The Research Says. . .
What Your Prospects Are Saying
By Debra K. Traverso
Copyright 2007 by Debra Traverso, OneCall
All rights reserved in all media.
The content of this article may be forwarded in full without special permission provided it is used for nonprofit purposes and full attribution and copyright notice are given. For all other purposes, contact Debra Traverso at email@example.com.
I'm used to seeing customer service articles in professional publications. Heck, I've even written some of them.
So, in my lazy way of reading at the gym, I found myself on paragraph four of an article subtitled "Calling for human help but stuck up a phone tree?" and wondering why a professional publication would devote so much space to a topic that has been covered ad infinitum.
A quick flip to the cover not only reminded me of what I was perusing, but caused me to stumble on the treadmill. The magazine was People (December 5, 2005)! Two days later while visiting my mother, I picked up a back issue of Good Housekeeping (August 2005) and found "The Complaint is in the Mail" That was followed shortly thereafter by The Motley Fool's article, "Customer Rage is on the Rise" (November 2005).
There's a Pattern Here
Notice a theme emerging? Perhaps a quiet revolution brewing? Mainstream, mass marketing publications are spotlighting customer service, focusing on people who have gotten fed up enough to do something about it.
And who are these people? The Good Housekeeping article featured Ann Hood who got so tired of poor customer service that she started writing letters of complaint. It felt so good, she kept writing. Each time she encounters less than stellar customer service, she sends off a letter detailing her dismay. The People article featured Paul English, a young man who was tired of not getting a human voice on the phone, so he set out to crack the labyrinth of automated voice messages at some of the country's top companies. His cheat-sheet list now includes over 90 companies. (You can find them posted at his Web site, www.paulenglish.com, along with the magic digits to push to bypass those dreaded voice messages.)
Note to reader: This would be a good time to hum the Beatles song "You Say You Want a Revolution."
The Shape of Things to Come
A revolution? Yes, consumers are beginning to revolt against poor customer service. Mistakenly, companies, service providers, stores, you name it, have become so technology-dependent, that they've forgotten the importance of the human touch. Seek tech support for your computer and your call will end up in India. Call the cable company and you'll hear five rounds of voice mail choices then be placed on hold for 10 minutes.
Fortunately, mass media is beginning to fight back, providing space and time so consumers can tell business what they actually want.
So what are customers telling REALTORS® these days?
1. Answer the phone! Lao-Tsu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If he were suddenly reincarnated as a modern businessman, he'd probably say that the pleasure of a multi-thousand dollar deal begins with a single phone call.
What's that you say?—When you can't answer, you have voice mail? You know what consumers are saying to that? "Bye, bye. I'm on to the next REALTOR®."
Don't believe me? Then consider these sobering statistics from the National Association of REALTORS®: 64% of buyers and 74% of sellers "used the first agent they interviewed." (Source: The 2005 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.)
Notice it doesn't say the first agent they called. According to research, most consumers will hang up rather than leave a message for callback, which means you'll probably never know they even tried to call you first. Then, those consumers will move on to another agent. If that agent answers the phone, that agent will be the first to get the questions (the "interview") and then the job.
I work with a company that provides a single number for phone and fax which can be forwarded wherever you go; as such, you never have to miss a call because it even enhances your cell phone (much as satellite TV enhances your television set). When I point out that such a service can make one available 24/7, some REALTORS® throw up their hands, shake their heads, and say "I don't want to be that available."
Well, okay, that's your choice if you want to lose business, but if you keep doing what you've always been doing, you'll continue to get what you've always got. And isn't the point to do what it takes to get something different—such as more business, more sales, more income?
2. Be responsive. Okay, you answered the phone, you interviewed, you got the job. Now what? Well, besides getting to work on that sell or purchase, your client wants you to respond readily and easily. According to the same NAR research mentioned above, only "knowledge of the purchase process" (94%) ranker higher than "responsiveness" (93%) on the list of "Qualities Buyers Preferred in Their Real Estate Agent." In fact, "responsiveness" ranked higher than "Knowledge of real estate market" (92%)!
Showing customers that you are responsive and that you value their business could be as simple as returning calls and e-mails promptly. When you're responsive to clients, it makes them feel attended to and makes them feel confidant that they made the right choice in awarding you the work.
Responsiveness also means answering questions in a timely manner. If you can't answer a question, be up front about it, but offer to follow up with an answer by phone or e-mail. Not knowing an answer is better than having to retract an incorrect statement later. Best of all is demonstrating that you're willing to get the answers.
Remember, to you, it's just another transaction; to customers, it's the culmination of the American dream, the placement of a nest-egg into your hands, the toggling of lives as environments change, the creation of a backdrop that will provide priceless memories of growing children and grandchildren. And you thought it was just a routine transaction!
3. Tell me what to expect. Recently I accompanied my father to an eye appointment. After putting drops in his eyes, an uncommunicative assistant led us to a cramped waiting room, then quickly disappeared. We were left to wonder: How long will we be here? Are we waiting on the drops to do something or for the doctor to show up? Can my father wipe his eye since the drops brought tears? I wonder what the next step is? Are there many more steps before we can leave? How long before we'll be able to have lunch?
Keeping your customer informed is a strategic part of "Communication Skills" and "People Skills," — both NAR categories, ranking fourth and sixth respectively, on the list of "Qualities Buyers Preferred in Their Real Estate Agent."
When customers don't know what's happening or what to expect, they quickly get frustrated. It doesn't take long to let customers what you plan to do next, and it just might cut down on the number of times they have to interrupt you!
New Technology, Same People
It's no secret that to stay competitive in real estate these days, you have to embrace technology. And, indeed, your customers will thank you for it. However, we've got to choose the application of our technology wisely because our gadgets and communication devices may have changed, but people haven't. Technology should be used to enhance communication, not replace it.
But don't take my word on it—Remember those NAR statistics about the qualities buyers preferred in their real estate agents? Only 40 percent thought "Skills With Technology" was important.
Debra Traverso, M.A., is the author five books, a speaker, marketing consultant for Fortune 50 companies, lecturer at Harvard University, and vice president of OneCall whose Mobile Manager service for real estate agents she describes as "quite simply the best marketing and communication tool I've ever used. No exceptions. That's why I hang my hat here." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2007 by Debra Traverso, OneCall
All rights reserved in all media.