are not in your local community. You can exchange ideas and have conversations long distance if necessary. You may find the professionals who are most likely to engage with you are not in your own backyard.
The next way is to experience it yourself! Ask others who they feel goes to extra lengths to provide special Customer Experiences. Look for examples of their mindset and actions.
If there’s a Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton Hotel or Apple Store nearby (TIP – Click on the links!), become one of their customers and watch for the ways they engage with you. You may say they’re retailers and a hotel chain. Look again – they’re highly successful businesses that put their Customer Experiences into action. Ask others in your community which local businesses come to mind for providing notable Customer Experiences. There’s a chance you’ll discover some you were not previously aware of.
As real estate professionals, our clients expectations are formed and set based upon the interactions they’ve previously had with others – both in real estate and in other business relationships. You’re not only compared to your local real estate peers; you’re compared to other real estate professionals in other places in the world and to other local businesses and businesses worldwide. If someone is buying or selling a home in your area, there’s a good chance they or someone close to them have previously bought or sold real estate elsewhere and they’re viewing you and your service based upon their previous experiences and what has been told to them by people who influence their decisions.
Be careful of what you promise and that you deliver the same level to others. If you go to extraordinary effort for some and you ignore others, there’s a chance that the ones you create a great Customer Experience may tell their friends and business contacts. That’s a good thing! Just try to think of creating individualized touches for each and every customer.
Providing Customer Service or Creating an Experience?
Start with handwritten notes and a commitment to send at least five per day. Recognizing your Customers for something significant in their lives is a perfect example. Purchase a quantity in advance along with the postage stamps so you won’t have any excuse for not sending them. Consider custom printed notecards from Moo or purchasing something unique from a stationery supplier which ties in with your personal brand. Be willing to spend a little more as this reflects your image. Yes, it’s quicker and easier to send an email, text or private message through Social Media. However, sending a personal hand-written note stands out and says you care enough to take the time to do so.
The key to success in creating memorable Customer Experiences is to get to know your customers individual needs and preferences and to anticipate how you can meet them BEFORE they may even recognize their need. This can be from the initial point of contact through years of follow-up touches after a closing. Does it have to cost much? Don’t look at it as an expense. Rather, look at it as an investment which will likely come back to your with opportunities you might not otherwise receive because you showed how much you care about your customers.
You might have put your Customers on a 36 Touch Program outlined in “The Millionaire Real Estate Agent.” That’s great! However, look for ways to “plus” it through touches which are not pre-programmed. Are you using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for your database? Enter as much as you can recall about your customers’ interests in their profile. Who are their family members? What are their personal and professional accomplishments? What are their personal interests? Where were they educated? Are they travelers?
When you have customers with similar interests tagged in your CRM, you can easily pull them up when you come across something THEY would enjoy knowing more about.
While it’s helpful to have a large number of contacts in your database, you may find that it’s even more valuable to you to have a deeper connection with them vs. a superficial one.
Creating a Connection Through Thoughtfulness
Some agents purchase tickets to local events and offer them to their customers. Be careful to check your state and federal regulations in regards to offering gifts in exchange for referrals! However, if you’re not connecting the gift as a reward for new business and are simply and occasionally giving a gift to someone on a random basis, you may be just fine. It doesn’t have to be something expensive. It could be as simple as some flowers, fresh produce or a delicious treat from a local specialty bakery. Spontaneous can be fun. Be creative and give it a little thought too.
Yes, it’s easy to order a bunch of the same thing and send it to everyone in your CRM. However, if you want your customers to feel special, consider sending them something THEY would enjoy rather than sending everyone the identical thing. It can be something of similar value. What might be counterproductive is when people in your sphere of influence recognize that everyone got the same thing and no one is unique. Or, when someone in your sphere sees that other received something and they were somehow missed.
In the beginning, it’s the follow-up from the initial contact that will set the tone of your relationship with your customer. At each point, if not weekly, there will be opportunities to deepen your connection with your customer.
Prior to the closing, some agents provide customized “We’re Moving” postcards and return labels to buyers and sellers.
For years agents have leased moving vans and provided agent-branded moving boxes to their customers. You know whether your customers move themselves or pay professionals to move their household furniture and personal belongings. Some provide moving day food and refreshments, a gift certificate for a massage or a handyman service. Again, be careful to check the federal and state regulations in regard to what you can lawfully give.
When you’re business grows larger and more profitable you might be able to hire a “Director of Wow!” This person is a unique hire and may take an in-depth interviewing process to find just the right person. They are going to be your Brand Ambassador! Until then, everyone—whether it’s simply you or those who are on your team—plays a role in the success of a Customer Experience. Brainstorm with others for ways to improve the Customer Experience. And don’t forget to somehow show your appreciation for their efforts in helping you grow your business!
From the beginning of a new listing and from the point of an accepted offer, savvy agents provide a concierge level service to their customers to recommend service providers. You may have seen the television commercials for HomeAdvisor where one homeowner “tells” their neighbor to arrange for quotes and schedule repairs. It’s extremely important if you’re going to provide this level of service that you thoroughly research and communicate with the vendors your expectations of the quality of their service. It’s going to greatly reflect on you either in a positive way or in negative repercussions if things go badly. Your reputation will be held up to the ways in which the service provider meets and exceeds the customer expectations.
Client appreciation events are another popular way to maintain a lasting impression. Set up an annual calendar of holidays and events and add to it each week. Look for ways to connect with your customers around these dates and share with them information which is tailored to their interests.
If you’re the C.E.O. of your team, you’re likely to delegate some of this work and details to others. Wise leaders will hold their team members accountable for maintaining the standards of your business. The weakest link can cause damage to your reputation. Even if you’re not the “hands-on” person who implements the details, it’s essential that you receive timely reports from your key personnel on what has been done and what feedback is received from your customers to be certain expectations are being met and to look constantly for ways to improve the Customer Experience.
Like any other article, this one will be replaced in the future with fresh ideas. The important thing is to take away what you can do today so that when you look back in several years you can say to yourself you took advantage of the resources that were available at the time to make a difference.
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